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Culture Fail of the Month: Apple

Apple recently made the mistake other major companies are also making: CEO Tim Cook informed employees that starting in early September, they’d be expected to be present in the office three days a week at least (specifically Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday). Some would need to be in the office four or five days a week.

Cook likely thought this was a concession to the new era of work; Apple has traditionally had an in-office culture. Giving employees a couple of days a week to work from home, combined with a few weeks a year to do the same, probably felt generous.

The employees felt differently. In an open letter to management that understandably garnered significant negative publicity for the company, dozens of Apple employees indicated that this edict exemplified “a disconnect between how the executive team thinks about remote/location-flexible work and the lived experiences of many of Apple’s employees.”

Apple is a company historically known for innovation, brand superiority, and product development secrecy. They spent $5 billion on their “Apple Park” headquarters, and pre-pandemic, expected employees to be in the office to collaborate, innovate, and presumably keep certain developments close to the vest.

The pandemic, of course, proved that companies can be successful, and employees (especially high-paid, white collar workers) can be productive working from home. Cook’s email begs for a “return to a normal” that no longer exists and has already driven some employees to quit. Employees are empowered like never before and—especially in the high-tech industry—those who want to work from home full-time have plenty of options to do just that.

The open letter from Apple employees also stated, “Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored.” While it’s unclear how Apple’s leadership came to its conclusions to mandate a return-to-office policy, at least some employees believe they were never given the chance to voice an opinion.

The best course of action: ask your employees what they want before you make the policy decision, or you may publicly find out their sentiment afterward, as Apple (embarrassingly) did.

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