June 7, 2021
Last week Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a new policy for remote working. Starting September 1, Apple employees will be required to work in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Wednesdays and Fridays can be “flex” workdays where an employee can choose to work remotely. The announcement was not received well by all Apple employees.
In fact, there was strong push back from some. A small group of employees sent a letter back to Cook stating they wanted a flexible approach which allowed full choice on working remotely. “Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple.” Maybe the demands of the high-tech industry make work-life balances more unique and challenging than in other sectors? Maybe the work balance Apple employees seek is like the high-performance athlete who needs a healthy balance between training, rest, and performance to perform at their highest peak? Maybe I am being too generous in my assessment of jobs at Apple?
By coincidence, starting last Monday our firm began new flexible working arrangements with a requirement that each employee spend at least 2.5 days per week in the office. When the pandemic began most of our team moved to remote working on a full-time basis. We adapted quickly and allowed our team members to choose between working from home or the office provided they fulfilled their work responsibilities. Now, with the changes in health guidance and the benefit of vaccinations, we have a third to two thirds of our workforce in the office each day. Our approach has always tried to be conscious of each person’s unique situations. The new policy is a six month “trial”. We then review whether it is working.
In reading the Apple news I was reminded of a book sitting on my shelf waiting to be read – “The Job – Work and Its Future” by Ellen Shell. The book was published in 2018 when factors such as globalization and digitalization seemed to be upsetting a healthy work-life balance. Little did we know the pandemic would bring so much change to work routines. The subject of remote work is unlikely to go away after the pandemic. In fact, it might be a tipping point where work and productivity are made even more challenging as more and more high skilled work becomes automated by new technologies such as artificial intelligence.
I wonder what those Apple employees will say if they find their remote working jobs are taken for a fraction of the cost by outsourced workers located somewhere else in the world. For some jobs, management is blind to whether an employee is working from home in Seattle, traveling the country in an RV, or based in Djakarta. It is always smart to be careful about what you wish for.