Many workers have gotten used to the comfort and convenience that remote work has brought. Now, as many companies are pushing for a return to in-office work, employees are pushing back.
Is a return to the office important enough for Apple to risk unionizing? Many see the signs and symptoms of unionizing in Apple workers’ push for flexible work.
Apple’s push to return to work
In another push to get employees back in the office, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave his team a deadline of Sept. 5 to return to the office in a hybrid schedule, with at least 3 days of in-person work a week and the other two days considered “flexible” days.
Apple employees’ pushing back on the company’s return-to-office plan is nothing new, though. Apple has been trying to implement a hybrid schedule since as early as June 2021. Previous iterations of the hybrid schedule required all employees to come in on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Apple’s plan will now let employees choose what days they come into the office.
Workers have previously expressed dissatisfaction with Apple’s return-to-work policy, with 76% of employees responding negatively to the policy in a survey conducted by anonymous social media platform Blind.
In an office-wide memo, Cook said, “We are excited to move forward with the pilot and believe that this revised framework will enhance our ability to work flexibly while preserving the in-person collaboration that is so essential to our culture,” – but it seems Apple employees may not feel the same way.
The tipping point
Apple employees recently circulated a petition urging Cook to make “location flexible work” a permanent fixture. The petition, which was circulated by a group of employees known as “AppleTogether,” argued that Apple employees have done “exceptional work” throughout the pandemic, regardless of their work location. As of Aug. 29, the petition has almost 1,000 signatures from Apple employees.
“Stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do,” AppleTogether wrote in a letter to executives.
AppleTogether pushed back against the hybrid schedule, countering that employees are both more productive and happier without a traditional office.
“The one thing we all have in common is wanting to do the best work of our lives for a company whose official stance is to do what’s right rather than what’s easy,” reads the petition. The petition demands:
- Apple allows each of us to work directly with our immediate manager to figure out what kind of flexible work arrangements are best for each of us and for Apple, and
- These work arrangements should not require higher-level approvals, complex procedures, or providing private information.
There are also reports of a Slack channel for Apple employees called “Remote Work Advocacy.”
As Apple employees organize and fight back against a return-to-work schedule, it may make HR wonder how to balance executives who want in-office work with employees who want flexibility.
Takeaways for HR
The idea of employees organizing may seem scary, but there are some proactive steps that you can take before things reach a boiling point to help make sure employees and managers feel supported and heard.
The power balance is shifting as more workers see the personal benefits of working from home. It’s important to help managers and employees who disagree on work schedules and priorities compromise and find common ground.
Before high-level executives make company-wide decisions, get a feel on employees’ reactions and see if there is any common ground that can bring employees and executives together and any compromises that can help them get to a shared goal.
Prepare for the consequences
Slack channels, open letters, petitions… AppleTogether shows that employees can band together and organize within a company when there’s an unpopular request made — and companies need to be ready for the shift in power.
Employees realize the benefits of certain accommodations made during COVID-19, and many aren’t ready to give it up. You may want to ask executives, “Is this unpopular policy worth the possible consequences?”
Find other ways to engage
Many companies are pushing for a return to in-office work as a way to combat “the great disengagement.” However, if your employees are unhappy, bringing them back into the office may not fix everything you’re hoping it will.
Instead, find other ways to engage your employees while keeping their priorities at the top of your mind. Out-of-the-box engagement tactics, like virtual happy hours and team-building, can help re-engage employees while also allowing the flexibility and autonomy they crave.
As much as you support employees, you should also be supporting managers as they try to navigate a return-to-work or permanent remote work plan. If you have your finger on the pulse of the workforce, let managers know about possible pushback and help to find a compromise.
Advocating for employees when talking to managers can help prevent pushback if possible concerns are addressed before employees have to raise questions themselves.