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Prominent Apple staffers write letters to management, resign over office return

Enlarge / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Apple’s efforts to return its workers to the office are facing continuing resistance from an organized group of employees, and at least one prominent resignation has taken place over the issue.

The Verge reporter Zoë Schiffer tweeted on Saturday that Ian Goodfellow, a director of machine learning at Apple, will leave the company. He cited the return-to-office plan as a reason for his departure. “I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team,” he said in a note to fellow staffers, according to Schiffer’s tweet.

The current policy occasionally varies by team and role, but generally, Apple has already asked employees to visit the office for one or two days a week. On May 23, many of Apple’s employees will be required to go to the office at least three days per week.

Some employees are unhappy with the gradual return to the office. They’ve coordinated their efforts in a group dubbed “Apple Together.” The group recently published an open letter directed at the company’s executive leadership.

Apple Together lists several reasons why they believe Apple’s return to the office doesn’t make sense for the company and its employees. The group attempts to debunk the notion that being in the office together allows for serendipitous moments of collaboration and creation. The group says that the company is already siloed, so collaborating with coworkers is more manageable when working from home (when video calls to other offices or departments are sometimes easier to arrange) than in the office.

Apple Together notes the effect that commuting in heavy traffic cities where Apple has its offices—like the Bay Area, Los Angeles, or Austin, Texas—has on employees’ personal lives, energy, and availability at work. The group also points out that requiring employees to live in commuting range from offices limits what kinds of employees join the company.

And the letter concludes by naming what its authors deem “the most important reason” Apple should allow more flexible working arrangements. It points out that Apple’s marketing messaging positions products like the iPhone, iPad, and Mac as ideal tools for remote work, even as Apple tells the employees who design those products to return to the office.

The letter suggests Apple’s marketing is hypocritical and notes that employees who work on making these products will understand customers’ needs better if they are living the same work lifestyle.

While Apple is gradually moving employees back to an in-office culture, it is using remote collaboration tools effectively where it has no other choice.

For example, a Wall Street Journal article about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed Apple’s operations in China outlines how Apple has used technologies like livestreams, video calls, and augmented reality to enable California-based engineers to collaborate with colleagues in China amid travel restrictions. Previously, many of these interactions would have required international travel to meet in person.

Meanwhile, several other tech companies have taken more permissive approaches to remote work. Microsoft still encourages some employees to come to the office, but it varies on a case-by-case basis. Others like Dropbox, Twitter, and Lyft announced that most employees may remain fully remote indefinitely if they choose to.

As it stands now, Apple plans to move ahead with its updated three-days-a-week policy on May 23.

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