Apple's Director of machine learning dislikes return-to-work policy so much that he quit

Originally published at: Apple's Director of machine learning dislikes return-to-work policy so much that he quit | Boing Boing

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I’m on the fence about this. As much as working from home sounds amazing. If there is no connection between people it is considerably harder to collaborate with them. The current crop of people working from home already created a relationship with their coworkers.

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The problem for Apple is they built that monolithic building as much for image/PR/status as functionality. To have employees, essentially, reject it so they can stay home in slippers just won’t cut it.

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Good point.

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I’m staying home too, you can’t make me go back, also I’m retired.

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I guess it could be due to a different company culture and hubris, but REI sold its newly built, never used company campus in 2020.

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The current crop of people working from home already created a relationship with their coworkers.

I disagree. My group at work has new hires since 2020. I’m guessing from the employment numbers each month that a lot of workplaces are similar, that folks have been onboarded during the pandemic without ever stepping foot in the office.

I’m glad to be back two days a week. I was going stir crazy being at home with only my cats for company over the past two years. But I’m only one of two in my group who wanted to come back. Everyone else elected to be 100% remote.

Bottom line: I’m glad we were given the choice.

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If you think about it. If these large corporations try to stick to the brick an mortar model, more nimble competition is more likely to succeed against them with a remote workforce and none of the capital expenditure and monthly liabilities.

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You nail the issue for why they’d let a valuable employee go on this basis. They spent more than a billion dollars on their shiny new HQ and they’ll be damned if they don’t use it. Never mind that there’s no place in or near housing-deprived Cupertino most of their (very well paid) employees can afford to live, never mind that a lot of these jobs can be done remotely or off-campus; the company built it, they can’t sublet parts of it, so they’ll make their workers waste time commuting in to occupy it.

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I guess time will tell what the effect to people’s psychological health and the economy. There are so many factors at play that it is incredibly difficult to predict if this will be a generally good thing or a generally bad thing.

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I’ve been managing teams for decades now, and one of the most diverse being for the Wikimedia Foundation, where we had team members in the US, EU, East Asia, and Australia - all on the same team. That sort of environment teaches you a lot about what remote work really means, and how to make it not suck for certain people in certain timezones.

The first thing I’ve come to realize since 2020 is how privileged those of us who CAN work from home truly are, and I’ve personally made sure to treat those forced to go in, or travel for their jobs with the respect they deserve.

The second thing I quickly realized is the “good” that working from home, even from those who can, is not evenly distributed. Some folks have a home office and infrastructure to support a great work environment this way. Many do not, either because of the realities of home life, family life, other obligations, or even the need for human interaction and connection that they relied on an office environment to provide. Assuming that all folks want to work from home is a bad idea.

The third thing I’ve come to realize having both worked remotely, and in offices for multiple-year stretches is that there is a distinct difference between working together and remotely, full-stop. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to be in the same room all the time, or even some of the time, but you have to understand that not being in one place has an effect. I’ve seen enough cases of projects being saved by in-person meetups, or how the dynamic of a team changes when they’ve had a face-to-face gathering (in some cases after a year of working together or more in these pandemic times) to know that it really, really matters.

What does that mean for me, as a hiring manager and as someone who has team members on multiple continents?

It means I want to ensure that those who want to work from an office, with colleagues, can. It means I want to encorage face-to-face collaboration where possible by ensuring people are congregated in the same set of geographic areas so they can choose to spend time together on projects where that makes sense. And I want to ensure we have a budget and a principle around making sure people get to meet face-to-face often enough to stay connected (pandemic willing), for those who do not want to work from the office.

But I will not turn down a good candidate in a remote area, and I will not require anyone to do anything, provided their choices do not affect their work.

There is absolutely no reason Apple could not apply the same thinking to their workforce. They have a much bigger budget and a far more vast HR infrastructure than we have, there is no reason other than poor choices not to spend the money to do this.

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And regarding Apple HQ, were their any studies as to whether a ring building was more/less efficient or was it just Jony Ive once against insisting on form over function?
          I understand that the internals of the building have been designed to be energy efficient, etc. but the question regards the actual workspace of a ring— as opposed to, say, a filled-in disk with no internal park area. Why not, say, a filled-in disk, and an adjoining recreational area?

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I agree 100%. Some people need the office to have a clear space to work. Others thrive when they don’t have to deal with all the mess of a commute or all the distractions an office environment brings. Others might just want a hybrid arrangement where they can utilize the resources of the office (especially engineers and technicians) but don’t need to be there every day.

I managed two remote teams in one role; one a short flight away and the other in a different time zone. With good communication and one trip every other month to each site, I knew more about what was going on with my teams than the executives down the hall from them on-site.

I think your best point from the perspective of the company is what these big companies are missing: that they dramatically reduce their candidate pool (both quality and quantity) when they only recruit locally or for people willing to relocate.

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It’s an amazing and terrible building all at once. There are some really weird neuro-optical effects from having a huge building in that shape…

  • As you walk around the perimeter there are no corners to turn. It feels “infinite,” which is not something you really want to associate with “work.”
  • Some interior hallways are wedge-shaped, like narrow pie-slices, and that really messes with your since of perspective like those magic rooms where people seem to shrink as they walk across.
  • For strictly work-related issues: the passive ventilation means everyone can overhear everything outside of conference rooms; the huge windows all glare from all angles.

That said, everything is finished with absolutely mind-boggling finesse and expense. The seamless glass views are stunning. The sculpted hand-rails in the stone walls of the stairwells have an underside to grip. The bathroom stalls are actually fully enclosed (though subtle locking indicators means it’s hard to tell if they’re occupied or not). The central area is lovely (even though the horizon is eerily similar on all sides), I especially like the pool for the watery white-noise escape.
It’s like a Black Mirror workplace of exquisitely deluxe annoyances.
Good cafeteria though!

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At my job we get to do a hybrid schedule of 2 days WFH and 3 in the office. Since going back, I’ve realized that I actually kinda miss in-person connection with my colleagues, but I’ve also realized that I really hate commuting. My commute isn’t even that onerous – it’s the whole “gotta wear real clothes … gotta shave … gotta pack something to eat” thing that comes with going to work in a place that’s not home.

That said, I was going a little stir-crazy at home. Trying to balance family needs with work life at home is a bit of a challenge. On one hand it’s great being able to bug out a little early to attend to life stuff; on the other, it’s difficult to make everyone understand that I need to get stuff done and ZOMG CAN’T YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE FOR HALF AN HOUR?!

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Ultimately WFH is here to last, and the more flexibility employers can provide, the more staff they’ll be able to retain and the better the employees they’ll be able to attract. As everyone is pointing out, folks have different needs and different ways of working. But I personally will NEVER go back to my office.

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Can you comment as to whether the building is conducive (or not) to different departments interacting? Eg, 2 departments diametrically opposed (and a half-mile away) on the ring are much less likely to drop in on each other.

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Because not having windows sucks? Having worked in a lot of offices, nothing is worse than a giant structure where the majority of it is internal space far from the exit and the windows. If you don’t want a traditional campus of mostly square buildings spread all over this seems like one of the best options.

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That’s just a matter of scale. I’ve worked at Nike, where getting together with another team can be a long walk or even a taxi ride.

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Fair points. I’m in awe of it on basically every level. $5 Billion well spent (it wasn’t my $5 billion). I just wonder what the trade-offs are, if any.