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

I’ve always framed this in my mind as the world being composed of “doers and talkers”. There are people who talk for a living, and people who actually do things for a living. We all know which we need more of and which we need fewer of, I think. :wink:


People skills are important!


I’m saying that there are important aspects of human collaboration that are lost on zoom calls.

Video conferencing isn’t the only tool for remote collaboration. It’s often not even the best choice.


To be clear, that’s not actually what you said. You insisted there is something inherently better about being live in person together in the same meat space. Hence my question about pheromones.
There are a LOT of other options for remote collaboration besides Zoom, which I am personally not a big fan of.

Doh, jinx @DukeTrout


My statements are not about the specific technology but a generalization. Is it your position that there are no benefits to working in a shared physical space?

I would never make such a generalization for all workers everywhere. But the opposite appears to be what you are doing, but you haven’t really clarified what those benefits are or how they’re achieved solely by being in person, so I really don’t know where you’re coming from. Don’t read anymore into it than that.

Also, if you don’t want to be misunderstood, consider not actually naming a specific, name-branded technology if that’s not what you mean. Because that’s what you wrote. We’ve got nothing else to go on, you know?


It has been my experience, over decades of me working in person and remotely, including taking companies away from in person work to remote work through tech, that there are subtleties of communication and community that are lost once there are no more face to face interactions in the same space. I don’t know why this is, as I am not a behavioral scientist, but I have seen the results first hand. I, also know, that if there is an issue of any kind with a customer of mine, I am considerably more likely to succeed in solving their concerns with an in person interaction. I know that this specific example is operationally different than collaboration between coworkers but the reality of human interaction still applies. Just think of how people treat and react to each other online relative to in person.

I will state as fact that there are many business scenarios where the ability to work NOT in a shared physical space is a competitive advantage. That further, there are scenarios where it’s not just an advantage but completely baked into the overall business design and is a requirement to be able to do it, and do it well. Some for entire industries not just individual businesses.

Which means, that any company that operates in one of those scenarios and is requiring workers to return to a shared physical space because of the benefits of being in a shared physical space is doing all those other parts of their business function poorly.

Since, if they’re doing those parts that are dependent on NOT being in a shared physical space well, there’s no reason to require people to come in. Which means one of the two needs improvement, either fix the underlying remote problem that impacts many areas or fix the reason they’re requiring them to return. One of them is a poor business management.

Alternatively, those businesses could just not doing anything that depends on multiple locations. That’s a rather limiting factor for most office type work. It certainly limits the scale of a company.


I think where we’re talking past each other is that you’re thinking of your particular industry or role in it, and others you’ve worked with. But there are so many versions of work and collaboration, I can’t see painting everything with the same broad brush.
I’ve worked remotely for 13 years now, with conferences and stuff for in person connection occasionally, and it’s been fine. Groups that don’t work together, IMO, don’t work together whether in person or remote, so it’s not the in person part that solves it.

I mean, we seem to be doing okay?
If someone acted in a remote work setting the way some people feel entitled to act on, say, Twitter, that would be it’s own whole problem, though.
I really like remote work and I’m really productive. I don’t miss the gross chewing sounds coming from the next cubicle over, nor the at least weekly comments on my appearance by male co workers. And there are so many ways to get that personal connection for the work I do.


For sure. One of the first companies I took completely remote was a radiology firm. After they fully transitioned they proceeded to eat their competition’s lunch.

The AI killed the real guy months ago.


That may well be true. I have also seen this first hand, but it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. If you can get 85% of the way there through iterating on tools and techniques for remote work, buttressed by in-person meetups or workshops to ensure that personal connections are maintained and those benefits gained, then that’s also a valid solution.

I don’t doubt at all there are roles that work better face-to-face, both from a positive and negative perspective. Positive for the reasons you (and I, above) have mentioned, and negative from the perspective that I’m sure “hard sell” industries like shady timeshares and the like would very very much like to get back to in-person events, precisely because those human interactions you mention are required to convince people to buy things they do not want. So, as with nearly everything, there is no one solution, and Apple is big enough to know that.


The timeshare people aren’t trying hard enough. They should sell an NFT that links to the timeshare. Those people aren’t having any problems without being face to face.


If it was me at Apple, I would not pass a company wide policy and allow individual teams to set their own rules.


Even the timeshare crowd are too honest to get into nfts.


No-one has addressed this aspect yet: disability.

Disabled people have been begging for even one day a week WFH for many years. For all sorts of reasons, from the sheer amount of time saved on travel and preparation for travel, to the sheer mental overhead of being in a space where you are highly visible and isolated at the same time. As someone on the spectrum, someone just coming up and chatting to me isn’t just a disruption, it can undo the progress of a whole day.

For years, disabled people have asked, pleaded, begged for the option of working from home. And for years they’ve been told that it’s too hard, it’s too complicated, there are very good and entirely valid reasons why you think it would work but trust us it really wouldn’t, and you think it would be pleasant but trust us you’ll be begging to come in for the stale coffee and the random managers dropping past your desk and the co-workers chatting about their pets at the tops of their lungs.

Then Covid happened, and it turned out that while it was a disruption, WFH wasn’t actually impossible at all. And disabled people got a taste of the thing they’d been told was impossible all that time, and it was sweet. It was everything they hoped it could be. And they didn’t even have to feel guilty about it, because everyone was in the same boat.

And now. Now, in this “Post-Covid [citation needed] World”, all the extrovert senior managers, who got their positions not because they are better at their jobs, not because they are better at managing people or systems or supply chains, but because they present better at the social events that people like them use for character judgement instead of competence, they are saying that it’s now going to be impossible again.

Only the cat’s out of the bag. And, like kerb cuts and accessible entrances, it turns out that things that make it possible for disabled people to function also make it more pleasant for non-disabled people. Everyone knows it’s possible now, and how it works.

So what’s left is coersion, and orders, and diktat, and gaslighting, and “because there are very good and important things that you can’t do over zoom that I absolutely need you in the office to do no I can’t adequately explain what they are but trust me.”

What this whole push to going back to the office is saying to disabled people is: “We hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse of how things could be. We’re systematically erasing it now, because you and your needs don’t matter.”


Well said!
I could not find an “applause” gif that adequately reflected my respect for this post that did not include a standing ovation, which seemed off, so I will leave this gif-less.
But, again, well-put.


I’ll add that this is also the perfect example of how design for different abilities benefits all of us. Like how the wheelchair ramp also helps the UPS guy with his dolly.

Many introverted folks and people who need quiet to concentrate have also been begging for WFH, myself included. I don’t have any particular neurodiversity thwarting me from working in an office at all, but I’ve always known I’m happier and more productive not being in one. Yet I’ve always heard all the arguments you describe for why it’s “impossible”. If office work had been designed with autism included, for example, it would hugely benefit all the introverted engineers like myself who just wanted some damn peace and quiet to concentrate.

It always boiled down to what others said upthread– fundamentally companies demand to surveil their labour because of distrust.


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