Welcome back (or not)!

"We know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office." Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Welcome back

The pandemic was your ticket out

Welcome back

To that same old place you complained about

With apologies to John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful, who wrote the theme song to Welcome Back Kotter, let’s start today’s newsletter by going back four short years, to when Apple opened its $5 billion headquarters in California.

Spearheaded by Steve Jobs in his last big project before he died, it’s straight out of Star Trek—a 21st-century vision of what a 23rd-century office might look like. The only problem, as many pointed out at the time, is that we’re not actually in the 23rd century.

People in the 21st century had to work there. Criticisms abounded:

  • The glass doors were beautiful. But they were so perfectly transparent that seven people were injured on the first day the building was officially open, simply by banging into them. Low-tech solution: stickers.

  • The layout included a 100,000-square-foot gym, which people lauded—but no on-site company daycare, which they cited as evidence of a bias against employees with young children.

  • And the open offices—oh, the open offices—loaded with “bench seating, long work tables, and open cubicle spaces, potentially irking employees used to quiet office environments.”

As my Inc.com colleague, Geoffrey James, wrote at the time: “Gee, ya think?”

There’s a lot more, but that’s enough for context, I think. Because Apple got good use out of its HQ for three years, and then—pandemic.

Now, Tim Cook has announced that Apple wants to welcome back everyone to the office (whether at Apple Park or Apple’s many other facilities) starting in September, for at least three days a week.

Within days, about 2,800 Apple employees organized in a Slack group earlier this month to work out how to avoid being welcomed back.

About 80 of them took the lead, writing a 1,300-word letter asking Cook and his top executives to reconsider. Among their arguments:

  • Employees want to stay home. Meanwhile, management messages like “we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office” wind up sounding “dismissive and invalidating”—gaslighting, sapping morale, and portraying things exactly the opposite to how many employees feel.

  • Employees say they’re doing “the best work of our lives … unconstrained by the challenges that daily commutes … and in-person co-located offices themselves inevitably impose.” Why upend that?

  • And they suggest many will have one foot out the door if they’re forced to return. “Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy … [has] already forced some of our colleagues to quit. ... [M]any of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work; or being a part of Apple.”

So, should Apple employees go back to the office? Frankly, I have no idea—and no dog in the fight, so to speak.

That said, I’ve long maintained that smaller companies should study how big companies solve common problems. Let the big guys work it all through first.

And here’s Apple, one of the biggest of them all, squaring a $5 billion headquarters with a world in which one study says 39% of workers promise to quit rather than return to the office (49%, when we limit it to Millennials and Gen Z).

I admit, of course, that I haven’t exactly offered the other side of the argument. But in truth, I’ve been working remotely for years without really missing the “office experience.”

Also, thanks to the generosity of paid subscribers of Understandably (your membership dues at work!), I’ve taken on two invaluable colleagues in the past month or so—one in the United Kingdom, and the other in North Carolina.

I’ll introduce them both more formally soon, but for now, short version: I can’t imagine building anything other than a remote-culture company.

So, what do you think? Are we truly witnessing a sea change, one in which companies might try to push for a return, but will ultimately face a reckoning?

Or will we all look back five years from now, ensconced once again in our cubicles, reminiscing on how we thought things were going to turn out?

I don’t have the answers, but maybe you do. If so, let us know in the comments.

Leave a comment


Understandably Live: Part 1

Don’t forget, I’ll be interviewing Peter Zheutlin, New York Times-bestselling author, at 1 pm Eastern Time today.

His latest book, Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story, is a fictionalized account of the adventures of Annie Londonderry, who rode* a bicycle around the world in the 1890s. I think it will be a good one. If you want to be a part of it, sign up here before noon; look in your email for the Zoom details.


Understandably Live: Part 2

I finally posted the Turney Duff interview. I’m new at this, and there are a few amateurish notes on my part, but we live and learn.

(I love that I recorded a 60-minute interview and posted it to YouTube, but it didn’t occur to me until the literal last minute that I should mention the name of the newsletter, and ask people to sign up at Understandably.com.)


7 other things worth your time

  • Related: As the pandemic clouds lift, the percentage of Americans leaving employers for new opportunities is at its highest level in more than two decades. (WSJ, $)

  • Jeff Bezos's space venture Blue Origin auctioned off a seat on its upcoming first crewed spaceflight on Saturday for $28 million. The winning bidder, whose name wasn't released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket, scheduled to launch on July 20. (CNBC)

  • A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by 117 employees at Houston Methodist Hospital who were suing the hospital system over its COVID-19 vaccine requirement. "This is not coercion," the judge wrote. "Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer." (NPR)

  • Naftali Bennett was sworn in as Israel's new prime minister on Sunday, having won a confidence vote with the narrowest of margins: just 60 votes to 59. His victory ends a 12-year grip on power by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's longest-serving leader. (CNN)

  • Salaries for junior lawyers are rising above $200,000 at many top law firms for the first time, following a year of record-breaking profits in the legal industry and competition to retain a workforce that has billed long hours at home during the pandemic. (WSJ, $)

  • JPMorgan Chase & Co. is ordering traders, bankers, financial advisers, and even some branch employees to sift through years of text messages on personal devices and set aside any related to work, according to people with knowledge of the situation. It’s all about complying with government rules on information retention while employees worked largely from home. (Business Times/Bloomberg)

  • The estate of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, who died unexpectedly in 2016, says it’s releasing a completed—but never-before-heard—album from his storied vault of leftover music. On July 30, “Welcome 2 America,” a 12-track album recorded at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios in 2010, will finally see the light of day. (NYT, $)


Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Wikimedia. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here