Apple Is Rethinking Its Return to Work Plans Amid Rising COVID Cases

The company is holding off on the next phase due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases around the country.
Apples Return to Work Plans May Change Credit: LightField Studios / Shutterstock
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Apple’s corporate employees won’t have to move to a full hybrid work schedule next week, as rising COVID cases are forcing the company to make some adjustments.

Apple announced in March that employees would begin returning to Apple Park on April 11 for one day per week while continuing to work from home the other four days. By the end of April, this was to increase to two days per week, followed by the full three-day-a-week hybrid work schedule that Apple has proposed since last year.

While employees are presumably in the second stage of this return-to-work plan, Apple is holding off on the next phase due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

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According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple informed its employees on Tuesday that the requirement for a three-day in-person workweek has been delayed until further notice. However, it’s still maintaining the current two-day schedule that began at the end of April.

So far, Apple is only telling employees that it’s holding off on the next phase “for the time being,” with no indication of when it may happen. However, the hybrid work plan still appears to be on the table — it’s just not happening yet.

This is not the first time that Apple has been forced to delay its plans to have staff return to the offices. When the company first announced the hybrid work plan, it was scheduled to begin in early September. However, the COVID Delta variant showed up and threw a monkey wrench into that plan, pushing the return date to January 1, 2022, then February 1, 2022, and then ”a date yet to be determined.”

However, those false starts came before staff had even begun returning to Apple Park. This latest attempt is the farthest Apple has managed to get before putting the brakes on, so it’s understandable that it would prefer not to step backward and send employees home.

Instead, Apple is telling staff to keep coming to work two days per week but that they also must begin wearing masks in all common areas in Apple Park and the company’s other Silicon Valley offices.

Retail employees were also informed separately that about 100 U.S. stores will return to mandatory mask-wearing by staff members — a requirement that was lifted in March. So far, this seems to be limited to employees; there’s no indication that Apple will go back to requiring customers to wear masks — at least not yet.

Apple’s return-to-work policy has proved somewhat controversial, at least among some segments of Apple’s employee base. Last year, an internal company chat room for “remote work advocates” hosted discussions among as many as 2,800 Apple employees, raising concerns about the new policy. A smaller group of 80 staff penned an open letter to Apple’s executives, insisting that the new policy wasn’t appropriate for a company that promoted diversity and inclusion, particularly for employees with disabilities.

More recently, in a blind survey of 652 Apple employees, over half of the respondents indicated that they planned to leave Apple over its return-to-work policy. While it was easy to dismiss that as a tiny sample size — Apple has over 12,000 employees at Apple Park alone and over 150,000 worldwide — the company did lose a high-profile executive over the new policy, Dr. Ian Goodfellow, who has now returned to Google after a two-year stint in Apple’s machine learning division.

Nevertheless, Apple has stood its ground on this new policy. There’s no more reason to believe that this latest decision is related to pushback from employees than any of the prior three delays were. This is much more likely just a matter of Apple being cautious in the face of rising COVID-19 cases, as it’s been throughout the entire pandemic.

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