top of page

Apple: From Park to Petri Dish

Journey at Home Day 39

When Apple Park opened in 2017, I awaited my chance to move in to what many referred to as “The Ring.” I was excited about seeing it, but not particularly thrilled with the prospect of an open office. I loved my office because in it I could think, dream, and innovate. I could close out noise and concentrate. (Photo from Wikimedia. Credit: Arene Müseler)

It was well known both in the 1990’s and at the time of the building of Apple Park, that the open office wasn’t the best for employees. In her article The Open Office Trap (January 7, 2014), Maria Konnikova states:

In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation. When David Craig surveyed some thirty-eight thousand workers, he found that interruptions by colleagues were detrimental to productivity, and that the more senior the employee, the worse she fared.

The other important function of an office was social distancing from those employees who insist on coming to work sick. Many times I heard, “Don’t worry, it’s only a cold” or “I’m not infectious any more” or “But I have work to do.” With an office, I could close the door to those who were sick and ask them to meet with me when they were better. When I left Apple, I had more than 1,200 hours of accrued sick leave. It wasn’t because I came to work sick. I simply didn’t get ill, or perhaps once, and if I did, I stayed home. I never got the flu. I work out and try to live a healthy life. But part of not getting ill was not being near ill people. (Diagram from Welcome to Apple Park, a booklet given to employees upon moving into the new campus.)

Many news items have appeared about Apple Park. From 9 to 5 Mac:

Apple Park is Apple's new, 175-acre corporate campus. Its 2.8 million-square-foot main building, or "spaceship," is considered to be one of the most energy-efficient buildings on earth. The campus and nearby visitor center opened in 2017, and will house over 12,000 employees.

Indeed. It can house 12,000 employees and feed 9,000 lunches in the main ring. It can house that many employees because they are packed in. Although the executives get their own space (essentially a glass fishbowl), some managers share a glass office, but everyone else is packed together. I was in the highest density area. The person to my side was an arm’s width away. When I backed my chair from my desk, I would run into the person whose back faced mine. My area had about 70 people in its “glassed-in” area. It wasn’t completely glassed-in because there were no doors. I was told they ran out of money for doors. But I suspect the glass factory was on back order due to the amount of glass needed to construct the building. The Steve Jobs Theater is one of the finest theaters in Silicon Valley. It has seating capacity for almost 1,000 people. Although Apple was pretty touchy at first about letting departments use it for meetings, they gradually loosened. The AI group I worked with snagged it for an internal conference. I got to give a short bit onstage as well as see the many green rooms and backstage facilities. Both this, and the ring, I now see as petri dishes for disease rather than marvels of architecture. The density with which tech companies can pack in employees using an open design will now work against them. The parking lots of places like Apple are empty. With the corona virus sure to ping pong around the world until there is a vaccine, I wonder what will become of the $5 billion dollar petri dish called Apple Park.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page