Remote row | Apple exec's move to Google over office return plan shows WFH still crucial to HR

Apple exec's move to Google over office return plan shows WFH still crucial to HR

An Apple executive who quit in protest over the firm’s return-to-office plans has joined Google, where the rules on home working are currently less stringent.

Tech behemoth Apple announced it would soon be mandatory for US employees to go into the office three days a week, with a phased return to hybrid working beginning in April, bringing employees back to work for one day a week initially.

The full Hybrid Work Pilot – in which employees work in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and “flexibly” on Wednesdays and Fridays – was set to begin on 23rd May. However, earlier this week the company announced it was delaying its return-to-office plans partly due to rising COVID cases in the area of its California headquarters.

Tim Cook has previously stated that in-person work and collaboration is “irreplaceable”, but many of his employees disagree. An open letter signed by 1,043 current and former Apple staff was recently circulated to the tech company’s Executive Committee, stating that the company’s Hybrid Work Pilot “does not recognize flexible work and is only driven by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control.”

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One top executive, Director of Machine Learning, Ian Goodfellow – went so far as to resign in protest over the company’s policy, reportedly writing in his resignation letter: “I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team.”

Now, according to Bloomberg, Goodfellow has been snapped up by Google to work in their AI division DeepMind. Google’s policy on remote working is not entirely different to Apple. In March, bosses dictated that most workers had to come back into the office three days a week from April 4. However, bosses also announced that employees could request remote work, if their job allowed, whereas Apple appears to be taking a ‘no exceptions’ approach.

Is office working really better than remote?

Although Goodfellow isn’t joining a company which allows fully remote working for all employees, his decision to walk out on a lucrative job, over his firm’s return-to-office strategy, highlights just how integral home working has become to workers’ lives. As such, HR leaders considering scrapping (or scaling back) their remote working plans have a lot to consider.

A study recently found that flexibility is the key to retaining top talent in 2022 and beyond. Owl Labs, a global collaborative technology company, polled 2,000 full-time employees across the UK. They found that 37% of Brits say they are more productive working remotely, whilst a further 43% haven’t experienced a change in their level of productivity when working remotely.

The shift to flexible work takes thoughtful and purposeful planning, yet only 36% of employees believe that their managers received hybrid or remote management training. A further 16% believe they should receive more training in the future. Unsurprisingly, 30% of British office workers find building relationships with remote colleagues harder. As a result, 59% of managers (and 62% of executives) are more likely to ask the opinion or engage with those they physically work with over those that are remote.

Remote working can boost inclusivity

Furthermore, data released earlier this year indicated that organisations that have committed to supporting remote work seem to be carving out more inclusive work experiences for staff members.

The analysis from Glint – which looked at aggregated data from millions of staff engagement surveys from over 600 global firms – found that staff members at remote work-friendly organisations were 14% more likely to say that they felt safe to speak their minds.

Elsewhere, nine per cent were more likely to state that their leaders value different perspectives, compared to peers in organisations that haven’t enabled remote work.

Glint’s study also highlighted that virtual work can create a range of opportunities that can help to strengthen feelings of inclusion among employees.

For example, the data stated that virtual ways of working can provide increased flexibility for those with caregiving responsibilities and bypass location bias, among other things.

Key takeaways

The evolution of flexible working has empowered people to work in a way that better reflects their personal circumstances, whether that’s coming into the office every day, adopting a hybrid working pattern or working entirely remotely in another country.

This flexibility opens up the jobs market to a much more diverse cross-section of employees who are joining organisations with cultures and working practices that allow them to feel freer to be their authentic selves. As working becomes increasingly borderless, it’s essential that business leaders build on these gains by ensuring that company culture is consistent for everyone, no matter how or where they work.

But despite the gains that many are experiencing, some employees are missing the unique interactions that come from seeing colleagues face to face

Maintaining a distinctive company culture that welcomes diversity of thought, experience and working patterns is vital for businesses looking to keep their people motivated.

It’s not just about how managers recognise and reward their teams though - empowering colleagues to connect with each other in different ways, from anywhere in the world, will help to build bonds and a more cohesive workforce.

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