Apple employees have officially started returning to in-person after working remotely since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Apple’s decision to return to in-person, albeit on a very limited basis for the time being, has not been without criticism, but the company has pressed ahead with its plans.
Apple begins requiring in-person work
After multiple starts and stops due to increases in COVID-19 cases, Apple officially set its April 11 date for return to in-person last month. Starting today, corporate employees are now required to work in person at least one day per week. Starting three weeks from today, on May 2, employees will be required to work from the office two days per week.
Then, starting on May 23, employees will need to be in the office three days per week. This is the start of Apple’s so-called “hybrid” work plan. Apple has not revealed how long it will have this hybrid work plan in place, but Tim Cook has described it as a “pilot.” This implies that it could change sometime, and the company could eventually require employees to return to full-time in person.
As we’ve said before, however, even though Apple’s company policy now requires in-person work starting on April 11, many divisions of Apple have been back in the office on and off for more than a year. This specifically includes groups such as hardware engineering and other similar teams.
Amid pushback from employees, Apple has noted that it is flexible in its policies… to a certain degree. In his most recent memo announcing the April 11 date for return to in-person work, Tim Cook acknowledged that this could be an “unsettling change” for some employees. This is why the company is gradually implementing the “hybrid” approach, and it’s also why individual teams can adapt their policies as they see fit.
An in-depth report from Bloomberg last week explained that many employees are frustrated by this change, particularly as Apple advertises that its products make remote work easy… and yet it won’t allow full-time remote work for its own employees.
A week before its tribute to remote work, Apple Inc. gave its own workers a timeline by which they’d have to return to their offices. To some, including the 7,500 of Apple’s 165,000 employees who belong to a Slack room dedicated to advocating for remote work, it was bruising. “They are trolling us, right?” one wrote. Others called the ad “distasteful” and “insulting.” The underlying message: Apple knows corporate employees—using its products as tools—can capably work from home. So why can’t its own staff?
A similar report from Fortune also described employee frustration with Apple’s mandated in-person work plan:
“I don’t give a single f–k about ever coming back to work here,” a self-described Apple employee posted on a message board called Blind. Once April 11 comes around and brings this new rule into effect, they added, they will be resigning from their job.
A worker reacted to messages about resigning with a laughing emoji and said, “I’m gonna do the same.” Another employee rallied, “Hell YEAH my man let’s do this! F–k RTO.”
One of the employees said they would send in their resignation as soon as they came home. They cited the transit as part of their reason for leaving: “I already know I won’t be able to deal with the commute and sitting around for 8 hours.”
Apple is one of the few Silicon Valley companies mandating in-person work. Twitter is allowing its employees to permanently work from home, as can most Facebook employees. Google is mandating some teams return to in-person work starting as early as this month, but many employees are able to permanently work from home.
Apple’s insistence on a return to in-person could be impacting its retention. The company has given out two rounds of rare bonuses to some of its top employees in the last several months. These bonuses come in the form of restricted stock units, which vest over multiple years.
This vesting schedule gives employees an added incentive to stay at Apple rather than leave for a competitor. Apple has reportedly faced some employee retention issues, particularly with regard to Meta. Whether or not these bonuses are enough to offset frustration with in-person work, however, remains to be seen.
A final, important piece of context is that another wave of COVID-19 is believed to be brewing in the United States. This variant, coined BA.2, is a subvariant of the highly infectious Omicron variant. While the extent of how big this wave will be remains unclear, many Apple employees have voiced concern about returning to work amid the uncertainty caused by this new variant.
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