The recent ‘office’ announcements from Big Tech companies Meta, Tesla, and Apple, regarding their updated working policies have been making headlines.

Apple wants their employees to return to the office under a hybrid model, while Tesla is ordering workers back, full-time. Meta is championing a virtual form of work that is, in many ways, the complete opposite. While expressing different company cultures and priorities, the announced policies reflect a common challenge: in times of labour shortage and a lack of critical talent, companies need to make important decisions about the role of the office without alienating staff.

In-person collaboration is viewed as essential to Apple’s culture

Apple announced a much delayed return-to-work policy that included three days a week in-office from September 5, requiring employees to come to the office on Tuesday and Thursday, as well as one other day to be determined by team managers. In a memo to Apple’s employees, CEO Tim Cook said, “We are excited to move forward with the pilot and believe that this revised framework will enhance our ability to work flexibly, while preserving the in-person collaboration that is so essential to our culture”.

The Cupertino-based company first proposed a return to the office for three days a week in June 2021, only to pull back due to rising Covid-19 cases. At that time, the announcement triggered a wave of activism within the company. This eventually died down, as Apple continued to delay the hybrid work.

Tesla’s return-to-office mandate creates new problems

Apple’s approach though was not as strict as the car manufacturer Tesla. In an early-June memo headlined “Remote work is no longer acceptable”, Elon Musk told employees to return to the office “for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week” or quit the company.

However, Musk’s plans for staff to return to the office have been complicated by a lack of space at the company’s Fremont Factory, according to a report from The Information. In late June, a number of workers reported that they could not find desk space at Tesla’s Fremont complex and that parking was in short supply as more returned.

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By GlobalData

Meta embraces a remote leadership

Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta, recently announced that he will split his work between California and the UK, joining a growing number of chief executives from the social media giant who have relocated away from Silicon Valleys. Adam Mosseri, head of Meta’s Instagram service, also announced that he was moving to London and chief marketing officer Alex Schultz also relocated to the UK this year.

As for the other workers, Meta has given them the choice between fully remote and hybrid working. The shift to fully remote leadership comes at a critical time for the company, as Meta reported its first decline in revenue in its Q2 2022 results. Apple’s new privacy rules have significantly impacted Meta’s profits from targeted advertising, while the short video app TikTok continues to grow and erode Meta’s market share.

While there are risks in embracing a partially distributed leadership in such a challenging time for the social media company, Meta’s approach could put pressure on other companies to follow suit. Amid a tight labour market, with many workers pushing to keep working from home, forcing employees to return to the office is unlikely to be a winning strategy.