Apple is holding the line on its hybrid work policy while being one of the first well-known companies to face employee pushback. Back at the beginning of June, CEO Tim Cook announced that employees would return in September and were expected to be in the office at least three days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays). In response, a small group of employees wrote a letter requesting more work-from-home options.
In part, the letter stated, “That Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy, and the communication around it, have already forced some of our colleagues to quit. Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple.” It goes on to say, “[O]rgs are rarely co-located within walking distance, let alone in the same building, meaning our best collaboration has always required remote communication with teams in other offices and across time zones, since long before the pandemic.”
The employees believe there are five benefits to remote working: (1) diversity and inclusion in retention and hiring; (2) tearing down previously existing communication barriers; (3) better work life balance; (4) better integration of existing remote / location-flexible workers; and (5) reduced spread of pathogens.
In response, Apple SVP of Retail and People Deirdre O’Brien said, “We believe that in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future. If we take a moment to reflect on our unbelievable product launches this past year, the products and the launch execution were built upon the base of years of work that we did when we were all together in-person.”
On one hand, Apple’s culture is well known as hard-driving, so some argue that employees knew what they were signing up for when they accepted a job at Apple, and to push back on a hybrid arrangement may indicate that they are not a cultural fit at the company. On the other hand, Apple didn’t address the fact that the past year, while employees have been fully remote, they posted their highest revenue and profit. And they are not alone. Facebook and Google are also facing employee pushback on back-to-office policies. Facebook has said that employees can work from other locations but has also said they may reduce their pay if employees do so. Google has done the same, even producing an app that will show how much a person’s salary will decrease by working remotely.
Is this the beginning of a new source of friction between employees and leadership? Are companies fully appreciating the level of anxiety employees are feeling about returning to the office? More than half of companies are not asking their employees for input into return to work policies, and this in turn is increasing anxiety as employees are not comfortable bringing up their concerns.
As a leader, you can’t discount the number of small and large traumas people experienced this past year. That doesn’t mean that the benefits of being in the office together should be discounted either. What the Apple saga is teaching us, is to communicate openly, honestly, and transparently – bottom up and top down. This is about building a strong culture and including everyone throughout the process. As decisions are made, everyone feels heard and included. If you’d like to learn more about building an inclusive and prosperous culture, send us a note.