Prominent Apple employees write letters to management, resigning because of return to office

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Enlarge / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Apple’s efforts to bring its employees back to the office have met continued opposition from an organized group of employees, and at least one prominent resignation has occurred over the matter.

The Verge reporter ZoĆ« Schiffer tweeted On Saturday, Ian Goodfellow, Apple’s director of machine learning, will leave the company. He cited the return plan as the reason for his departure. “I firmly believe that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team,” he said in a note to his colleagues, according to Schiffer’s tweet.

The current policy occasionally varies by team and role, but in general Apple has already asked employees to visit the office for a day or two per week. On May 23, many Apple employees will need to be in the office at least three days a week.

Some employees are unhappy with the gradual return to the office. They have coordinated their efforts in a group called Apple Together. The group recently published an open letter to management.

Apple Together lists several reasons why they believe Apple’s return to the office doesn’t make sense for the company and its employees. The group seeks to debunk the notion that being together in the office allows for random moments of collaboration and creation. The group says the company is already isolated, so collaborating with colleagues from home (when video calls to other offices or departments are sometimes easier to arrange) is easier to manage than in the office.

Apple Together highlights the impact that commuting in busy cities where Apple has offices — such as the Bay Area, Los Angeles or Austin, Texas — has on employees’ personal lives, energy and availability at work . The group also notes that requiring employees to live within commuting distances from offices limits the number of employees joining the company.

And the letter ends by naming what the authors believe is the “biggest reason” Apple should allow for more flexible work arrangements. It points out that Apple’s marketing messages position products like the iPhone, iPad, and Mac as ideal tools for remote work, even as Apple tells employees who develop those products to return to the office.

The letter suggests that Apple’s marketing is hypocritical, noting that employees who work to make these products better understand customers’ needs when they share the same work lifestyle.

As Apple gradually transitions employees back to an in-office culture, it’s effectively putting remote collaboration tools where it has no other choice.

For example, a Wall Street Journal article on how the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed Apple’s operations in China describes how Apple has used technologies like live streams, video calls and augmented reality to allow Californian engineers to collaborate with colleagues in China while traveling to allow restrictions. Previously, many of these interactions would have required international travel to meet in person.

Meanwhile, several other tech companies have taken more permissive approaches to remote work. Microsoft still encourages some employees to come into the office, but that varies on a case-by-case basis. Others like Dropbox, Twitter and Lyft said most employees can remain fully remote indefinitely if they choose.

As it stands now, Apple plans to continue its updated three-day-week policy on May 23.


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