Apple Inc. plans to soon start returning more employees to its major global offices while other tech companies are continuing work-from-home policies through at least the end of 2020 due to Covid-19.
The Cupertino, California-based technology giant plans to bring back employees in phases to its offices, including the main Apple Park campus in Silicon Valley, over a few months, according to people familiar with the plan. The first phase, which includes staff members who can’t work remotely or are facing challenges working from home, has already begun in some regions globally. It will expand to major offices across late May and early June, Apple has told staff.
A second phase, scheduled to begin in July, will return even more employees to Apple’s offices globally. In the U.S., the company has locations in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, San Diego and Boulder, Colorado. The return-to-work timelines are fluid and may change, particularly given local and state stay-at-home orders, said the people, who asked not to be identified talking about internal company matters.
This week, senior Apple managers are beginning to inform employees if they are in the first phase or a later part of the process. During the first phase, employees will either be asked to work from the office regularly or only for certain periods depending on their role, the company has told staff. An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.
Apple’s approach to returning to its offices differs greatly from that of other well-known technology companies. It underscores Apple’s longtime focus on in-person meetings and hands-on product development, and the company’s reliance on hardware as its central business.
Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have said that most employees can work from home through 2020. Amazon.com Inc. said that office workers will be able to work from home until early October and Twitter Inc. said staff can work from home “forever” if they choose.
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Still, Apple’s rivals also have employees who probably will need to return to their offices earlier. Facebook, Amazon, and Google have hardware units, though far smaller than Apple’s sprawling operation, that need to develop and test products for release in the future.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, Apple has allowed a select group of employees to work in their offices to keep operations running. Certain roles, such as managing data centers, deploying software, putting up new products for sale online and some hardware testing, are more difficult or impossible from home and are considered business critical.
The first swath of employees returning to offices will likely focus on hardware development. Apple’s labs for future major hardware initiatives, such as planned virtual-reality and augmented-reality headsets, have been dialed back during the work from home period, one of the people said.
Apple’s legion of software developers have mostly settled in to working from home with the company planning its late June developers conference as a virtual affair. Apple engineers are filming demonstrations of the planned software updates from home for the online presentations as part of the conference.
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Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told employees in April that the company’s return to work plan would be staggered. “We don’t envision, at least today, everyone going back at the same time,” Cook told employees in a virtual Town Hall meeting. “It may be different teams go back at a different time, it may be people within a team go back at different times.”
Cook told Bloomberg TV that the process would include temperature checks, social distancing and masks. He also said that Apple is looking into Covid-19 testing for workers.
Apple began opening its U.S retail stores this week, starting with some locations in South Carolina, Alabama, Alaska, and Idaho. It has already opened all of its stores in Australia, Austria, Switzerland, South Korea, and Germany. Thousands of retail employees have worked from home as AppleCare technical support representatives while the stores have been closed.
The company also has corporate offices across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
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