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Apple’s mandatory and phased return to office under scrutiny

Apple employees have been told they must return to the office – starting with at least one office day per week, rising to a minimum of three over the next few months.

The directive, sent in a memo to staff from CEO Tim Cook, says staff will be required to work from the office at least one day per week by 11 April, at least two days per week by 2 May and at least three days per week by 23 May.

According to the memo, which was seen by Bloomberg, Cook said: “For many of you, I know that returning to the office represents a long-awaited milestone and a positive sign that we can engage more fully with the colleagues who play such an important role in our lives.”

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Although the memo acknowledged that “for others, it may also be an unsettling change,” Apple has long-regarded the office as its preferred environment.

In a memo sent to staff last year, Cook said: “The truth is that there has been something essential missing from this past year... Video conference calling has narrowed the distance between us, to be sure, but there are things it simply cannot replicate.”

This was followed up by its VP of people, Deirdre O'Brien, saying in-person collaboration was "essential" to Apple's culture and future.

But while a return to the office is now mandated, some have at least praised its decision to take a more staggered approach, rather than requesting three days a week immediately.

“It’s really quite sensible when you think of it,” said Lesley Cooper, CEO of wellbeing consultancy Working Well, speaking to HR magazine.

“At the start of the pandemic employees very quickly changed everything about their work. If Apple were to suddenly expect staff to change again so rapidly and revert back to how things were, it would be a big upheaval.”

She said: “In the two years since the pandemic, people have adopted new regimes, and these take time to unwind from. Practical things, like working out who’s picking the kids up, or who’s looking after the dog all need attention again.

“To me, this staggered approach indicates Apple has read the mood right, and it is recognising that people are emerging from the pandemic differently, and re-adjusting will take time.”

But according to Phil Flaxton, CEO non-profit Work Wise UK, Apple’s preference for the office is out of kilter with many organisations.

Also speaking to HR magazine, he said: “From Apple’s perspective, it has empty offices that it is no doubt paying for. While I can see that it’s not unreasonable to ask staff to come back, even this staggered approach could result in some people leaving.”

He added: “While we all have to get back to some sort of normality, other firms are doing things differently. Deloitte, for instance, is only saying it would ‘like’ to see people at least once a week. It is not insisting on it.”

It is certainly true that not all Silicon Valley giants have the same mandatory policy. Last week, a tweet by Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said that while the company is ready to fully open up, it would be down to employees to decide where they wanted to work.

Apple had initially wanted to get staff back to the office in February, but it decided to delay this due to rising cases of the Omicron variant.

Apple’s announcement follows Google’s request that Bay Area staff need to return to the office from 4 April.

A poll last year by Robert Half found 49% of employers would implement a staggered return to the office, while 46% would allow for a staggered return based on how critical people’s roles were to the business.