by David R. Robins

Apple’s new mega campus is a big mistake

Sep 14, 2017
Collaboration SoftwareIT LeadershipSmall and Medium Business

The late Steve Jobs believed strongly in collaboration, and his last act as Apple's CEO was to start the planning and construction of a huge spaceship looking campus. I believe the mega campus does not live up to its promise.

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Credit: Apple

There is no question that the late Steve Jobs was a genius and was admired by many, I included. Most things he did throughout his career turn out to be highly successful. But even geniuses make mistakes. Einstien made mistakes, Newton made mistakes and Steve’s last act before he got too sick to be able to work was a big mistake too.

Steve dreamed a huge complex to house Apple employees to make it easier for them to communicate and collaborate. The mega structure was finished in early 2017 at a cost of $5 billion long after Steve’s untimely death. The new structure is called Apple’s spaceship Campus.

You might be thinking that I am out of my mind to call Apple’s Mega Campus a mistake. What is wrong with a building that helps employees to see each other on daily basis and engage in conversation and collaboration? Let me explain why I feel that way.

The promise of the mega campus envisioned by Steve was to create an environment to encourage and enable collaboration for Apple’s employees. But does a mega structure really help to improve collaboration and team work? Even if the collaboration is improved, does it justify huge financial and social cost?

It is well understood that when small teams are co-located there is better communication and collaboration among the team. But the secret here is “Small Teams”. When the crowd gets too big, the noise gets louder and communication becomes less focused and useful.

On top of that, there is a huge cost with co-location that most people don’t realize or want to consider. Housing thousands of employees in one building create huge issues not considered by the developers of Apple’s mega campus.

When you colocate everyone in one location, you limit the talent pool that you can access. Commerce is a global endeavor now and access to a large pool of talent is critical to the success of any company.

By trying to house all employees in one city, the corporation limits itself from talented employees located elsewhere. This causes the astronomical salary increases found in locations like Silicon Valley.

One option many companies rely on is to relocate employees from other locations to one central location. But this approach has its own social and economic costs.

Uprooting families from their hometowns and relocating them to a new town has a huge effect on kids,  spouses and the extended family left behind. It also deprives the cities and countries these employees are relocated from, the talent they need to keep them viable and grow.

In fact, excessive brain drain has become a huge problem for the third world and developing countries. This is an important social issue that the industrial nations need to find a solution for.

In recent years, the technology advances have made remote working and virtual meeting a reality. In the near future with the advent of augmented reality, remote work will become even more productive. For engineers, developers and designers working remotely have become a way of life and will get better as technology advances.

Can people collaborate effectively when they work remotely? The answer is an absolute yes. Is remote collaboration as effective as in person collaboration? Not 100 percent but it is getting very close and will get even better soon.

Add to the above, the huge environmental benefits of not commuting to work and the money and time saved by people avoiding the rush hour commute to work and you can see the benefits of colocation does not justify its huge cost.

In my opinion, remote working is a solution that its time has arrived. Companies get access to the best talent, the employees stay in their home towns and the environment gets a break from excessive commute to work and the cost of maintaining mega buildings.

I have written about the benefits of remote working and how to manage remote workers extensively. 95% of all employees in my Compay are remote workers. Using our own tools, plus Google Hangouts we plan and track our projects and tasks. We also have daily status and brainstorming meetings to collaborate.