Here’s the letter Apple employees sent Tim Cook

From Zoe Schiffer’s “Apple employees push back against returning to the office in internal letter” posted Friday on The Verge:

Dear Tim and Executive Leadership,

Thank you for your thoughtful considerations on a hybrid approach to returning to office work, and for sharing it with all of us early this week. We appreciate your efforts in navigating what has been undeniably an incredibly difficult time for everyone around the world, and doing so for over one hundred thousand people. We are certain you have more plans than were shared on Wednesday, but are following Apple’s time-honored tradition of only announcing things when they are ready. However, we feel like the current policy is not sufficient in addressing many of our needs, so we want to take some time to explain ourselves.

This past year has been an unprecedented challenge for our company; we had to learn how to deliver the same quality of products and services that Apple is known for, all while working almost completely remotely. We did so, achieving another record-setting year. We found a way for everyone to support each other and succeed in a completely new way of working together — from locations we were able to choose at our own discretion (often at home).

However, we would like to take the opportunity to communicate a growing concern among our colleagues. That Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy, and the communication around it, have already forced some of our colleagues to quit. 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. This is a decision none of us take lightly, and a decision many would prefer not to have to make. These concerns are largely what prompted us to advocate for changes to these policies, and data collected will reflect those concerns.

Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored. Messages like, ‘we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office,’ with no messaging acknowledging that there are directly contradictory feelings amongst us feels dismissive and invalidating. Not only do many of us already feel well-connected with our colleagues worldwide, but better-connected now than ever. We’ve come to look forward to working as we are now, without the daily need to return to the office. It feels like there is a disconnect between how the executive team thinks about remote / location-flexible work and the lived experiences of many of Apple’s employees.

For many of us at Apple, we have succeeded not despite working from home, but in large part because of being able to work outside the office. The last year has felt like we have truly been able to do the best work of our lives for the first time, unconstrained by the challenges that daily commutes to offices and in-person co-located offices themselves inevitably impose; all while still being able to take better care of ourselves and the people around us.

Looking around the corner, we believe the future of work will be significantly more location and timezone flexible. In fact, we are already a distributed company with offices all over the world and across many different timezones. Apple’s organizational hierarchy lends itself towards offices that often follow the same structure, wherein people in the same organization are more likely to be co-located in an office. At the same time, we strongly encourage cross-functional, cross-organization collaboration, and our organization’s many horizontal teams reflect this. Such collaboration is widely celebrated across our organization, and arguably leads us to our best results — it’s one of the things that makes Apple, Apple. However, orgs are rarely co-located within walking distance, let alone in the same building, meaning our best collaboration has always required remote communication with teams in other offices and across timezones, since long before the pandemic. We encourage distributed work from our business partners, and we’ve been a remote-communication necessary company for some time, a vision of the future that Steve Jobs himself predicated in an interview from 1990. This may explain how mandatory out-of-office work enabled tearing down cross-functional communication barriers to deliver even better results.

Almost all of us have worked fully remote for over a year now, though the experience arguably would have been better less one pandemic. We have developed two major versions of all our operating systems, organized two full WWDCs, introduced numerous new products, transitioned to our own chipsets, and supported our customers with the same level of care as before. We have already piloted location-flexible work the last 15 months under much more extreme conditions and we were very successful in doing so, finding the following benefits of remote and location-flexible work for a large number of our colleagues:

    • Diversity and Inclusion in Retention and Hiring
    • Tearing Down Previously Existing Communication Barriers
    • Better Work Life Balance
    • Better Integration of Existing Remote / Location-Flexible Workers
    • Reduced Spread of Pathogens

We ask for your support in enabling those who want to work remotely / in location-flexible ways to continue to do so, letting everyone figure out which work setup works best for them, their team, and their role — be it in one of our offices, from home, or a hybrid solution. We are living proof that there is no one-size-fits-all policy for people. For Inclusion and Diversity to work, we have to recognize how different we all are, and with those differences, come different needs and different ways to thrive. We feel that Apple has both the responsibility to recognize these differences, as well as the capability to fully embrace them. Officially enabling individual management chains and individual teams to make decisions that work best for their teams roles, individuals, and needs — and having that be the official stated policy rather than the rare individual exceptions — would alleviate the concerns and reservations many of us currently have.

