Toggle Dark Mode
Even though Apple had some employees return to its sprawling Apple Park campus last year ahead of WWDC, it seems its best hopes for a full return were dashed as the global health pandemic resurged, keeping more folks stuck at home.
Now, however, as vaccinations rise and the U.S. moves to a more complete — and hopefully permanent — reopening, Apple’s CEO has laid out a new plan for bringing employees back into work, and it looks like it will be one of the more conservative remote work plans among the big tech companies.
It may sound slightly contrary to Tim Cook’s optimism about remote work last fall, but it appears that Apple will not be supporting any kind of ongoing, full-time remote work strategy.
Instead, Apple has announced that starting in September, it expects all employees to return to Apple Park for at least three days per week.
Employees that don’t have a primary need to work in-person will have the option of working remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays but will need to be in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, regardless of the nature of their work.
Apple CEO Tim Cook laid out the details in an email sent to employees this week, which was seen by both The Verge and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.
It looks like the only concession that Apple is making to a regular work schedule is to allow employees to work remotely for up to two weeks per year, “to be closer to family and loved ones, find a change of scenery, manage unexpected travel, or a different reason all your own.” However, these remote work requests will need to be approved by each employee’s manager on a case-by-case basis.
According to Gurman, this “hybrid work arrangement,” isn’t necessarily the final word. Cook refers to it as a pilot project that will be re-evaluated sometime in 2022, adding that the company has “a special obligation to get this right.”
However, Cook doesn’t hint at whether that re-evaluation will result in more remote work or less, and it’s quite likely that even Apple’s senior management isn’t quite sure what’s going to happen until they give the new model a try.
For all that we’ve been able to achieve while many of us have been separated, the truth is that there has been something essential missing from this past year: each other. Video conference calling has narrowed the distance between us, to be sure, but there are things it simply cannot replicate.Tim Cook
While this sounds like a considerably less flexible working arrangement than most of Apple’s Silicon Valley counterparts, it’s worth keeping in mind that Apple is a fundamentally different organization from most other big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
Firstly, most other big tech companies are primarily focused on software projects, and it’s much easier for software engineers and development teams to work remotely. Creating hardware products like the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, not to mention designing chips like Apple’s M1, requires a lot more in-person collaboration and physical hands-on time.
This is even more true for Apple, with its highly secretive culture. There’s no way that employees are going to be able to bring early prototypes home for development, and even working on things like schematics and specifications outside of the secure labs at Apple Park greatly increases the risk of information leaking out.
After all, it’s a challenge for even the most secure remote access systems in the world to prevent things like taking screen photographs or non-employees looking over the shoulder of an engineer working on a secret project.
Hence, while companies like Facebook and Twitter have talked about making remote work a permanent option, and even Google will be allowing 20 percent of its workforce to work from home permanently, that’s something that simply isn’t practical for a company like Apple.
For now, let me simply say that I look forward to seeing your faces. I know I’m not alone in missing the hum of activity, the energy, creativity and collaboration of our in-person meetings and the sense of community we’ve all built.Tim Cook
In fact, this latest move likely doesn’t come as a huge surprise for Apple employees. The company has always strongly discouraged remote work prior to the pandemic, and clearly only moved into that model because it had no other choice.
Apple has also been saying for a year now that it would be summoning its employees back as soon as it’s safe to do so, so it looks like the time has come for things at Apple Park to soon get back to normal.