Apple scraps 3-day return to office amid COVID-19 cases

2 days a week still compulsory but U-turn gives credence to worker concerns


Apple has postponed employees' scheduled return to the office for three days a week amid a jump in COVID-19 infections.

Staff at the world's most valuable company were due to up their time in the office from next week, May 23, with Mondays, Tuesday, and Thursdays set as the fixed days each week.

Yet due to the pandemic, Apple confirmed to its workforce that it is delaying the edict for the "time being" with no new date cited, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg.

In addition, employees must again wear masks in common areas – at least in Silicon Valley offices – and US retail workers in 100 stores must do the same, a requirement that was dropped in March when the spread of COVID-19 slowed.

Staff will still be expected in two days a week, a policy that was introduced by the company in April.

Apple's return to the office hasn't gone down well with all employees, and a group that named itself Apple Together published an open letter weeks ago decrying the choice.

"You have characterized the decision for the Hybrid Working Pilot as being about combining the 'need to commune in-person' and the value of flexible work. But in reality, it does not recognize flexible work and is only driven by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of workers' autonomy, and fear of losing control," the letter states.

Apple Together is comprised of 250 employees out of a 165,000-strong workforce. The Reg believes more than 8,000 Apple staff are members of the company's remote advocacy channel on Slack.

The group criticized Apple, saying it "keeps" employees in "siloed Slack workspaces" so that software engineers don't "accidentally talk" to Apple Care staff, and so on. It also highlighted the time suck that is commuting.

A former Apple principal software engineer, Cher Scarlett, told us that Apple makes products to help customers work remotely and it seems "hypocritical to not put those products to work for their [own] workers."

Apple told The Register it had no comment at this time.

In late April, when Apple outlined its Q2 financial results, CEO Tim Cook said he was "excited to be welcoming employees back to the office in the US and Europe."

"These times remind us that we cannot know what the future may hold. But they remind us, too, that technology infused with humanity makes a real difference in the world. And that's where our focus has remained, on driving the innovations that can enrich people's lives," he added.

It is now more than two years since many governments across the world imposed lockdowns on citizens to slow the spread of the virus, forcing them to work, learn, and play indoors. Apple isn't alone in trying to find the right solution, with other technology companies also setting dates for staff to return to the office only for them to be scrapped, Amazon and Microsoft among them.

Just this week, Google opened the doors of its Bay View campus but judging by the experience of other companies, not everyone is yet ready to return to the corporate altar no matter what incentives are on offer. ®

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