Apple’s September return to office could lead to industry-wide mandates

The news: Apple will require corporate employees to return to the office for three days per week, per Bloomberg. 

Why it’s worth watching: Big Tech set the precedent for remote work at the start of the pandemic. As restrictions ease in various cities, expect them to once more lead the charge in return-to-office mandates after months of delays. In Apple’s case, it delayed returning to the mothership in May.

  • Apple’s earlier return-to-office mandates were met with disdain from employees resisting a return to corporate offices. 
  • 76% of Apple workers said they were dissatisfied with the return-to-work policy, according to an April survey conducted by Blind, per Fortune. Fifty-six percent said they were thinking about leaving the company because of it.
  • The current climate of economic uncertainty and industry-wide hiring freezes and job cuts give employers like Apple leverage over ambivalent employees. In context, Apple just laid off 100 recruiter contractors, a sure sign of hiring slowdowns.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the upcoming austerity during a recent earnings call, noting the company would be more “deliberate” in its spending. 
  • Apple, like many Big Tech companies, is preparing for its busiest and most profitable quarters, punctuated by a string of product releases and culminating in the holiday shopping season, requiring all hands on deck.

The long road to normalcy: More than two years after the coronavirus pandemic began, the world has transformed to accommodate a large remote workforce, mostly made possible by following Big Tech’s lead and using their solutions and strategies. 

  • The current economic uncertainty could expedite staff returning to in-person work, while the tenuous job market could result in wider employee compliance.
  • Considering that work relationships are a function of proximity, remote workers could be cut off from longer-term development, raises, and promotions. 
  • Big Tech has been expanding its real estate footprint, amassing office space as part of its expansion.
  • Companies need to fill these spaces to justify the expenses and to propagate their distinct company culture, which they were unable to do during the pandemic.
  • "For all that we've been able to achieve while many of us have been separated, the truth is that there has been something essential missing from this past year: each other," Cook told Apple employees in June 2021.

What’s next? Barring any COVID-19 outbreaks, expect other Big Tech companies to announce similar return-to-office mandates in September. The migration back to the workplace will likely happen in hybrid three-days-per-week increments as employers and employees manage their way around a new normal.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Connectivity & Tech Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the technology industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.

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