Companies are Taking Widely Different Approaches to the Return of In-person Work

May 3, 2022

Companies are beginning to see the initial effects of “return to work” policies implemented as the pandemic has waned and most pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted.  

Recently Apple enacted the first phase of their return-to-work program, requiring employees to be in their offices at least one day per week. The plan transitions to three days per week in the office starting May 23rd. But early reports seem to indicate that the return-to-work program is not being well-received by many employees. According to Apple employees on the anonymous (but verified by corporate e-mail address validation), “Blind” app, 76% of 650 Apple workers surveyed in April said they were dissatisfied with Apple’s return-to-office policy that was implemented after the COVID pandemic started waning. 

Up until mid-April, many Apple employees had been working entirely from home for over two years. Now, after becoming adjusted to a work-life arrangement with no commute, the ability to better manage their work and their personal commitments, and with two years of strong Apple results to back them up, many are not excited about the prospects of giving up their new-found flexibility. In fact, a significant number of Apple workers—56%—indicated they are looking to leave Apple expressly because of its return to the office requirements.  

On the near-opposite side of the return-to-work spectrum from Apple, and other organizations that are implementing rigid office-centric approaches, is Airbnb who recently announced its plans to accommodate their employee’s eagerness for more flexible working arrangements.  

Airbnb CEO and founder Brian Chesky announced that Airbnb employees can live and work wherever they would like, making permanent flexible-working plans into policy.   

Under the benefit, most staff will be given the flexibility to choose to work from where “they’re most productive” Chesky explained in an email to staff. This includes the choice of being able to work anywhere within their home country, importantly, without the loss of pay. 

In these two specific examples, we see widely differing philosophies and approaches to what the future of work and workplaces will look like post-pandemic. On the one hand, Apple leaders seem to desire a return to what knowledge work was like before the pandemic, with highly structured and specific in-office requirements to be implemented. This approach and preference to in-person work is also widely shared in the finance industry, with Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon referring to working from home as an “aberration”.  

On the other hand, there are companies like Airbnb and Twitter (at least the Twitter that exists prior to the Elon Musk takeover), installing permanent “work from anywhere” policies that offer employees the widest possible latitude in their decisions about where to live and work. It seems likely, at least for the near term, that any employees unhappy with the policies at companies like Apple and others that will increasingly require employees to be in-person, will have plenty of options and opportunities at companies like Airbnb and Twitter, whose announced policies on remote work are more aligned with what many employees desire today.  

It will be very interesting to see how these in-person, hybrid, and work-from-anywhere trends evolve over the coming weeks and months. We will continue to report on these trends on the At Work in America Podcast, and on The Workplace Minute. 

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