We understand that inertia is real and that change is difficult to achieve. The pandemic forcing us to work from home has given us a unique opportunity. Most of the change has already happened, remote/location-flexible work is currently the “new normal,” we just need to make sure we make the best of it now. We believe that Apple has the ability to be a leader in this realm, not by declaring ‘everyone just work from home for forever,’ as some other companies have done, but by declaring an official broad paradigm policy, that allows individual leaders to make decisions that will enable their teams to do the best work of their lives. We strongly believe this is the ideal moment to “burn the boats” — to boldly declare ‘yes this can be done, and done successfully, because there is no other choice for the future.’

We have gathered some of our requests and action items to help continue the conversation and make sure everyone is heard.

    • We are formally requesting that Apple considers remote and location-flexible work decisions to be as autonomous for a team to decide as are hiring decisions.
    • We are formally requesting a company-wide recurring short survey with a clearly structured and transparent communication / feedback process at the company-wide level, organization-wide level, and team-wide level, covering topics listed below.
    • We are formally requesting a question about employee churn due to remote work be added to exit interviews.
    • We are formally requesting a transparent, clear plan of action to accommodate disabilities via onsite, offsite, remote, hybrid, or otherwise location-flexible work.
    • We are formally requesting insight into the environmental impact of returning to onsite in-person work, and how permanent remote-and-location-flexibility could offset that impact.

We have great respect for Apple and its leadership; we strongly believe in the Innovation and Thinking Differently (from “the way things have always been done” and “industry standards”) that are part of Apple’s DNA. We all wish to continue to “bleed six colors” at Apple itself and not elsewhere. At Apple, our most important resource, our soul, is our people, and we believe that ensuring we are all heard, represented, and validated is how we continue to defend and protect that precious sentiment.

This is not a petition, though it may resemble one. This is a plea: let’s work together to truly welcome everyone forward.

My take: Pushback from Apple employees is extraordinarily rare. I blame Slack for this one.

20 Comments

  1. A rare peak at the laundry room of a major firm. Apple’s focus on secrecy regarding new products alone precludes WFH in too many cases. The WFH decision will never be surrendered by senior management but the concepts in this letter will get attention at other attentive firms. It’s a goldmine of ideas.
    The less connected an employee feels the easier it is to move on and get recruited. Parenthood & Child Care goes unspoken here but is an elephant in the room. I suggest Tim use the freed up office space for a state-of-the-art day care facility.

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    June 5, 2021
  2. Gregg Thurman said:
    Ultimately, no matter the issue, someone has to make decision on what’s best for the Company. No matter that decision someone is going to disagree and cite all kinds of reasons for their opposition.

    If it were any other firm than Apple ID give this “non-petition” more credence. As it is there are few companies on Apple’s scale (are there any?) that are more humanistic and in search of optimal performance wherever the search takes them.

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    June 5, 2021
  3. David Emery said:
    I worked from a home office for the last 10 years of my working life. Much of that was on a project that was widely distributed across the US. There was an understanding and appreciation of the value of the staff working from remote locations (My suburban DC home office was nothing compared to the guy working from Idaho…) But we also invested $ in periodic face-to-face meetings, so the physical aspects of team-building was fully facilitated. Once you know your co-workers, it’s a lot easier to understand the non-text cues in meetings, etc, from the tone of voice or how a comment was phrased.

    The last couple of years was on a successor project. Many of the co-workers transitioned from the previous project, so we had that ‘team’ partially built. But we never achieved the cohesion from the earlier project, and in part that was because there wasn’t the same investment in face-to-face meetings. (Also, the leadership was much less inspiring/competent, and the work was a lot more frustrating.)

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    June 5, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      What’s potentially interesting to me is that many of this working tech generation proclaims being interested in “social interaction” but now shows they want it to be limited and barriered by a screen, timed meetings, and IMO, actually less in person face-to-face contact. Maybe that’s good if they believe much of that office contact is “un- or counterproductive” to them, their feelings, or their work. My concern is that this removal of in person interaction in lieu of more @home flexibility and home/family life will reflect more in the products that Apple offers. Do we really want a world where no one goes out of the home again, or limits their social contact to a select few?

      1
      June 6, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      Incidentally, that wasn’t my first experience with ‘geographically distributed projects’. In the mid ’80s, I worked on a large project that had groups in Vienna, Munich, Nurnberg, Princeton (NJ) and Portland (OR). Now each group was in its local office with a distinct part of the program (not the same as a fully distributed team). But that forced a discipline on the project as a whole to be efficient when we did need to get groups together to hash out interfaces or delivery agreements. Plus there were 2 companies, with 2 different cultures, and 2 different languages, but the official project language was English.

