It still seems a little counter-intuitive that one of the world’s biggest technology firms was also one of the least amenable to remote working, but this, I’ve heard, describes the culture at Apple pre-COVID-19.
Now things have changed there, just as they have elsewhere.
Going back better
Speaking during a more extensive interview conducted at The Atlantic Festival, Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed his company’s experience around remote working, explaining that around 10% to 15% of company staff have been working at the office during the pandemic. The remaining 85% to 90% of Apple employees are currently working from home, he said, admitting that he does so himself, some of the time.
All the same, he confessed to missing the social interactions. “Things like creativity and the serendipity…, these things depend on people kind of running into each other over the course of a day,” he said.
It is widely known that Apple has designed its offices to make such interactions more likely: “You can’t schedule those things,” he said.
Even so, Cook confesses to being, “Incredibly impressed with our teams and their resilience.… We continue on the innovation trail.”
The end result?
Apple has been able to maintain its business, make key contributions to the struggle against the pandemic, introduce new products and prepare for even more launches with more of those “Designed At Home In Cupertino” toys coming down the pipe.
Apple Silicon, anyone?
The experience means Cook now seems to accept remote working. “I don’t believe that we will return to the way we were, because we found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually,” he said.
That work is changing is pretty much accepted at this point. Most nations have now seen the consequences of attempting to return to normal working patterns in the absence of solid testing and support mechanisms. In the UK, for example, advice swiftly shifted from “go back to work” to “work from home if you can” in a matter of weeks.
There are strong signals many employers now accept that remote working can be effective. And that now they’ve shown this to be the case, many employees will want to continue to do so.
Analysts agree: IDC predicts 60% of the U.S. workforce will be remote by 2024, while Gartner data claims 47% of businesses will let employees continue to work from home in future.
Trust and autonomy
Cook’s statements about remote work speak to the thawing of the attitude held by employers toward WFH. It signals that the CEO of one of the world’s biggest companies recognizes that if you trust employees a little, you will be rewarded.
Why would he not?
Despite the scale and speed of the initial crisis, Apple did not buckle; its business (while impacted) remained on track and it was able to make valuable contributions to the struggle against the disease – all while nearly all of its employees worked from home.
Cook isn’t alone in this experience.
Perhaps the future of work will see more trust and autonomy given to employees, now they’ve proved just how well they can handle it?
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