Apple employees refuse office return because it will make company ‘whiter, more male-dominated’

·4 min read
Tim Cook - Scott Olson/Getty Images North America
Tim Cook - Scott Olson/Getty Images North America

Employees of the tech giant Apple are revolting against a plan to get staff back into the office for three days a week, claiming it will make the company “younger, whiter and more male-dominated”.

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has said his proposed “hybrid working pilot” for US, Europe and UK employees is an attempt to balance the corporate benefits of in-office working with the personal advantages that working from home gives staff members.

A group of US-based Apple employees have formed an organisation dubbed “Apple Together” and claim the initiative is “only driven by fear”.

The unnamed staff have sent an open letter to the executives of the multi-trillion dollar company and give six reasons why they believe the plan to get back to the office will fail.

Chief among them are concerns that it will negatively impact diversity within the company.

“Apple will likely always find people willing to work here, but our current policies requiring everyone to relocate to the office their team happens to be based in, and being in the office at least three fixed days of the week, will change the make-up of our workforce,” the letter says.

“It will make Apple younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, more able-bodied. In short, it will lead to privileges deciding who can work for Apple, not who’d be the best fit.”

Examples of these privileges include being born in the “right place”, being young and having a stay-at-home spouse.

Thus far, the letter is believed to have garnered around 200 signatures, roughly 0.1 per cent of the organisation’s 165,000 employees.

The stoutly anti-office stance of the letter is symptomatic of a wider conflict going on globally as staff and bosses wrestle with finding a new working norm in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic which saw most people forced to work from home if they could.

Companies are eager for staff to return to the office as they believe it is better for output, productivity and morale, whereas staff are reluctant to give up the new work-life balance gifted to them by repeated lockdowns.

Lord Rose, chairman of the supermarket Asda, told the BBC on Sunday that he is “an unreconstructed ‘get back to work’ man” and that he thinks people are more productive in the office.

However, the retail doyen did add that employers need to be flexible and take into account the needs and worries of employees.

The open letter to Apple’s chiefs is a direct response to an email from Tim Cook that revealed employees in the US, as well as those in the UK and Europe, would need to be in the office twice a week as of Monday – as part of the pilot – and thrice weekly from May 23.

“Though the timing may vary to some degree in different countries/sites based on local conditions, we will follow the same process wherever we are not yet back in the office,” Mr Cook wrote.

He also said that due to dropping numbers of Covid cases there will no longer be a mask-wearing mandate at Apple sites, with it set to become optional and down to personal choice.

“For many of you, I know that returning to the office represents a long-awaited milestone and a positive sign that we can engage more fully with the colleagues who play such an important role in our lives,” Mr Cook’s email said.

“For others, it may also be an unsettling change. I want you to know that we are deeply committed to giving you the support and flexibility that you need in this next phase.”

Part of that support and flexibility is the new option of being able to work remotely for four full weeks a year going forward, he added.

‘What homework to do’

In retort, the Apple employees say that although they do see that in-person collaboration – which Mr Cook called “irreplaceable” – does have some benefits, they believe it “is not something we need every week, often not even every month, definitely not every day”.

The disgruntled employees also state that being in the office for three days a week provides them with “almost no flexibility at all” despite the fact they would be working from home, as they want, 40 per cent of the time.

“Stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do,” they add.

Another complaint of the employees is that the commute is a “huge waste” of both time and resources. They claim that the average commute is equivalent to 20 per cent of a work day (more than an hour and a half) and that if forced to do this, they should be reimbursed for that time.

Apple has been approached for comment.