The Modern Dilemma: Scrap or Embrace WFH?

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Half of your employees “would rather quit than return to the office full time” according to a recent report by business consulting firm Robert Half.

The firm surveyed over 1,000 professionals and said that “half of the respondents currently working from home (50%) would look for a new job that offers remote options if their company required employees to return to the office full time, up 16 points from one year ago.” The firm further tipped “millennial professionals” as 65% likely to quit given that scenario.

CDOs and HR executives must make a hard choice: implore workers to return to in-office work, or risk losing them to competitors.

Coping with WFH

These findings come as no surprise. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, companies have scrambled to accommodate off-premises workers. And those workers have learned to cope with remote work and Zoom meetings.

There is never a one-size-fits-all when it comes to WFH policy and culture. Some workers are more productive in their home environment. They prefer their own furniture and support ecosystem.

There are reasons to replace Facetime with real live in-person face time

And WFH arrangements are boosted by the array of communication technology we now enjoy. Remote collaboration tools are agile.

But many companies want to see their employees back at their desks—at least some of the time. There are reasons to replace Facetime with real live in-person face time, and those reasons are complex and multi-faceted.

However, this does not mean that any given firm can simply summon workers back to their desks, as Apple Inc recently found out.

Cupertino's mothership

If any tech firm can attract workers back to their offices, then theoretically it should be Apple. The Cupertino firm was founded in 1976 by a couple of guys named Steve, went public in 1980, and is now the largest information technology company by revenue (totaling USD365.8 billion in 2021).

In 2017 Apple unveiled a flagship headquarters that supplanted the previous HQ at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino. Apple Park, designed by British architect Norman Foster, is a neo futurist groundscraper that houses “more than 12,000 employees in one central four-story circular building of approximately 0.26 sq km,” according to Wikipedia.

Anonymous Apple employees decry an end to WFH

The “ring-shaped, 2.8 million-square-foot (260.1 million square meters) main building is clad entirely in the world’s largest panels of curved glass,” said a 2017 Apple press release. The compound includes “replaces 5 million square feet of asphalt and concrete with grassy fields and over 9,000 native and drought-resistant trees, and is powered by 100 percent renewable energy,” said Apple in the release.

Of course not all of Apple's corporate employees work at Apple Park. But Cupertino in March announced plans to bring their flock back into the fold, at least a few days each week. “Employees will be required to work from the office at least one day per week by [April 11], according to a memo sent by [CEO] Tim Cook,” said Bloomberg. “And on May 23, employees will need to be in the office at least three days a week — on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.”

Unsurprisingly, there's been pushback.

Breaking silos

The Apple-specific yet anonymous manifesto published by is a must-read for anyone in the corporate HR or collaboration space. Titled “Thoughts on Office-bound Work,” it addresses specific strategies listed in Apple's corporate emails on the subject.

The essay begins benignly: “We grew up with Apple, we told our friends and families about Apple, we dreamt of one day joining Apple. Then, one day, we did.”

But the anonymous authors decry an end to WFH and cite communication silos as an obstacle. “Often, our functional organizations have their own office buildings, in which employees from other organizations cannot work. This siloed structure is part of our culture.”

The essay says that WFH tools have helped break down existing silos: “Slack has made this much easier over the last two years. Yet, you choose to keep us all in separate siloed Slack workspaces and try to prevent us from talking to each other, so software engineers don’t accidentally talk to AppleCare employees, and retail staff don’t accidentally meet hardware engineers.”

Think outside the silos

Hopefully, the above paragraphs highlight the similarities between Apple and any large dynamic organization. Think of your own workplace and its silos. Are engineers separated from your people at the coalface? Are your employees stymied in their attempts at online collaboration? Why or why not?

These are hard questions, but they must be asked. Savvy employees get information from all sources, and they will exchange said information by means of their choosing. As the anonymous employee collective said: “We need to be able to reach out to each other intentionally and have the chance to do so.”

These employees feel that allowing communication between different teams will help break down silos. “With everyone working 'remotely' it was much easier to reach out to colleagues in other offices,” said the manifesto. “For example, a U.S. team member could easily have a meeting with someone from the U.K. in the morning and meet with someone from Japan a couple of hours later in the afternoon. This enabled a kind of international collaboration that we didn’t see before, where especially colleagues from 'far away' locations could finally contribute as well as people in our major offices and no longer felt like second-class participants in meetings.”

“Decide for ourselves”

The online essay is powerful evidence of how fiercely some employees prize WFH and outlines their reasons. These are knowledge workers who declare: “During the last two years, many of us discovered how much more time we suddenly had in a day.”

The manifesto insists: “Office-bound work is a technology from the last century, from the era before ubiquitous video-call-capable internet and everyone being on the same internal chat application. But the future is about connecting when it makes sense, with people who have relevant input, no matter where they are based.”

“We are not asking for everyone to be forced to work from home. We are asking to decide for ourselves, together with our teams and direct manager, what kind of arrangement works best for each one of us, be that in an office, work from home, or a hybrid approach. Stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do.”

Stefan Hammond is a contributing editor to CDOTrends. Best practices, the IOT, payment gateways, robotics and the ongoing battle against cyberpirates pique his interest. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Maximkostenko