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      June 6, 2021
  4. Michael Goldfeder said:
    While the WFH has provided tremendous flexibility for employees, as well as the employer to keep business up and running, the leadership at the top of any organization ultimately sets the rules. Whether that’s Tim Cook, The Head Football Coach, or the Secretary of Defense.

    No doubt everyone wants to have what they think is best for their own personal situation, however, any organization or professional sports franchise sets the ground rules under an employment contract.

    Should all voices be heard? Yes. But that doesn’t mean the subordinates get to run the show. Ultimately, go back to work or don’t go back to the office. There are consequences that will be imposed. When someone else signs your paycheck, they get to set the rules.

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    June 5, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      When they ask for individual work or project groups to set their own “rules”, there will inherently be a few who will claim those rules don’t work for them and they’ll complain, complain, complain. Few of them have ever risen to a managerial level with overall responsibility for the projects’ course or timetable or results. While remarkable results can occur with a band of individuals working together, IMO its unified and enlightened leadership (seargants, lieutenants, generals) which need to provide overall direction and accountability.

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      June 6, 2021
  5. Jerry Doyle said:
    “….We are formally requesting a transparent, clear plan of action to accommodate disabilities via onsite, offsite, remote, hybrid, or otherwise location-flexible work.”

    I assume workers are not asking the Employer to accommodate workers with disabilities on accessibility issues in their own homes’ & at off-site work areas of the employee’s choosing. Employers are required by law to make their work facilities accessible, but if an employee chooses a different location to work then I do not see Employers picking up the expenses of renovating off-site work areas for accommodation purposes. That can become a huge cost factor involving thousands of dollars & what happens if the worker decides to relocate later in a short period.

    Continue…

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    June 5, 2021
  6. Jerry Doyle said:
    Continued….
    This is a difficult issue for me since I promoted employee work from home & had official responsibility with select others in a 12,000 employee organization to implement a WFH flex-plan.

    First, not every job is appropriate for WFH. We analyzed every job position in our organization to decide if it was appropriate for classifying as WFH.

    Second, we decided it was needed for employee teams to come into the office one day a week to strategize, meet as a group & get that spontaneous reaction & creativity juices flowing that comes from being together. That may not be needed today with all our new, unique & innovative communication technologies. But, still, even watching the communications live on various business talk shows I see how off-site work delays spontaneity in conversed exchanges with missed communications & loss words, not to say about the occasionally dropped connections or frozen screens. So, I do not believe technology has quite arrived to fill completely that need for personal on-site team exchanges for strategizing.

    Third, we ran into problems once WFH became official that worker out-of-sight led to worker out-of-mind when it came to promotions, bonuses, career opportunities & choice job assignments. This is something that employees WFH must understand. If a worker is on site where the action is unfolding, where contacts with superiors happen frequently, then when an issue arises or a choice job assignment opportunity suddenly springs forth it is often the employee on-site who is in a propitious position to get first choice and nod-of-approval.

    Continue….

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    June 5, 2021
  7. Jerry Doyle said:
    Continued….

    Lastly, we all know that the Apple campus was designed specifically to establish an environment for worker interaction. That is the way Steve Jobs designed the campus & saw it going forward.

    Summary: I support workers whose jobs are appropriate to WFA, but they must understand that there are downsides career-wise to doing so & know they run a high risk of being passed over for choice job assignments & even promotions because employees often are promoted not only based on their skills & abilities, but on the rapport & working relationship they have cultivated with management personnel. It is difficult to cultivate such working relationships when one is out-of-sight and often out-of-mind.

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    June 5, 2021
  8. Alan Trerise said:
    These days I don’t worry much about Apple’s competition. Apple’s head start in silicon has them in the rear view mirror. Regulation is not much of a worry either. Apple can rope-a-dope with the best of them. Apple developers are businesses. They will hang in there as long as Apple brings the high-dollar customers.

    But THIS I worry about. I’m not investing in great products and services. And I’m sure as hell not investing in a big as$ round building. I’m investing in the best human capital in the world. Apple attracts the best, challenges them and compensates them handsomely. Apple’s truly awesome ecosystem is built on top of a truly awesome company of people.

    Some speculate this is a few spoiled whiners. Gallup says 54% of workers in the computer field would prefer to continue working remotely. Apple’s and others’ technology allowed much of the US economy to continue to chug ahead to record profits in the middle of a pandemic. The same technology could facilitate the reconfiguration of the U.S. work force in short order.

    But of course Cook understands Apple is its employees. He will figure out how to make it work. I’m betting on it. But watching closely.

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    June 5, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      I like the way you think, Alan. Thanks. I upvoted.

      1
      June 6, 2021

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