Tech companies like Apple were some of the first to allow their corporate employees to work from home at the start of the pandemic. Now, tensions are rising about when and if these employees will return to the office.
In a new letter, some Apple employees are asking that the company allow staffers to work from home full time, with some restrictions. Apple has only agreed to let employees work from home two days a week, with limited exceptions. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is the second petition letter in two months from Apple employees writing about more flexible working conditions, and it’s a sign of continued rank-and-file dissent at the company. That's a surprising departure from Apple’s traditionally hierarchical work culture.
The petition outlines two different “pilot arrangements” that would allow employees to work from home full time for at least one year, with no promise of being extended. These arrangements would give employees the option to work remotely from their home five days a week — including in a location different from the area they were hired to work in — with the approval of their manager or department head, and in some cases, a cost-of-living compensation adjustment. The letter was posted on Monday morning to an internal Apple employee Slack channel for discussing remote work; the channel has more than 6,000 members and is open to all Apple corporate employees.
Other Silicon Valley tech giants like Google and Facebook have offered more flexibility to their employees, allowing workers in good standing to request to work from home full time, although the details of these plans are still being worked out. Amazon even backtracked on plans to require corporate staff to return to the office full time after an employee backlash. But Apple (which, unlike Google and Facebook, is primarily a hardware company that manufactures physical goods) has insisted that it needs most employees back in the office to run its notoriously secretive business. Management’s resistance to changing its work-from-home policy has caused open frustration among Apple’s traditionally heads-down workforce, and reflects larger tensions among white-collar workers in the US as their employers begin to call them to return to the office in person.
“We continue to be concerned that this one-size-fits-all solution is causing many of our colleagues to question their future at Apple,” the letter states, which goes on to say, “With COVID-19 numbers rising again around the world, vaccines proving less effective against the Delta variant, and the long-term effects of infection not well understood, it is too early to force those with concerns to come back to the office.”
The letter cites an internal employee survey, first reported by The Verge, which found that 68 percent of respondents — totaling over 1,100 employees — strongly agreed that Apple’s “lack of location flexibility” would “likely cause them to leave Apple.”
In June, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a memo saying that employees needed to return to the office at least three days a week beginning in September. Many Apple employees — some of whom had already permanently moved away from the Bay Area during the pandemic or had medical concerns about returning to the office — pushed back on that decision, with more than 1,700 Apple employees signing a protest letter, as The Verge first reported. Management pledged to listen to employees’ concerns. But just two weeks later, company executives sent out a video announcing it wasn’t changing its original position, with Apple VP Deirdre O’Brien saying “we believe that in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future.”
In the past several weeks, Apple’s HR team (which it calls its People team) has been listening to employees’ personal stories about why they wanted to work from home. Sources told Recode that Apple employees with disabilities, single parents, or those who have already permanently moved away from the office were among those most negatively affected by the mandate to return to the office.
“However, it has been disappointing to see these personal stories not acknowledged individually or by any change in policy,” the letter states.
Ultimately, the letter argues that the risks of the proposed policy changes to Apple’s business are “minimal, while their potential benefits are enormous”.
Apple employees airing their grievances about how the company is run — even internally — is a relatively new phenomenon. Unlike Google or even Facebook, Apple does not have much of a history of employee debate on controversial matters. The floodgates seemed to have opened with a backlash to the hiring of Antonio Garcia Martinez, an engineering manager who has previously written what many viewed as sexist comments about women. Martinez was fired from the company shortly after employees published a petition calling for an investigation into his hiring.
The big question moving forward is how Apple’s management will respond to this ongoing wave of activism in its workforce and whether it will listen to its employees’ concerns, or if it will crack down on the dissent as other companies like Google have.
The full text of the letter is below (emphasis not ours):
Dear Tim, Deirdre, and Team,
Thank you for all the work you and the team do to keep Apple’s culture so rich, vibrant, and inclusive! We especially appreciate the People’s team’s efforts over the last few weeks to understand our personal situations. However, it has been disappointing to see these personal stories not acknowledged individually or by any change in policy. We continue to be concerned that this one-size-fits-all solution is causing many of our colleagues to question their future at Apple. Around 68% of the respondents to our informal survey somewhat or strongly agreed that the lack of location flexibility would likely cause them to leave Apple; that’s over 1100 members of our Apple family, and we care about every single one of them.
With COVID-19 numbers rising again around the world, vaccines proving less effective against the Delta variant, and the long-term effects of infection not well understood, it is too early to force those with concerns to come back to the office. Furthermore, allowing some greater flexibility than the current 3/2 schedule would enable us to truly validate whether some people working remotely, not just everyone occasionally working from home, is compatible with Apple’s culture of collaboration.
We propose the following adaptations to the Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) and Temporary Remote Work Arrangement (TRWA) programs to make them part of the Hybrid Working Pilot. These new arrangements would be limited to one year with no promise to be extended.
Local WFH Temporary Pilot Agreement:
This proposal is intended to accommodate employees who work better from home—or who do not feel comfortable in the office while the pandemic is still not under control—by allowing them to continue working from home unless the particular needs of their role require them to be in the office.
- Required: Approval of direct manager.
- Default work location is home, but the employee will still have an assigned desk in the office.
- WFH location must be within commutable distance to the employer’s assigned office.
- A fixed WFH/in-office schedule may be part of this arrangement at the manager’s discretion.
Remote WFH Temporary Pilot Agreement
This proposal is intended to accommodate employees whose living situations are not compatible, or have become incompatible, with commuting to an Apple office.
- Required: Approval of department head.
- Default work location is current permanent home address; employee will not have an assigned desk in the office.
- Employee’s compensation may be adjusted based on location, the same as for permanent remote employees.
We believe that these two proposals are essential to making the Hybrid Working Pilot successful. Together, they ensure the Pilot encompasses the full range of office and non-office working arrangements, allow us to retain many of our colleagues, who have expressed the desire for location-flexibility in their current roles, and enable individuals and teams to respond more quickly to the changing regional conditions of COVID-19 without relying on previous company-wide guidance. We hope you agree that the risks of these adapted policies are minimal while their potential benefits are enormous and look forward to hearing your thoughts.