'Stop controlling us' | Why Apple's office return plan may boost culture, but stifle diversity

Why Apple's office return plan may boost culture, but stifle diversity

Apple employees have launched a petition against the firm’s order for staff to return to the office, amid concerns that the move could impede diversity and wellbeing.

The tech giant recently told its employees they must come back to the office for at least three days a week, in a bid to boost “in-person collaboration”.

Last week, The Guardian reported on an internal memo sent by CEO Tim Cook which confirmed the decision. Cook wrote: “We are excited to move forward with the pilot and believe that this revised framework will enhance our ability to work flexibly, while preserving the in-person collaboration that is so essential to our culture".

However, employees are fighting back against the decision, claiming that the policy will see Apple become a “whiter”, “more male-dominated” and “more able-bodied".

Some staff have even launched a petition against the decision. The cohort, calling themselves Apple Together, wrote: “For the past 2+ years, Apple’s formerly office-based employees have performed exceptional work, flexibly, both outside and inside traditional office environments. However, Apple leadership recently announced they require a general return to office starting the week of Sept 5 (Labor Day). This uniform mandate from senior leadership does not consider the unique demands of each job role nor the diversity of individuals.

“Those asking for more flexible arrangements have many compelling reasons and circumstances: from disabilities (visible or not); family care; safety, health, and environmental concerns; financial considerations; to just plain being happier and more productive.

“The one thing we all have in common is wanting to do the best work of our lives for a company whose official stance is to do what’s right rather than what’s easy.”

The campaigners have demanded that Apple allows each employee to work directly with their immediate manager to figure out what kind of flexible work arrangements are best for each individual. They also want assurances that these work arrangements should not require higher level approvals, complex procedures, or providing private information.

“We believe that Apple should encourage, not prohibit, flexible work to build a more diverse and successful company where we can feel comfortable to 'think different' together” the petition concluded.

Keys to Employee Satisfaction: Increasing happiness in the workplace

Keys to Employee Satisfaction: Increasing happiness in the workplace

Satisfaction is a multifaceted phenomenon, and the desire for more of it is as timeless as it is current. Especially when it has to do with shaping a long-lasting and positive work culture, employee satisfaction is a central topic.

Whether we’re talking about “happiness at work” or “employee satisfaction,” it’s not just employees who benefit from the positive effects — it’s the whole company.

For management and HR, there are many possibilities for contributing to an increased level of satisfaction in a company.

In this e-Book, you will learn:

  • What facilitates employee satisfaction and what effects it brings

  • How employee satisfaction and the desire for continuing development are connected

  • How you can contribute to increasing employee satisfaction in your company

Show more
Show less

Staff recently also penned an open letter to Apple’s executive team titled “Thoughts on Office-bound Work”, raising concerns that the move was simply a way of controlling staff, as well as commuting time being a waste of mental and physical energy.

But perhaps the most important and most interesting concern raised was the impact that going back to the office could have on workforce diversity.

Part of the letter, which was posted to AppleTogether.org, reads: “Apple will likely always find people willing to work here, but our current policies requiring everyone to relocate to the office their team happens to be based in, and being in the office at least three fixed days of the week, will change the makeup of our workforce. It will make Apple younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, more able-bodied, in short, it will lead to privileges deciding who can work for Apple, not who’d be the best fit.

“Privileges like ‘being born in the right place so you don’t have to relocate’, or ‘being young enough to start a new life in a new city/country’ or ‘having a stay-at-home spouse who will move with you’. And privileges like being born into a gender that society doesn’t expect the majority of care-work from, so it’s easy to disappear into an office all day, without doing your fair share of unpaid work in society. Or being rich enough to pay others to do your care-work for you.”

Read more from us

The petition concludes: “Office-bound work is a technology from the last century, from the era before ubiquitous video-call-capable internet and everyone being on the same internal chat application. But the future is about connecting when it makes sense, with people who have relevant input, no matter where they are based.

“In the original 'Returning to our offices' email, Tim said ‘we’d make sure Apple delivered on its promises to its customers regardless of the circumstances’. It’s true, we delivered on our promises and continue to do so. We were incredibly flexible and resilient and found new ways to do our work, despite not being able to go to an office in many cases.

“Now we ask you, the executive team, to show some flexibility as well and let go of the rigid policies of the Hybrid Working Pilot. Stop trying to control how often you can see us in the office.”

Is office working really better than remote?

Apple’s argument that collaboration thrives through face-to-face work is a logical one, but Apple Together’s counter argument holds just as much weight. In fact, recent data has highlighted just how integral homeworking 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 - it found that 37% of Brits said that they are more productive working remotely, whilst a further 43% haven’t experienced a change in their level of productivity when working remotely.

Just under a third (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.

Work-life balance & inclusion have improved due to WFH

Data released in 2021 also backs up the employee concerns about the impact Apple’s back-to-office order might have on diversity. Research has recently indicated that organisations that have committed to supporting remote work seem to be carving out more inclusive work experiences for staff members.

The latest analysis from Glint – which looked at aggregated data from millions of staff engagement surveys from more than 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.

Despite the potential pitfalls of remote working, new research has also touted its benefits, with a recent survey finding the work-life balance of Brits has improved during the pandemic.

MoneySuperMarket spoke to more than 2,000 households across the country to find out how the pandemic impacted their work-life balance.

On a scale of one to ten, the results showed that the average rating for work-life balance improved by 0.4 when compared to before the pandemic. Overall, nearly one quarter (23%) of Brits agreed that their work-life balance has improved because they spend less time commuting.

Have you enjoyed this piece?

Subscribe now to myGrapevine+ and get access to exclusive new content, and the full content archive.

Be the first to comment.

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.