back to article Apple's return-to-office plan savaged by staff

Apple's directive requiring staff to return to the office after two years of pandemic-based working from home has elicited opposition from a group of employees. In an open letter published last week, a group calling itself Apple Together said the iGiant's work-from-home (WFH) policy is motivated by fear. "You have …

  1. Infi 1

    No real surprise

    The problem is, and always has been, trust.

    Management have an inherent distrust of non management staff. "If you're not sat there right in front of me, I don't trust that you'll do your work." It's pitiful really. Staff have been doing their jobs perfectly well from home for the last two years, but management just don't like it and hate the fact they can't micro manage their staff.

    Don't get me wrong, some staff need micro management because they are genuinely lazy/useless, but the bulk of the workforce know what their job is and can do it quite well whether they're at home or not.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: No real surprise

      The problem is, and always has been, trust.

      The problem is, and always has been, trust incompetent managers who don't know how to do their job.

      FTFY.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: No real surprise

        Or...managers realising that if they don't people to manage in-person, then maybe those managers aren't actually required...at all. :-)

        We all know the general opinion of readers here of middle managers, ie many are pointless. Maybe a good middle manager can handle a lot more people or multiple departments when doing it remotely. The not-good middle managers then no longer have jobs.

      2. Plest Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: No real surprise

        "incompetent managers"....who live in constant fear that they will be found to be doing nothing of value and "be asked to move on to other opportunities".

    2. LateAgain

      Re: No real surprise

      Hands up if you ever had a manager that said " if you're not at your desk you're not working"

      1. ttlanhil

        Re: No real surprise

        Credit where it's due: when you leave your desk for a meeting often little work gets done!

        1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Silver badge

          Re: No real surprise

          When you don't leave your desk because all your meetings are Webex/Zoom/Teams (cross-country teams) little work gets done anyway due to the interruption (people are NOT good at multitasking, myself included).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No real surprise

      I always wonder how much this lack of trust is behind the drive to open plan offices. When the workers are in offices, or even cubicles, then it is harder to visually verify that they appear to work than if they are herded into one of the open plan barns.

      Of course, the mangler can't (yet?) tell if you are trying to figure out a work problem or debating the merits of an ice cream cone with your inner voices. This deplorable state will be fixed once the brain implants become compulsory.

      1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: No real surprise

        --I always wonder how much this lack of trust is behind the drive to open plan offices.--

        Pretty much non. There were two reasons for it 1) you can cram more people in which is important when renting office space in (say) London and 2) management consultants suggested it - one of the latest fads

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No real surprise

      Funny how they will trust someone cheap in a remote shed in India/Poland/Manila though.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: No real surprise

        They do trust their watchdogs there...

      2. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: No real surprise

        If you think working in clean rooms and/or under watchful eyes of CCTV (well IP nor CC...) is trusted, then yes.

    5. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: No real surprise

      I my experience, if someone is lazy then they won’t do much work regardless of where their desk is.

      I also recall a colleague who was not lazy, but worked hard on his code in an open plan office just a few metres from his managers. He was working hard on a project where he developed software unrelated to the company business. He then started a side hustle with the software and eventually struck out on his own and had a very successful business.

      Another colleague spent her time writing a masters dissertation, in the office under the noses of everyone.

      1. Sherrie Ludwig

        Re: No real surprise

        I would't call either of your examples lazy, they were just working on outside projects.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: No real surprise

          "I would't call either of your examples lazy, they were just working on outside projects."

          That would be covered by my "colleague who was not lazy" words.

          But the point is, it doesn't matter that they were in an office under the nose of management, or they were at home. They could have been working on a novel, or looking at tractor websites, where they were working was not relevant.

          1. Stork Silver badge

            Re: No real surprise

            Upvote for tractor websites

    6. Def Silver badge

      Re: No real surprise

      some staff need micro management because they are genuinely lazy/useless

      I can add one more reason: Inexperience.

      We've employed a ton of people over the last few years (lots of people, not just a few of the rotund variety ;), many of them fresh out of university. A lot of these people don't have the experience of working in a team and don't have the technical knowledge to work efficiently from home. Some do, sure, but there are others who we feel are maybe feeling a bit lost at times and don't always have the confidence to speak up, or know exactly who to turn to with questions when they do.

      At times, as much as it pains me to say it, sitting in the same room as your teammates is just better.

