Apple shows how work-from-home is here to stay

Workers are increasingly making it clear they will not be forced back into the office. Just ask Apple.

With starting salaries in the $300,000 range, life is good for some employees at the FAANG companies (aka Facebook (now Meta), Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (now Alphabet).

Of course, they all have problems.

Amazon is a workaholic's heaven or hell. There is no work-life balance at Google; there's only Google. Netflix stock options "were" great; Facebook is a cult.

But at Apple, most people like where they work. Or they did.

When Apple announced all employees would be required to go to the office three days a week, starting May 23, the crap hit the fan.

Some workers wrote a letter to Apple's executives, saying Apple's new Hybrid Working Pilot doesn't "recognize flexible work and is only driven by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control."

For Apple employees, this is like storming the Bastille. Apple staffers do not complain. And, if they do, they certainly don't do it in public.

So it's telling that no one's name is publicly attached to the Apple protest letter released earlier this month. Apple employees know full well the truth of the Japanese proverb, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down."

Still, despite their fabulous pay and benefits, some have had enough.

As the letter complains, Apple's management claim that ``the serendipity that comes from bumping into colleagues' when everyone is in the same place" is nonsense. Not everyone works out of the Apple Spaceship. "We don't have just one office. We have many. …This siloed structure is part of our culture. It doesn't take luck to overcome the communication silos and make cross-functional connections that are vital for Apple to function. It takes intentionality."

And guess what? The employees who seem to be more in tune with modern technology than Apple's brass note that meeting by chance is trumped by Slack, which "has made this much easier over the last two years."

Even there, Apple's 1984 Big Brother management (oh, the irony!) holds sway. "Yet, you choose to keep us all in separate siloed Slack workspaces and try to prevent us from talking to each other so software engineers don't accidentally talk to AppleCare employees, and retail staff don't accidentally meet hardware engineers. Over the last year, you have even made it impossible to create shared community spaces where serendipity could have happened, online and remotely."

On Saturday, a Verge reporter tweeted about the imminent departure of Ian Goodfellow, Apple's director of machine learning (ML), who explained,  "I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team." He was likely the company's most cited ML expert.

Great job, Apple.

A technologist who doesn't know Apple well asked when Apple went from "Think Different" to "Zero Autonomy."

But Apple has never been about "Think Different" except at the very top.

Steve Jobs, Jony Ive, and Tim Cook can think differently. The rest of the rank and file must follow their lead. That was true when I first met Jobs in the 1980s, and it's true today under Cook in the '20s. 

The employees note the many advantages of working from home.

They conclude, "Office-bound work is a technology from the last century, from the era before ubiquitous video-call-capable internet and everyone being on the same internal chat application. But the future is about connecting when it makes sense, with people who have relevant input, no matter where they are based."

They also observe that Cook said, "'Apple delivered on its promises to its customers [during the pandemic] regardless of the circumstances. It's true; we delivered on our promises and continue to do so. We were incredibly flexible and resilient and found new ways to do our work, despite not being able to go to an office."

Now, they want Apple execs to show "some flexibility as well and let go of the rigid policies of the Hybrid Working Pilot.

"Please get out of our way; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Let us decide how we work best, and let us do the best work of our lives."

While Apple's employees aren't threatening to quit, they are challenging management. And, if Apple doesn't cooperate? Well, a survey of  652 Apple employees from April 13 to April 19 via anonymous social network Blind found that 56% of those surveyed said they'd leave Apple because of its office requirements.

It's not just Apple's engineering and product teams that have had enough.

Apple Store employees, who must work on-site, are unionizing. Apple's response? It hired the union-busting law firm, Littler Mendelson.

Now, in this column, I generally focus on small to mid-sized businesses, not the FAANGs, so why am I bringing this up?

Simple, if Apple employees, with their great benefits and top-of-the-line salaries, are so outraged that many are publicly denouncing management and planning to leave, how loyal do you think your people will be if you demand they return to the office?

I think they'll be history. And that means you'll face the horrors of trying to hire new employees. It would be far wiser to embrace working from home for good. You'll make your employees a lot happier.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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