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Apple’s chief of machine learning quits over return-to-office policy

May 10, 2022, 7:37 PM UTC

A top engineer at Apple has reportedly quit in response to his company’s return to office requirement, marking a blow to Apple’s attempts to implement a hybrid work schedule.

Ian Goodfellow plans to leave his role as director of machine learning at Apple, Zoë Schiffer, a reporter with tech news outlet The Verge, tweeted on Saturday. 

“I believe strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team,” Goodfellow is reported to have written in a note to staff.

Apple did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment about Goodfellow’s reported resignation. 

Apple employees began returning to office on April 11, marking the end of a two-year flexible remote-working arrangement at the company. Apple had originally planned on bringing employees back to the office in December, but delayed the return in light of last winter’s Omicron surge.

Apple’s new return-to-work policy is being phased in, with employees required to begin spending at least one day in the office weekly by April 11, two days by May 2, and at least three days by May 23. By the end of May, all employees will be required to be present in the office Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and most will be able to work remotely on remaining weekdays.

Apple’s return-to-work policies were some of the strictest of any major tech company. Google also required that most employees return to their local offices beginning in April, but it is letting some workers continue working remotely indefinitely. At Microsoft, employees who have been approved by managers can work from home more than 50% of the time. And at Facebook parent company Meta, management is letting employees whose jobs allow them to work from home continue doing so if they choose.

Goodfellow’s reported resignation is not the first in response to Apple’s return-to-work policies. An employee petition made the rounds last summer that demanded “greater flexibility” from management as the company began evaluating when to demand a return to office. Many employees voiced their frustrations online in early April as well, as the office requirement date neared, with many threatening to quit because they did not want to “deal with the commute” or “sit around for eight hours a day.”

A recent survey of Apple employees, conducted April 13 to 19, found that 76% were unhappy with the return-to-work plan, and as many as 56% claimed they were considering leaving the company because of the policy.

It’s unclear how many employees will carry through on this threat.

Raj Choudhury, a Harvard professor who studies the future of work, called Apple’s return-to-work policy a “rigid hybrid model” in comments made to Quartz on Monday. Choudhury also warned that strict rules could backfire on companies “because the best employees will leave for competitors offering more flexible hybrid policies.”

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