The most common questions people ask me about Apple are about Apple Park. Usually, did you work in Apple Park? Yes, for 6 months. What was it like?
The grounds of Apple Park are essentially the most beautiful arboreteum in the world. So many things were done so well that I could write an entire article about it.
The building is essentially located at the bottom of the piece of land, with rolling hills going up in most directions. Even on the higher floors, you can get a great illusion of being in a landscape that goes on foverer. No highways or no other buildings. Very serene.
Unlike most corporate landscaping, everything is done in a fashion that makes it look very organic and natural. Things aren’t planted in rows or in large sections. The variety of plants is enormous.
The building structure
The structure of the building is really a marvel in engineering and it’s beautiful to walk around. People have described it like walking around a beautiful art museum.
There’s an amazing zen pond in the courtyard of the building where you can sit and meditate. Small waves are automatically created at specific intervals and it sounds just like gentle ocean noises.
Space to breathe
Both inside and outside the building, there are always places to go to get some space. To get away from people and other sounds. With more than 10,000 people in the building, many areas are crowded but it’s very easy to escape it. In Infinite Loop, there were a few sidewalks and a parking lot, so definitely a huge improvement.
The amount of natural light that filters in is just incredible. You can exit any office, maybe turn your head a little, and you’ll see out a window or skylight. Except at night, it’s definitely possible to operate without office lights.
By far the biggest downside is that most people are in either a very limited number of 2-person offices or in studios that start at 11 people and go up from there. I would venture to say most people find it intolerable without headphones and marginally tolerable with headphones.
The bottom line is that productivity suffered greatly moving to Apple Park and from those I know that have now been there for years, it’s something you just don’t get used to. Open office spaces have been resoundly rejected by pretty much all research that’s been done.
Rumor has it that the original plan was to have 2-person offices but as the project dragged on and Apple massively increased in size, it was decided to put more people in studios. Some people are in massive studios of 30-50 people.
The point of having one big building was to foster collaboration. Prior to Apple Park, people were scattered amongst many buildings in Cupertino and sometimes neighboring towns. Bringing people to one large building has helped in that regard.
One problem, however, is that the building is absolutely gigantic, over a mile in circumference. It’s actually not that much quicker in some cases to walk across Apple Park as it was to walk from one building to another in Cupertino.
Secondly, the corridors in Apple Park are very wide. Now, this was because they wanted to have collaboration spaces. But in practice, it appears they were not often used.
The downside of wide corridors is that your teammates are no longer across the hall, they are across a big, wide gulf. There is less team cohesion. Also, if your team doesn’t fit in one corridor and spreads to the next one, they are actually quite far apart and there is a sense of isolation.
This is related to the cramped office spaces, but sound dampening turned out to be a terrible problem. Noise canceling headphones don’t help much if you hear your neighbor on the phone or you are next to a conference room.
Every corridor and every office in Apple Park looks the same. There is no individuality, there is nothing to distinguish an area belonging to one team from the next. This also makes it hard to get around since your only clue is a corridor number you are looking for.
This is related to collaboration, but it used to be you could wander down a hall and see everyone’s nametags on their offices. Not only was it easier to find people but there was an opportunity to have a chance face-to-face meeting with someone you perhaps only knew through email or chat or the bug tracking system.
Apple’s café at Infinite Loop is a gem and I often considered it one of the best fringe benefits of working at Apple. I ate their nearly every day and rarely got bored. The café at Apple Park has been a huge disappointment. The prices are higher (which is fine on its own) but the food quality and choice has suffered.
There’s a bizarre lack of choice in things like beverages, snacks, and fruit, just to name a few. Like bananas? Great, you’re in luck. Hungry at 4pm? You’re in luck, we have one kind of potato chip in three flavors. Thirsty? We have 10% of the choice of beverages as the old cafe.
Food is sometimes cold, portions actually left me hungry sometimes and I’m not a big eater. The choice at the salad bar is probably 25% of what the old café had. There are few things you can add or remove from entrees. Some stations are no longer present. Sometimes veggies aren’t cooked. I could go on.
I found it to be profoundly disappointing, especially since you are essentially trapped in Apple Park as it takes 20 mins to leave campus and drive to a restaurant.
It’s cliché but my overall opinion is that it’s an amazing place to visit but I wouldn’t want to work there. Maybe a few weeks a year just to enjoy the pond and take long walks to de-stress. But it’s an unproductive and frustrating place to work.