Apple backs off its return-to-work policy, cites virus resurgence

Apple told employees today it will delay a plan to require them to come back to the office a least three days a week amid surging COVID-19 cases.

The company had planned to require workers to return to the office thrice weekly by May 23, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg. Apple said the requirement is being delayed for “the time being” and didn’t provide a new implementation date; it still expects workers in the office two days a week.

The company also re-instituted a mask mandate for employees at Apple Stores, but is not requiring customers do the same.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple employees had previously threatened to quit over Apple’s policy, which is among the more strict return-to-work policies among big tech firms.

Earlier this month, a group calling itself Apple Together published an open letter to Apple executives calling on them to change the company’s hybrid work policy.

apple inflexible tweet Twitter

Among other grievances, the letter called the company’s office requirement as showing “almost no flexibility at all.”

In a Twitter post today, Apple Together wrote: “Apple‘s inflexible remote-work policy has forced workers to choose between their health, the lives they’ve painstakingly built over the past 2 years, and their jobs. Today’s accommodations are still far from enough. Apple must institute a flexible and modern remote-work policy.”

Employee surveys have shown that as many as 40% of workers would leave their job if not allowed to work remotely. And yet among businesses that employ white collar or knowledge-based workers, between a third and 60% are requiring an in-office presence of some form, whether part- of full-time.

Pushback against mandatory back-to-work policies is not confined to Apple. In April, a year after JPMorgan had said everyone would be required to return to the office, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon conceded he now expects only about half his 270,000-person workforce to return to the office full time — and 10% will work fully remote.

Other companies continue to try to end remote work and hybrid work plans. Among them: Goldman Sachs, which in March said it would require everyone to be in the office.

David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, an HR consulting firm in Connecticut, said today that firms dictating a full-time return to office — or how employees should work remotely risk causing an exodus of talent and recruitment problems.

Currently, there are 11.5 million job openings in the US and the overall US unemployment rate is 3.6%. But for the tech market, unemployment is just 2%, according to CompTIA, a nonprofit association for the IT industry and workforce. At the same time, in each of the past six months, more than 4 million people have quit their jobs, according the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The reality is employees have the upper hand when it comes to corporate policies, and its up to management to create a people-centered work environment where talent feels appreciated and content, Lewis explained.

For most companies, and particularly tech companies, mandating employees return to the office a set number of days is a clear faux pas, but Apple’s move is less risky than others, Lewis said. “They’re the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and they do have the ability to set a direction that may be counter to what other businesses can do because of their unique position in the market,” he said.

Even with record low unemployment, Apple is perceived as a more desirable place to work, Lewis explained, so even if employees walk away, there would likely be a line of others beating a path to their door to fill those positions.

“Another company would be best served asking their employees what they want,” Lewis explained. “That said, there’s an old adage: Someone who is fully in control is someone who’s fully in control until they are not fully in control. Apple could easily find they’ve overplayed their hand here, but the time they learn that they may have done some damage.”

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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