      1. Plest Silver badge

        Re: No real surprise

        Yes and no, "horses for course" and there's a lot to be said for WFH and office attendance. It's having a management team who can see what's what and when needed and use that to best effect.

        1. Def Silver badge

          Re: No real surprise

          Oh I much prefer to work from home - and I am doing permanently. Don't get me wrong.

          But this isn't really about management. This is about how new members integrate and become effective members of a team. Especially when they don't have any previous experience.

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Many of us spend several hours every day commuting to and from the office..

    You knew that when you accepted your job at Apple. Complaining now because you've discovered a different work/life balance isn't Apple's fault.

    This is the dilema many, many employees face across the world: LIve close to work where costs are sky high, or live further away but loose many hours a week of your life to commutting.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      You forgot option C) Work from home. It's now been shown in many cases to work well (not all, of course). WFH has been encroaching into business for a good few years now and has been touted as "the future" for decades. COVID has accelerated this process and some people, especially, so it seems, US management according to the quoted poll in the article, are fearful of change. Considering the rapid pace of change in tech companies and the familiarity with tech to enable WFH, you'd expect the likes of Apple to be at the forefront of the switch to WFH wherever practicable.

      1. ShadowSystems Silver badge

        At John...

        It's even worse when the company trying to force a return from the WFH situation is one of the major WFH advocates, a major provider of devices & services designed with the WFH workforce in mind, and after having done everything to encourage WFH short of publicly catapulting their employees off the roof back at their cars with instructions to go back home; If you work for a/the big(gest) WFH company in the land & that same company is now trying to reverse thrust, it's no surprise if the WFH employees use the opportunity to publicly abandon ship before that particular Titanic finds it's iceberg. =-/

      2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

        @John Brown. I'll take option C please! When I was blue, we were all encouraged to go work from home, so IBM could save costs on office space. Much of the old office space was sold off or rented out. The Nottingham office had East and West wings, then it was just one side, then eventually, just one floor. Warwick got halved in size.

        Now I work in local Govt, and we're looking at flexible office space in the future, and continued wfh, as we can get out of leases and save money, and our tax payers kind of like that.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Yes, a local council near me had just completed their WFH/flexible working plan just before the COVID lockdown, the plan being to sell-off/end leasing of about 1/3rd of their buildings/office space. They still had issues with the WFH due to lockdown, but primarily it was "simply" one of capacity rather than having to build a solution in days/weeks/months. This was a year long plan and build-out, so well before any inkling of a pandemic.

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Holmes

      "isn't Apple's fault"

      Maybe not, but now it's Apple's problem. Apple employees are presumably hot commodities on the job market, and if the cachet if working for Apple is no longer a sufficient counterbalance to the onerous Bay Area commute, those employees may well find themselves with ample opportunities elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how this situation shakes out across industries where remote work is an option.

    3. LybsterRoy Silver badge

      I'm also amused by those who want to work from home but keep the salary enhancements to allow them to pay commuting costs. I suppose some who get London weighting will want to keep that when they move to Grimsby and WFH.

      1. Def Silver badge
        Joke

        To be fair, I'd want some danger-money too if I moved to Grimsby.

      2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Since when did salary enhancements come remotely close to covering commuting costs? Before tax, maybe. But as salary it's taxed to hell thus ceases to cover costs. At best it reduces the loss. Doesn't eliminate it.

  3. Ace2 Bronze badge

    Commutes

    Everything should be more flexible in this world, sure, but if you spend several hours a day commuting that’s on you. There are lots of great places outside of NY, DC, San Jose, and LA.

  4. mevets

    Apple's Godwin.

    Apple culture has its own version of Godwin's law -- cherry pick some SJ quote and the argument is over. I wished I had the opportunity to turn on someone with .... As Steve said, you might be better at your job if you dropped some acid....

    1. Plest Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Apple's Godwin.

      Probably wouldn't be any worse and it would pass those boring days a bit quicker! 5 hours of staring at the screen, "It's an @, an @, an @, an @, ooh it's uncurling....hmmm a straight, flat at...."

