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Apple making a dogs dinner of remote working

Apple's hybrid working plan looks a lot like a system of control to some workers
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Image: Shutterstock via Dennis

5 May 2022

I can’t remember when, exactly, I first heard the phrase ‘eat your own dog food’ but I know for certain it was in conversation with someone in the IT industry back in the 90s. Just as I have no doubts whatsoever that the equally awful ‘let’s get everyone together and see if we’re all singing from the same choir sheet’ came up in an interview with an IT spokesman.

I’m not going to get too caught up with the dog food stuff although I most certainly will not be eating my dog’s lunch. To be honest, there are times when she doesn’t seem too keen on the idea herself. That said, it should be noted that people can eat dog food if they have to, just not for prolonged periods.

Anyway, it’s a phrase that tends to get used quite a bit in the IT industry. Not because people in the industry are so poor and desperate that they have to eat their own canine foodstuffs but to illustrate that the best way for vendors and channel partners to convince customers to adopt their technology and services is to use it themselves.

 

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The only slight drawback in some instances is that the dog food can be a bit expensive for channel partners to use themselves. Also, some of them often sell technology from other vendors which means they may have to eat several varieties of dog food and that could be expensive, repetitive and wasteful.

The problem for those who don’t eat their own dog food is that they lay themselves open to the charge of selling something they wouldn’t use themselves. Unless people are careful, they might find themselves being accused of something like, I don’t know, not being as committed to the technology as they’d like customers to be. It’s not quite hypocrisy but it’s getting there.

This is the place Apple is in danger of finding itself as it seeks to force employees to return to the office and spend less time working remotely now the pandemic is on the wane. The company is planning to impose a hybrid working model on employees from 23 May with mandatory office days on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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The plan has not gone down well with some employees, according to a report in iMore. They have written an open letter criticising the move and outlining why they “do not believe in the Hybrid Working pilot”. They argue that “it does not recognise flexible work and is only driven by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control”.

The letter outlines a number of areas where the new working model falls short. Apple’s argument that returning to the office will provide “the serendipity that comes from bumping into colleagues” is given short shrift as the letter’s authors point out a siloed structure is “part of our culture. It doesn’t take luck to overcome the communication silos and make cross-functional connections that are vital for Apple to function, it takes intentionality”.

The benefits of people being able to collaborate together in the same room are also dismissed. “For many of us, this is not something we need every week, often not even every month, definitely not every day,” the letter argues, adding that it was “much easier to reach out to colleagues in other offices” when they were all working remotely.

The inflexibility of the proposed working model also comes in for criticism because employees, team members and direct managers should be able to decide the arrangement that works best for them. Or as the letter puts it: “Stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do…. The Hybrid Working Pilot is not an increase in flexibility, it is a smokescreen and often a step back in flexibility for many of our teams.”

Working in the office also entails employees having to commute to work again, which is condemned as a huge waste of mental and physical resources and time. It will also “change the makeup of our workforce. It will make Apple younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, more able-bodied, in short, it will lead to privileges deciding who can work for Apple, not who’d be the best fit”.

Finally, under the heading of ‘the most important reason’, we come to the dog food. Attacking the push to return to office-bound work as “bad” for Apple, its employees and customers, the letter continues: “We tell all of our customers how great our products are for remote work, yet, we ourselves, cannot use them to work remotely? How can we expect our customers to take that seriously? How can we understand what problems of remote work need solving in our products, if we don’t live it?”

As a company that promotes itself as a purveyor of the best dog food (although it can be slightly more reticent about the fact it is often the most expensive as well), this is the type of charge that should hit home the hardest for Apple. Sadly, it looks as if Apple may have made a real dog’s dinner of this.

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