It’s Not Just Apple Employees: Why Workers Need Remote Flexibility

Lower wages, long Covid caution, and a tight labor market all spur employees to band together against in-office mandates.
Adam Rowe

Starting September 5, Apple will be requiring employees to work in-person at its Santa Clara Valley offices for at least three days a week. They're not happy about it.

Employee advocacy group Apple Together has launched a petition to push for retaining the remote work flexibility options that Apple was forced to introduce at the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

It's just the latest in a wave of big employers who hope to mandate more in-office work, from Tesla to Google. We reached out to tech workers themselves to better understand the issue.

And yes, we talked to them remotely.

Is It Time to Rethink How We Work?

One of our most intriguing responses was the argument that labor conditions on the whole have been setting the stage for exactly this sort of employee movement for decades now.

“I would argue that Traditional professions just aren't as appealing to a large number of people as they used to be, and there's a strong explanation for this shift in perception. Companies have restrained the increase of wages and benefits for workers throughout the course of the last few decades.” -Alex Savy, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at ComfyNorth

Savy points to the U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index. That chart tracks higher-wage/higher-hour jobs alongside lower-wage/lower-hour jobs, in order to compare the ratio between the two. It reveals a steady drop in job quality across the past three decades, as more and more people find themselves working for lower wages or for fewer hours.

Under those conditions, it's no wonder they're collectively upset about getting work flexibility dangled in front of them — and then taken away once more.

Savy also points to tech advancements that have increased work expectations.

“In addition, the expansion of information technology has muddied the lines between work and home, making many jobs that traditionally took place between the hours of nine and five into ones that operate more like they do around the clock.” -Alex Savy

How the Pandemic and Long Covid Factor In

Remote work is popular across the board, despite a sizeable number of people that do still prefer in-person work.

According to one recent poll that relied on January 2021 survey data, 44% of those working from home would prefer to keep doing it, while 39% would prefer a return to the office. Plus, 17% cite the Covid pandemic as the reason why they would like to continue working remotely.

Vaccinations have reduced the odds of dying from catching Covid, but as precautions have been dropped, US cases have risen significantly: In May, they had quadrupled since the same month a year earlier.

That's not much of a comfort for anyone concerned about Long Covid, a condition that the CDC found affects 20% of those who recover from even a mild SARS-CoV-2 infection, although another meta-analysis found it to be closer to 50%.

Ironically, anyone who winds up with any of the more than 200 symptoms that Long Covid can leave — from brain fog and headaches to kidney failure, blood clots and heart attacks — will find that any increased flexibility from their employers will be more needed than ever.

Workers Gain Better Leverage in a Tighter Labor Market

Robert Zeglinski, Managing Editor at BreakingMuscle, highlighted another potential reason behind the employee pushback at companies like Apple. He believes that employees who need more flexibility have an advantage now due to the relative lack of employees to replace them. The US is in a tight labor market at the moment, so employees feel they have the ability to fight for better conditions.

As a result, smart business leaders will accommodate their employees' needs before any issues escalate to the extent that they have at Apple.

“Employers who fail to accommodate employees' preferred work schedules do so at their own peril. As long as this labor has options, these organizations will be disadvantaged. Before the pandemic, three days a week at the workplace would have been ideal. However, people now have options: Other companies in the same industry may provide completely flexible and remote offices.” -Robert Zeglinski

In 2022, any white collar employer has access to the tools that keep remote workers safe, secure and effective, from VPNs and password managers to remote access software. But workers will need to push them in order to gain these accomodations.

There's evidence that pushback from groups like Apple Together is having the desired impact: Apple originally wanted everything working in-person across all Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but have caved just a little and are now only pushing for Tuesdays and Thursdays in the office, along with a floating third in-person weekday that will be determined on an employee-by-employee basis.

Long Covid is defined by life-altering disabilities including psychiatric disorders and cognitive issues — making it one big reason why employees should be invested in figuring out what leverage they truly have.

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Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He's also a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and he has an art history book on 1970s sci-fi coming out from Abrams Books in 2022. In the meantime, he's hunting own the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.

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