  5. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    iHotel

    Apple spent about $5bn on the design and construction of its Apple Park corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California, so the mega-corp has reason to want to utilize its five-year-old structure

    Convert part of the structure to a Hotel. Apple fans will pay $$$ to stay there. Just ensure the rooms have rounded corners

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: iHotel

      "Apple spent about $5bn on the design and construction of its Apple Park corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California, so the mega-corp has reason to want to utilize its five-year-old structure"

      I think this is the main reason they want employees back at the office. With employees working from home they are stuck with a $5bn white elephant. Converting part of it to alternate use is a good option.... though it would take a hell of a conversion to turn it to a hotel. A building designed as a hotel will have plumbing for the ensuite bathrooms in every room, it's a huge work to retrofit that into an existing building.

      On the other hand IIRC the whole building is round, so not only will they have rounded corners but also rounded walls

      1. teebie

        Re: iHotel

        Providing hotel rooms that look fantastic but don't even have a toilet would seem very on-brand for Apple.

        1. DJV Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: iHotel

          Now you're just taking the piss!

          1. Kane Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: iHotel

            "Now you're just taking keeping the piss!"

            FTFY!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: iHotel

              You're holding it wrong!

              1. Kane Silver badge
                Joke

                Re: iHotel

                "You're holding it wrong!"

                So my wife keeps telling me!

        2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: iHotel

          And the rooms won't even have corners to piss in.

        3. Brad16800

          Re: iHotel

          It's a feature not a bug!

        4. Roj Blake

          Re: iHotel

          Or they'll have toilets that won't be compatible with existing biology.

      2. Solviva Bronze badge

        Re: iHotel

        Wait you expected running water in your Iroom? You're using it wrong, that's what the bucket in the corner's for.

    2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: iHotel

      I’m sure that this is part of the problem. A whole bunch of people will have made a career from justifying the new building’s most novel (expensive) features in terms of teamwork, productivity, creativity ……. buzzWord(I), so if it lies empty and Apple still thrives then they, and their ideas, are going to look stupid.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: iHotel

      Convert part of the structure to a Hotel. Apple fans will pay $$$ to stay there. Just ensure the rooms have rounded corners

      Wait a minute - if they stagger the days certain teams have to be in the office, the extra space could be converted to rooms for workers who don't want to commute long times when they are forced to work back-to-back office days. And charge them for the privilege, of course....

  6. Trubbs

    Horses for courses

    As a seasoned professional with experience of 'being sent out into the field' and working autonomously I personally thrive WFH and as a side effect contribute to green imperatives not commuting 30 mile each way to attend a distracting centralised work environment plus increased productivity etc etc. Best case scenario...

    However

    Talking to my younger less experienced colleagues (I am a member of rudderless manglement) they do not always feel the same way. Mentoring young aspiring workers can be done remotely but it is tricky, they tell me that they feel a vacuum when seniors are absent. It takes a special effort and time to engage and support.

    This kind of appreciation for individual needs is not catered for in an increasingly homogenised nay polarised quasi-political debate (looking at you Rees Mogg you wanker). We should assess each worker individually, engage and ask, some surprising responses come back.

    What is clear is that there are two types of remote workers, production heroes and work-shy wasters.

    Engage and inspire. Maintain the former, release back into the wild the latter and you have a killer team.

    If you do not have the time to engage your workers this way then either your business model does not support it (and you have some issues there) or your organisation is not set up correctly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Horses for courses

      Couldn't agree more. Across all the staff I manage, they each have their own needs and wants: From wanting to hardly ever coming back to the office to wanting to be in the office most of the time.

      The way to get the best out of all of them is to understand them and support them individually.

      1. Brad16800

        Re: Horses for courses

        In the same boat as you. Some staff want the in person contact and some prefer WFH. I try to be hands off and trust they are doing their job in the best way that suits them.

        Personally I like being in the office for the social interaction but I've seen over the last few years you can actually get more out of an employee if you give them more control over where they work.

    2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

      Re: Horses for courses

      --What is clear is that there are two types of remote workers, production heroes and work-shy wasters.--

      This is where the real problem starts. First how do you differentiate and then how do you remove the second category?

      Maybe the answer is to go back to a piecework rather than an hours worked environment, or a mix thereof.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Horses for courses

        What is clear is that there are two types of remote workers, production heroes and work-shy wasters.--

        There are two types of in the office workers, production heroes and work-shy wasters.

        The MP was in the office when he was looking at his tractors on his phone.

        Isaac Newton was working from home at Woolsthorpe when the apple fell.

