As a business owner of Nozbe I look up to many bigger and more successful companies for guidance, examples and inspiration when running my company. Recently however, leadership of some of them is making decisions I cannot agree with. First it was Basecamp with their “no politics at work” policy that drove 1/3 of their talented employees away. Now it’s Apple, with their questionable attitude towards us, developers on their platforms. And to add insult to injury, recently Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, told their employees to come back to their office, or else! There are fundamentally two things I cannot agree with here:
Strike 1. Office and flexibility of working from home.
Let’s start with the first thing - letting people have flexibility to work from anywhere they want and go to the office optionally whenever they feel like it.
It’s not the office that gets the work done: it’s the people. And to perform effectively, they usually need long stretches of “focused time,” also called “the flow,” – not fancy, open-space, loft-like offices. In many cases, the idea that work = office is painfully false.
Apparently Mr Cook doesn’t share my point of view and believes that just because they built the Apple Park complex, they need to fill it out with people again. His letter to Apple employees is oddly specific about when they should do that:
Cook said that most employees will be asked to come in to the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, with the option of working remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays.
There’s more (emphasis mine):
Teams that need to work in-person will return four to five days a week.
Seriously? Whoever really truly needs to work in-person all of the time? Other than factory workers who assemble hardware parts? You can run very successful and creative meetings completely remotely as I wrote in my book and discussed on the #NoOffice podcast.
Apparently, this attitude is not new at Apple:
The change is not entirely unexpected for Apple staff. While employees have worked remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, the company famously discouraged working from home prior to 2020.
If the pandemic hasn’t taught Apple executives that people needed such flexibility to be able to deliver truly great work, then I’m afraid nothing else will.
But why? Why really?
To me, the most discouraging part of such an announcement is the fact that the management doesn’t explain WHY this policy needs to be introduced.
It doesn’t say that they’ve seen a dramatic decrease in productivity (because I’m sure they haven’t). Not because there’s a true need to build something in-person (because there rarely is). Not because of some other important reason.
As my 12-year-old daughter would paraphrase it:
I say you have to get back to office because… I say so myself! 🤪
Or because Mr Cook truly misses seeing the faces of his employees. I’m sure as the busy CEO that he is, he has frequent chance to interact with most of 12,000 of them on a daily basis:
“For now, let me simply say that I look forward to seeing your faces,” he said in closing. “I know I’m not alone in missing the hum of activity, the energy, creativity and collaboration of our in-person meetings and the sense of community we’ve all built.”
Aha, community. Got it.
Strike 2. Hiring very smart people and treating them like children.
Control is good, but trust is so much better.
In the chapter of trust I write:
Companies hire professionals (and adults!) to work, and instead of treating them as such they assume their employees are just a bunch of thieves and liars?
Every time Apple hosts an Apple event (and on Monday the WWDC event is coming!) Mr Cook brags how they hire the best of the best at Apple. The best professionals in the world.
And later he just informs them that they have to get back to office. He doesn’t trust them and encourage them to get back to office as much as they’d like.
He tells them to do so.
Like he’d tell to a disobedient child:
You go back to the office!… or else…
What’s even more disappointing is that John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who is usually spot-on with his comments on Apple, this time completely misses the mark:
I can’t help but think that the problem for Apple is that they’ve grown so large that they’ve wound up hiring a lot of people who aren’t a good fit for Apple, and that it was a mistake for Apple to ever hook up a company-wide Slack.
Does he mean that the good fit for Apple are people who listen to the management without ever questioning them? Or people who just love commuting to the office every single day? Or both?
He later writes:
Companies are not democracies, but the employees writing these letters sure seem to think Apple is one. It’s not, and if it were, the company would sink in a snap.
This is my favorite part. The premise that the most successful companies must be authoritarian and must just tell people what to do. And that the leadership is never wrong.
No. Not really.
Just last month, Apple executives hired a misogynistic guy to for a senior leadership position and after a petition by more than 2,000 employees, he was fired immediately. Was he the good fit for Apple or were the authors of the petition a better fit?
And yes, you can totally be the owner and CEO of the company and NOT make all of the key decisions and still be successful.
When you hire smart people, they will be pushing back. And that’s a good thing. If they’re not fighting for what’s right, then you should be concerned. Or you’ll end up losing 1/3 of them on one day as Basecamp did.
Conclusion: trust and flexibility!
To conclude, you should totally NOT listen to Mr Cook and not get inspired by this very bad example from Apple.
I say, control performance of your team but trust them to do the work. I say give them all the flexibility they want to perform their best work. Some will want to be in the office all of the time, some only when it fits them, others will skip the office entirely and go there only when really needed on site.
You shouldn’t be concerned about people’s opinion of going to the office, you should be focused on their work performance.
Being physically in the office doesn’t guarantee it and it sometimes actively impedes it.
And finally, you should totally give people tools like Slack to chat together or Nozbe Teams to track progress on projects and tasks. They do need company-wide tools. They don’t really need an office.
Work is not a place to go, it’s a thing to do.
P.S. The cover photo of this blog post was taken 2 years ago as I physically attended WWDC2019 in San Jose, California and went on a trip to see Apple Park in person. It’s a beautiful office building. But just because it’s so gorgeous, must people be there every day to be able to work effectively?