/Apples hybrid-work battle heralds new conflicts between employers, staff

Apples hybrid-work battle heralds new conflicts between employers, staff

  • A potential chasm could emerge between staff and executives if they don’t listen to their employees.
  • Apple’s recent battle with staff over remote work is evidence of the battles companies could face.
  • Hybrid working will require a more “human-centric” approach from leaders and workers.

Employee pushback over Apple’s return to work may be indicative of a “widening chasm” that could emerge between employers and staff if companies don’t handle the return to the office correctly.

After decades of employers having the say over where, when and how work gets done, we’ve reached the other side of the spectrum over the last year, said Alexia Cambon, research director at Gartner.

“Employees have had more control over those dimensions of work and have realized how much those dimensions of work impact their lives,” she told Insider, commenting generally on the challenge employers will face.  “Suddenly having to yield control over those feels incredibly personal.”

In June, around 80 Apple staffers voiced frustration at feeling “unheard” and “ignored”, in an internal letter to CEO Tim Cook following his announcement of plans to return to the office three days a week — on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays — from September.

Instead these staffers want those who are able to work remotely to be able to do so, and claim that Apple’s policy has led to some colleagues quitting.

The company appears to have doubled down on its position, despite these concerns.

According to The Verge, Deirdre O’Brien, Apple UK’s senior vice president of retail and people, stated in a video recording that there were likely to be few fully remote roles in the future. 

Most people want flexibility when it comes to returning to work

Employers around the world are differing in their approach to the post-coronavirus office world. 

David Solomon, Goldman Sachs CEO, for example has called working from home an “aberration” and told staff to prepare for a widespread return to the physical office once coronavirus restrictions end. 

Facebook, in contrast, will allow all employees who can carry out their role from home to do so. 

External survey evidence indicates that those who want to work remotely full-time at Apple, which has a global workforce of more than 160,000 people, could be in the minority.

Only 11% of workers said they wanted to be fully remote in the future, according to a global survey of 5,043 full-time employees between Dec 2020 and January 2021 by McKinsey. Although a majority of respondents, 52% do want some flexible working post-covid.

Gartner research suggests that 68% of employees who worked remotely during the pandemic favour a hybrid model in the future, says Cambon. 

Managers still feel visibility anxiety

Particular “teething problems” between staff and employers are likely to center around location, said Cambon. 

Much of the conversation around the importance of returning to the office is being driven by an emphasis on the physical office being better for innovation and collaboration.

This runs counter to the experience of many employees working remotely, many of whom have been able to collaborate well, she added.

Organizations that implement “listening strategies” that provide employees with data and make those employees feel heard — then design hybrid working around that — are less likely to see battles emerging, she said.

Gartner’s own research suggests 45% of employees agree that their long-term preferences for flexible work are not being taken seriously enough by leadership.

Likewise, McKinsey data suggests that it could be harmful if firms aren’t clear about their post-pandemic plans: 47% of workers either agree, or strongly agree that a lack of clear vision about the office return is causing them concern or anxiety.

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