File image from Apple's campus... Staff have been given no firm date to make a return after the pandemic. Image Credit: New York Times

Cupertino: Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook shared new details on the company's plan to return to the office during a virtual town hall meeting with employees. Cook said it "seems likely" that the majority of teams won't be back before June 2021.

The California-based tech giant has historically had an office-centric culture, but the CEO implied that the company's success this year during the pandemic lockdown could enable more flexibility to work remotely in the future. Still, Cook has been adamant publicly about his desire for staff to ultimately return to the office.

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They will be back

"There's no replacement for face-to-face collaboration, but we have also learned a great deal about how we can get our work done outside of the office without sacrificing productivity or results," he told staff. "All of these learnings are important. When we're on the other side of this pandemic, we will preserve everything that is great about Apple while incorporating the best of our transformations this year."

Cook added that because of the challenges of recent months, Apple will be giving employees in many regions an additional paid holiday scheduled for January 4. Other companies, including Alphabet Inc.'s Google, have also given staff an extra paid day off recently.

In a giving mood

Apple's employee donation programme is having its strongest year ever, the CEO also noted. Since the initiative began, more than $591 million has been donated to charities and employees have volunteered more than 1.6 million hours. The company is making a $5 million donation to organizations helping those hurt by Covid-19, Cook said..

Several other Apple executives spoke during the town hall meeting, including the chiefs of retail, legal, environment, marketing, services, hardware engineering, software development, operations and machine learning.

Dan Riccio, senior vice-president of hardware engineering, called remote work a "huge challenge" for device design that is usually done in lab settings. He said travel restrictions in March were particularly tough because that is when engineers typically travel to China to help kick off manufacturing of products launching in the fall.

Remote control

Apple worked around this, with engineers controlling robots from home and using iPads with augmented-reality software to guide technicians in overseas factories, Riccio said. Staff also worked different hours to communicate better with staff already stationed in China. The "very best is yet to come," Riccio added.

The company is focused on developing augmented-reality and virtual-reality hardware products for debut in coming years. Johny Srouji, head of custom chip development, told staff about a cellular modem that went into development this year.