Apple is experimenting with telework. Are they on to something?
Decades ago now, lightning in a bottle transformed Silicon Valley from a sleepy, obscure California hamlet into a trillion-dollar behemoth.
Lightning in a bottle is supposed to be impossible. In nature, you can’t just produce something out of nothing. At the same time, we humans do it all the time. Our best creations are infinitely more than the sum of their parts.
The power of the human imagination, perhaps more than any other force, is responsible for the world we live in today. Whatever its flaws, 2022 is an age filled with more modern marvels, technological wonders, and magical entertainment than our not-so distant ancestors could have dreamed.
To say nothing of the advancements in medical science which have allowed humans to live past an average age of 30.
We’re not keeping up with the Jetsons yet but we’re getting there.
Silicon Valley didn’t spring out of the earth fully formed: It sprung from the minds of pioneers in tech- a brilliant collective comprised of thousands of individuals who brought us the omniscient power of Google, the perfect convenience of Apple, the unlimited treasure trove of Amazon, and the mesmerizing entertainments of Netflix, Spotify and YouTube.
Silicon Valley has changed the faced of the earth, ushered in a new era of human history.
Have we already seen its heyday?
Covid19 seems have disrupted the office culture at Apple and other Silicon Valley tech companies in particular. Tech, it would seem, is a field particularly suited for teleworking. Tech employees, who noticed this compatibility during long-term pandemic shutdowns, are proving reluctant to return to the office.
What became of the whimsical office spaces, the laid-back office culture?
Who can forget the quirky and luxurious joys of tech industry office buildings? Gourmet catered lunches, smoothie bars, employees dressed in jeans and tee-shirts casually strolling about a perfectly modern, fresh-feeling space, some tooling around on scooters.
It all sounded so great. In the wonder world of Silicon Valley, it seemed like everyone really wanted to be at work. Plenty of employees toiling elsewhere in the nation looked around at their drab, out-of-date office furniture and cramped cubicles and lamented.
In spite of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s best efforts to require Apple employees to return to the office, some don’t want to go. Why not?
Teleworking during the pandemic, something made possible by leaps in online collaborative technology and internet speed over the past few years, has revealed some of the downsides to spending so much time at the office as to require catered lunches and a smoothie bar.
According to Apple Together, an Apple employee advocacy group, there are at least six good reasons to maintain generous telework options:
Employees thrive with a flexible work schedule; diversity is better served in a flexible work environment; Apple employees who create and sell devices optimized for teleworking should use them; reducing carbon footprints and commute time; collaboration; and serendipity.
Apple Together contends collaboration and the serendipitous exchange of ideas that can sometimes happens during chance meetings between colleagues at the office, happen more frequently when employees are allowed to set their own in-office work schedules.
“Or as Steve said: ‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do,’” Apple Together quoted founder Steve Jobs in their statement. “Here we are, the smart people that you hired, and we are telling you what to do: Please get out of our way, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, let us decide how we work best, and let us do the best work of our lives.”
In the Information Age, the sciences, engineering and tech disciplines are more connected than ever. Collaboration is everywhere and the community is increasingly globalized.
As a result, world-changing inventions, great leaps forward like the automobile and antibiotics are happening every few years, whereas in the past, hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of years would pass between such significant leaps forward.
There is no telling from where the next major shift could spring, and it might not be Silicon Valley.
Israel is on the forefront of several potentially world-changing breakthroughs, including desalinization technology and a cure for aging. China is already breaking new ground in tech with the world’s first AI prosecutor.
With the combined and concentrated wealth and power of several small countries, Silicon Valley has become a force to reshape many aspects of our lives. Staying competitive in the worldwide tech marketplace may require a more expansive approach to in-person office work.
Perhaps the office-concept re-designers in Silicon Valley a decade ago weren’t correct about the compensations and appeal of a fancy office and a “fun” work environment.
It is possible that what employees really wanted, then as now, is better integration between work and family life.
It wasn’t Apple executives who created the devices we all depend on for so much. It wasn’t only Steve Jobs or Tim Cook. Apple is a collaboration between some of the smartest, best educated, and most talented people working anywhere in tech today.
A flexible work schedule may lead, ultimately, to better Apple products, new innovations, even better-fitting headphones.
It is up to companies to stay responsive to an ever-changing and expanding marketplace. As at Apple, telework may be something to consider.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)