      2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: Horses for courses

        Simples. It's called effective management.

        Rate staff on the work they produce instead of where they are, or aren't, working. Output can be monitored without micromanaging. If the work consistently below par there are standard procedures to get them up to speed or get shot of them.

        WFH hasn't changed any of this.

  7. sabroni Silver badge
    Boffin

    Where are the metrics?

    We were forced home by the pandemic. That must have created a lot of MI data. Where are the metrics showing that going in to the office makes us more efficient?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Where are the metrics?

      For a lot of businesses, the metrics show that productivity was down. Of course that could be down to the pandemic and most of their clients stopping work, thus projects coming to a halt etc etc.

      Depends on your viewpoint as to whether you want to use those metrics or not. Or whether you want to attempt to compensate for the diminished workload.

      1. rg287

        Re: Where are the metrics?

        For a lot of businesses, the metrics show that productivity was down. Of course that could be down to the pandemic and most of their clients stopping work, thus projects coming to a halt etc etc.

        The latter is important - lots of office-based engineers and designers supporting projects in the real world which stopped. They can work from home perfectly well but there was no work to be done.

        Also, one must be wary of lies, damn lies and statistics.

        Productivity may have been down “for 2020”, but it’s worth drilling into monthly/quarterly figures. In some companies work will have all but ground to a halt for April/May as IT scrambled to implement remote infrastructure and staff set up at home and adjusted their workflows. But then recovered going forward. It will vary across businesses and sectors or course.

        Beware the too-broad average.

        1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

          Re: Where are the metrics?

          Government offices (DVLA, Passport Office, etc.,) now are working at a small fraction of their normal rate.

          1. Coastal cutie

            Re: Where are the metrics?

            The Passport Office and the DVLA have periodically ground to a halt every few years, long before remote working was a thing. And I hear rumours that in the case of the latter, the backlog is due to manglement demanding a full return to work whilst Covid was still rife and without proper precautions, thus creating a mass outbreak, which left a big gap in the workforce.

          2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
            Holmes

            Re: Where are the metrics?

            Didn't really think about this, did you?

            1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

              Re: Where are the metrics?

              I work remotely. I don't produce, I'm out.

              This rule seems not to apply to State employees.

              Since the management of these organisations are powerless to fix the problem, the "because Covid" excuse is rolled out.

        2. Trubbs

          Re: Where are the metrics?

          "Beware the too-broad average"

          Exactly, if you are not concentrating on the individual human beings in your organisation then you are missing the point.

          Your people are your wealth, engage them successfully and together you can build a sustainable and profitable business

          Or your business model is (morally) flawed

  8. trevorde Silver badge

    Glaring omission

    Asking Apple for comment and 'waiting to hear back from them'

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Glaring omission

      Well of course! How can they reply if they're not in the office?

      Perhaps that's been the problem all along...

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      Well, Duh!

      From the article:

      Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

      C'mon man, this is El Reg. How could you guys expect anything different?

  9. Def Silver badge
    Coat

    "Apple did not respond to a request for comment."

    What was it someone once said about repeating the same action and expecting a different result? :)

  10. pcranness

    Options

    Clearly this is a lack of trust from management and justifying their jobs.

    For me (as a manager of people) it's not about the office or WFH, it's about having options that work for you and lead to you enjoying you job and being as productive as the employer needs. It might be the office, or home, it might even be a cafe occasionally, or even a stroll in the park if you have a particularly taxing problem to solve. Why should I care where you work, as long as it is safe etc., if you produce what I need?

    Also, if we want people to come to the office they need to be places people want to come. Carrot, not stick. Let’s make them places for communal working where you can chat with colleagues and have comfortable meetings, hell even socialise (to quote John Amaechi, 'strangers can't team).

    It's about options not dictation.

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: Options

      @pcranness - I couldn't agree more. I posted here a little while ago about when I was in charge of a team of architects. This was around 2007-2009 or so.

      I didn't care one jot where or how they worked. My rules were very simple:

      The work gets done on time.

      If there's a problem, I want to know about it before I have a customer shouting at me down a phone.

      If you do need to be on site for some reason (e.g. meeting) then so be it but beyond that the where and the how don't matter to me - if you want to work from 7am to 3.30pm every day or nights or split your day so you have a 3 hour break in the middle, so be it.

      And finally, don't abuse my trust - you will only do it once.

