Coronavirus pushes back Apple’s plans for employees to return to the office

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apple park
Apple Park won't be getting back to normal just yet.
Photo: Duncan Sinfield

Apple has delayed its call for employees to return to the office by at least a month, Bloomberg reported Monday. Employees will now return to Apple Park and other locations by October at the earliest.

In June, CEO Tim Cook said that employees should get ready to return by early September. This would be according to a hybrid model in which employees would work at least three days a week in the office, and the rest working from home. But COVID-19 has seemingly (temporarily) scuppered those plans.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s decision to push back the return to the office is a response “to a resurgence of Covid variants across many countries, people familiar with the matter said.”

Half of the US population is currently vaccinated. But coronavirus “continues to kill people faster than guns, car crashes and influenza combined,” Bloomberg notes. Recently, cases have sprung back up after the highly transmissible delta variant began spreading through populations.

Returning to normal?

Tim Cook has said he’s impressed by how well Apple employees have managed working remotely. In an interview last September, Cook said that Apple will not totally “return to the way we were because we’ve found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually.” But he has also been clear that the company won’t be entirely or even majority WFH as some other tech companies are doing.

The hybrid office-and-home approach was meant to be a compromise of sorts. But it has also prompted disagreement from some Apple employees. Two public letters from Apple employees have asked for more flexible working conditions. A recent petition this month was shared on Apple’s internal Slack channel, with more than 6,000 members discussing remote work. It noted that:

“We continue to be concerned that this one-size-fits-all solution is causing many of our colleagues to question their future at Apple. With COVID-19 numbers rising again around the world, vaccines proving less effective against the delta variant, and the long-term effects of infection not well understood, it is too early to force those with concerns to come back to the office.”

Apple has long emphasized the importance of working from the office. Steve Jobs was a big believer in the serendipity this can result in, making for better products. This was a core part of the design philosophy for the circular Apple Park. While these are extraordinary times right now, that core belief seems likely to pervade at Apple. Even if it’s not shared by everyone — including all senior managers.

The future of Apple purchasing

The Bloomberg report also includes an interesting tidbit about Apple retail employees. It observes that:

“Separately, Apple is said to be testing a hybrid in-store and work-from-home arrangement for retail employees, acknowledging that consumers may continue to prefer online shopping even as the pandemic eases.”

Source: Bloomberg