Return-to-office policy reportedly costs Apple its machine learning director

Apple Park

Reports indicate that Apple’s demand to employees to return to the office has prompted the head of machine learning at the Cupertino company, Ian Goodfellow, to leave his role.

Tech reporter at The Verge, Zoë Schiffer, made the claim in a tweet, adding that in a note to staff, he had said: “I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team.”

Apple’s hybrid working policy sets out an expectation that Apple Park-based employees will spend three days a week in the office – specifically Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays – from May 23. That leaves Wednesdays and Fridays as days of the week when staff will be permitted to work from home.

However, after two years in which the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have led many people to discover the convenience of working from home, there have been suggestions that Apple might be taking an overly restrictive approach to hybrid working.

Indeed, Goodfellow has been far from the only Apple staffer to question the company’s policy in this regard. An angry open letter was recently written by a group of Apple employees to the firm’s executives, arguing that the hybrid working pilot “does not recognize flexible work and is only driven by fear. Fear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control.”

The letter continued: “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.”

Indeed, even at the time Apple announced its office reopening plans in March, CEO Tim Cook admitted in a memo to staff that for some people, the change might be an “unsettling” one, at the same time as being a “positive change” and “long-awaited milestone” for others.

Of course, Apple is not the only company to have a policy of its employees returning to the office. However, some other employers – such as Apple’s fellow tech giant, Google – have placed greater emphasis on allowing people to make their own choices on home working, depending on such factors as their specific role and its requirements.

While Apple is doubtless enthusiastic about getting its employees to return to Apple Park, widespread home working didn’t prevent it from releasing the highly rated iPhone 13 in 2021, and much the same can be said about the recent Macs powered by Apple Silicon.

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