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HomeTechIs Apple really joining the WFH counter-revolution?

Is Apple really joining the WFH counter-revolution?


When it comes to the future of work, it seems Apple is becoming more reactionary and leaning more towards presenteeism rather than performance-driven management of its workforce teams.

The latest “innovation” is to track employees and use badge records to ensure they are in the office at least three times a week.

Go back to your desk!

The company has been reluctant to take full advantage of the opportunities and efficiencies of hybrid working, but since the pandemic, employees have been able to work remotely for two days a week and spend the other three in the office. The application of the policy has always been relatively autocratic, requiring employees to be on site on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

What’s new, according to Platform players Zoë Schiffer, that’s Apple now uses badge records to monitor turnout – and has begun enforcing an escalating system of warnings against those who fail to show up for those three days. It suggests that some employees are being warned that non-compliance could cost them their jobs, although this policy does not seem to apply company-wide.

This followed reports that the company has begun cracking down on employees, including pushing for presenteeism and halting additional sick leave for staff who contract COVID – even though the virus continues to infect people.

It’s possible that Apple is approaching all of this as cost-cutting measures to avoid mass layoffs among its teams, especially since that doesn’t look good on a company that continued to set new sales records during the pandemic.

To me, the company’s insistence on a rigid approach to hybrid working seems to preserve some of the worst parts of old work practices while undermining some of the best effects in the new workplace. It’s strange that a company that wants you to enjoy a mobile lifestyle doesn’t seem to want its own employees to enjoy a mobile working style.

Hybrid is already known enabled underrepresented groups to re-enter the labor market, which increases diversity within the work culture and in itself generates productivity gains.

There are plenty of analyzes to confirm the benefits productivity, retention of personnelAnd moral. That’s before we even consider just how popular hybrid/remote working is among the cohorts Apple most needs to hire. It is always cheaper to make employees happier and more productive than to find new employees – although it speaks volumes that the people who seem to have the most difficulty adapting to the hybrid workplace are the middle managers apparently winning the argument with Apple on this one.

Victory to the bosses

A recent Microsoft survey showed the gap between middle management and staff. More than half of managers surveyed said they thought staff were working remotely less, while 80% of staff said they were at least as productive as before. (A dice research showed that 85% of US companies think hybrid work is good for them.)

This decoupling between the real and perceived productivity gains in flexible workplaces even has a name, “productivity paranoia”. But for the most part, this paranoia is based on opinion, not evidence – and may reflect the inability of managers themselves to communicate clearly with their teams.

In most cases, senior management is aware that flexible working must remain an important part of their approach to the future of work. Even the director general of the British business group CBI said recently: “Flexible working is becoming common practice — flex has always had great merits. But given the current shortages, and without immigration, it’s vital for a growing supply, as it’s probably the only way to get back those who left.”

It takes skill to make it work. a Corel survey revealed 78% of employees believe leaders should work harder to encourage collaboration.

With this as an emerging space for innovation, you could imagine companies spending some money on upskilling management to deal more effectively with remote teams. But a 2022 Boston Consulting Group report found that only 15% of CEOs prioritize retraining managers for this new reality. That complacency is probably great news for those who have invested in office space, but less so for others, including those companies that inaction are denying themselves the opportunities offered by hybrid work.

Make it flexible!

I’m sure Apple’s HR departments have been guided by science, rather than personal opinion. Perhaps there is evidence somewhere in the company that proves one way or another that remote workers have not contributed to the eye-watering record earnings of recent years.

The question is how appropriate Apple’s core approach seems to be. After all, the company has always said it could choose to change or adapt its efforts.

While Apple is known for working hard to foster a personal culture of collaboration, does it really thrive without flexibility? It seems inevitable that some teams work best on different schedules, and Apple’s approach doesn’t seem to give them that flexibility. That’s part of the model that really needs to be revised. A survey by Vanson Bourne found that three quarters of employees are inclined to stay at companies that offer autonomy.

That’s not to say that the decision around a two/three day remote/in-person split is intrinsically bad. Michelin works with a similar model and it seems to work well, but within its approach it gives employees and teams more personal choice about how they want to divide that time. The company’s chief digital and information officer, Yves Caseau, say: “There is no one-size-fits-all. The pattern is determined locally, but on average people usually choose the same three days. Remote working is efficient for part of the workload and it improves employee satisfaction overall.”

In my opinion, the news of the crackdown on attendance signals an autocratic lack of autonomy and agency in the model Apple seems to be embracing. I’m afraid this cultural lack of vision could spread elsewhere in the company.

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