Prominent Apple employees write letters to management, resigning after returning to the office

A huge ring-shaped building on a green campus.
Zoom in / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Apple’s efforts to bring its workers back to the office are facing continued resistance from an organized group of employees, and at least one prominent resignation has been made because of the problem.

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

Current policies vary from time to time depending on the team and role, but in general, Apple has already asked employees to visit the office one or two days a week. On May 23, many Apple employees will have to go to the office at least three days a week.

Some employees are dissatisfied with the gradual return to the office. They coordinated their efforts in a group called “Apple Together”. The group recently released an open letter to the company’s executive management.

Apple Together cites several reasons why they believe Apple’s return to the office makes no sense to the company and its employees. The group is trying to unravel the idea that staying together in the office allows for random moments of collaboration and creation. The group says the company is already isolated, so working with co-workers is easier to manage when you work from home (when it’s sometimes easier to arrange video calls to other offices or departments) than in the office.

Apple Together records the impact that traveling to work in high-traffic cities where Apple has offices – such as the Bay Area, Los Angeles or Austin, Texas – has on employees’ personal lives, energy and availability at work. The group also points out that the requirement for employees to live within the range of travel to work from the office limits the types of employees who join the company.

The letter ends by citing what its authors consider “the most important reason” why Apple should allow more flexible working arrangements. It points out that Apple’s marketing messages position products like the iPhone, iPad and Mac as ideal tools for remote work, even as Apple tells employees designing those products to return to the office.

The letter suggests that Apple’s marketing is hypocritical and notes that employees working on making these products will better understand customer needs if they live the same lifestyle.

While Apple is gradually bringing employees back into the office culture, it is effectively using remote collaboration tools where there is no other choice.

For example, a Wall Street Journal article on how the COVID-19 pandemic changed Apple’s operations in China describes how Apple used technologies such as livestreams, video calls and augmented reality to allow California engineers to collaborate with counterparts in China amid travel constraints. Previously, many of these interactions required international travel to meet in person.

Meanwhile, several other technology companies have adopted more lenient approaches to teleworking. Microsoft still encourages some employees to come to the office, but that varies from case to case. Others like Dropbox, Twitter and Lyft have announced that most employees could stay completely away indefinitely if they choose to.

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

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