As the COVID vaccine rollout continues, many people who have been working from home for a year are wondering: When will I be back at the office? And what will the workplace look like?
Last spring when the pandemic hit, tech companies were among the first to announce their employees would work from home until 2021 — Twitter and Facebook even announced staff could do so indefinitely if their role allows.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, however, is now feeling bullish about returning to work.
"My gut says that, for us, it's still very important to physically be in touch with one another because collaboration isn't always a planned activity," he tells PEOPLE.
"Innovation isn't always a planned activity," Cook adds. "It's bumping into each other over the course of the day and advancing an idea that you just had. And you really need to be together to do that."
Apple embraced the open floor plan model when the company moved to its 175-acre Cupertino Campus in 2017. But with social distancing required for safety during the COVID era, some companies are rethinking and retrofitting their office space and requiring employees to wear masks to comply with CDC guidelines.
How will Apple manage?
"We're still figuring that out, to be honest with you," Cook says.
Some remote work could continue, he adds: "We have realized and learned that there are some things that are perfectly great to do virtually across Zoom or WebEx, whatever, or FaceTime, whatever you might have. So I think it'll be, I'll call it a hybrid environment [for] a little bit."
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The company did not slow down while many staffers worked from home.
"You look back, and the shutdown occurred in mid-March. Post that, we had this enormous, prolific product period, [introducing] the first 5G iPhone. We introduced the M1 chip in the Mac. These are major, major accomplishments," he says.
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In the past year, the company also announced a $100 million racial justice initiative (which will provide a learning hub at historically Black colleges and universities, and a developer academy in Detroit) and pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030.
"We did all of that while reinventing the way we were working," Cook says. "We're very much an in-person team because we believe that's best for collaboration. But we knew that was no longer possible, or not possible for this period of time. And so we had to reinvent ourselves. And I really give the team credit for really rising to the occasion."
Though the company hasn't announced a firm return-to-work date, Cook is looking forward to that day: "Largely, I think that we're going to be back at work again, and I can't wait until that happens."
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