Apple reportedly insists on hybrid work model, says in-person collaboration is 'essential'

Apple continues its back and forth with employees over remote work requests.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read
Apple computers

Apple's secretive culture has survived the pandemic, but the company wants to push back to in-person work.

James Martin/CNET

Apple's corporate culture is well known throughout Silicon Valley as hard charging and secretive. It may also soon be seen as unforgiving, too. The company's head of people, Deirdre O'Brien, reportedly dismissed requests from seemingly thousands of Apple employees for the company to reconsider its remote work policies. 

Earlier this month, the company told employees it expects them to be in the office at least three days a week. In a video posted internally at Apple and cited by a Wednesday report in The Verge, O'Brien said the company believes "in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future." She added that the successful product launches of the past year "were built upon the base of years of work that we did when we were all together in-person." 

Read more: Apple employees want more remote-work flexibility post-COVID

The Verge report didn't say whether O'Brien acknowledged how well Apple's teams worked remotely. The report also didn't say whether she'd mentioned that the company notched its highest revenue and profit nearly a year after countries around the world began a series of lockdowns and quarantines in efforts to slow the spreading coronavirus pandemic. Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple's pushback marks the latest battle between tech companies and their employees over the future of how they'll work. Despite a banner year for each company's business by nearly any financial metric, Facebook, Google and Apple in particular have found themselves fighting with employees about plans to return to the office. Before the companies solidified policies about when and how remote work would transition back to the office, many staff began to push back. Some moved away from Silicon Valley, and others had grown accustomed to spending more time with their children. Many simply realized that they could do their work without having to endure the San Francisco Bay Area's notorious hours-long commutes.

Apple hasn't publicly responded to the pushback. John Gruber, a longtime blogger who's frequently invited to Apple events and has spoken with Apple executives, argued that the employee complaints are signs the company is hiring people "who aren't a good fit for Apple."

"And who are these people who took jobs at Apple not knowing the company's on-site culture?" he wrote earlier this month. "Do they think Apple built a new $4 billion campus on a lark?" On Wednesday, he pushed further in response to O'Brien's video, saying Apple's decision about remote work "was made" and that he agrees with her statements.

Read more: Silicon Valley is learning it can't work tech employees to the bone during coronavirus

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has told employees he'll allow them to work from more locations throughout the US, and he's said he expects up to half of his workforce to work remotely in the next 10 years. But he also threatened to decrease their pay in response. Google has gone a step further, releasing an official app internally to indicate how much an employee's salary may drop if they continue to work remotely from various parts of the country.

Apple hasn't threatened employee's paystubs in its internal debates, but it has struggled with some team leaders being unforgiving to staff facing stress from the pandemic

Read more: Tech firms face growing resentment toward parent employees during COVID-19

One Apple employee who was struggling to care for a young family amid school shutdowns, said a manager expected full-time work or none at all, despite the company's flexible COVID-era policies. That employee's experience doesn't appear to have been an isolated case.

In a letter published by The Verge earlier this month that was addressed to company executives in response to its return-to-work policies, Apple employees pleaded with the company to offer more flexible work options and better work-life balance.

"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," the Apple employees said. "This is ... a decision many would prefer not to have to make."