      And you know what? We had the most productive and profitable team in the company.

      1. Brad16800

        Re: Options

        "And finally, don't abuse my trust - you will only do it once."

        Good mantra. I've always been a long leash, short stick person. Rarely used the stick

      2. Boothy Silver badge

        Re: Options

        That's basically the same as my current boss, I'm also an architect these days (done many roles previously).

        He's literally said on meetings "I don't care if your on an Xbox for half the day, as long as the work gets done, to an appropriate standard and is on time."

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Elephant in the room the "sick days"!

    I know for a fact that my company, now mostly WFH, has seen absentism drop like crazy and sick days are almost non-existent in our dept now. Even in my own team of 8, I think we've had a total of 3 sick days in 2 years and prior to that eveyrone had at least 2-3 days a year to make that fake croaky phone call so they could sit at home all day watching Oprah and playing Call of Duty!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Apple Together's objections aren't just about working from home. Some of the concerns raised also take issue with company culture. "

    Probably pants. As in - now they have to go back into the office where the company culture expects them to wear pants again. No more Monday mornings, naked on the leather couch, sobering up while bluffing through a Zoom meeting.

  13. ChaosFreak
    Holmes

    No evidence

    Whenever a company advocates for returning to in-person work because it improves collaboration, and encourages "serendipitous interactions", they never seem to cite any evidence to support this claim. The reason is simple, there is no evidence. It is simply an assumption. In fact, all the evidence points to the contrary, that putting people together in one space to work (especially open plan spaces) increases distraction and reduces efficiency.

    In a world where every remote work is a viable option, companies that force people to come into an office are going to have a lot of trouble recruiting the best talent. They will also be paying for buildings that don't contribute to shareholder value. If I were a shareholder of one of these companies, I would be pressuring the board to maintain a full remote work policy.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The beatings will continue until morale improves

    This sounds very much like the shitshow on offer by my corporate overlords.

    If teams were all in one place it would make some sense, but manglement decided years before the pandemic to spread team members about the world in different timezones so they have to conference call each other at the start or end of their day.

    You couldn't be with other team members in the same office even if you wanted to. Why then force people come into the office to make those same calls?

    The pandemic only highlighted how stupid the whole situation was in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The beatings will continue until morale improves

      Cognitive Dissonance, we spread workers around the world to make cost savings, but we want them all in the same office collaborating on agile projects..... head explodes

  15. jvf

    What is "work'?

    I guess we must define “work”. If “work” means typing on a keyboard all day long with occasional conversations or emails, then one can work anywhere. Back when I was coding, I dreamed about sitting on a beach with my laptop while writing brilliant programs as a freelancer. If “work” means doing stuff with your hands and tools (as well as computers) then you have to be there. I ran a product development lab where we prototyped and tested product ideas (lots of in house automated testing with code developed by myself-great fun). Access to the equipment and collaboration with colleagues was essential.

    Then, there was the submission phase to UL, CSA, VDE, etc. for testing and approval of our proposed product. One can only imagine the head butting that would occur when they’d say “you can’t do that” as we tested the limits of their standards (safely, in our opinion). It became obvious to me early on that it was far better to meet with them in person than phone/ video/email communications methods in terms of hammering out a resolution. This was borne out one day during a meting we had at the UL office. “We sure get a lot more done in person” one of their engineers said.

    Of course, this was back in the day before all the greedy bastards shipped manufacturing off to China. So, perhaps its best to forget what I just wrote. The world has changed and I’m an anachronism whose time has passed. Thank God I’m not looking for a job.

  16. TheRealRoland
    WTF?

    SO has to go back 2 days a week to the office. Rule is that manager(s) then also should be in the office. When in the office, the manager(s) all doing off-site lunches, and in general are not available. So... Why again going back to the office needed?

  17. ske1fr

    Empowerment

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/just-ignore-the-boss-tom-peters-on-excellence-1389215.html

    This was my attitude, and fortunately the majority of my managers agreed with it. You could always tell the ones that did this, and the ones that didn't have the confidence in their team members to just get the job done. The former were the high-performing team leaders with high-performing teams. The latter were the team leaders whose teams couldn't be allowed to think for themselves as they would have been a threat to the boss, guess what, not high-performing teams. Oh look, a little bit of politics there...ah, but I've retired so I'm allowed!

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