Apple's misguided WFH policy risks losing the best and the brightest talent

Steve Jobs Theater
Steve Jobs Theater (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

You don't need to be following along with the ins and outs of Apple's human resources situation too closely to know that team members are less than thrilled with the idea of being told to work from the office at least three days per week. This after they've spent a year working from home five days a week. Apple's sticking to its guns, despite concerns from within that people might leave the company rather than come to the office. But the situation is worse than that. It might struggle to hire people to replace them, too.

Apple has long been one of the companies that likes to have people on-site. It built Apple Park for those people and it's quite the place to be. The fact people still seem to prefer to work from home speaks volumes, although it's always important to remember that Apple has people working all around the globe — not just at its spaceship-looking HQ. It's Apple Park that's causing most of Apple's office-based pushback, though.

The problems Apple faces are obvious, at least to most of us. The area Apple Park is in, and indeed the surrounding areas, are costly. It's that high cost of living that has caused some people to already suggest that they're struggling to meet the commitments they have — and that's on what is presumably a decent Apple salary. As one Twitter user also pointed out, forcing people to work at Apple Park, and live near it, isn't really helping its inclusivity claims if it means a ton of people simply can't afford to apply for jobs there.

Apple Park Visitor Center

Apple Park Visitor Center (Image credit: Apple)

Apple will point to the way it's always worked, saying that it needs people in offices and engineers at desks to do the work it does. And that used to be true, but not anymore. Apple has released multiple products over the last year, all while people worked from home. Were there problems? I'm absolutely sure there were, but I'm equally sure they were overcome. We wouldn't have had two WWDCs, Apple silicon, and all of the new hardware and software announces if they weren't. Apple can't say that working from home doesn't work anymore — it's proven that it can and indeed, does. This fall will see it release the best iPhone ever made, after all.

There is already so much competition for the best engineers that Apple can't afford to limit its recruiting pool in this way. Other tech companies are already offering fully remote work. If you're someone who wants to work from home, where will you go? Apple's plush offices are only a draw if you want to work in an office in the first place. Now that so many people have tasted remote work for the first time in their careers, how many does that cover?

This isn't to say that Apple is doomed, of course. It's still Apple and it'll still pull in some great people, whether engineers, writers, designers, or any other vocation you can think of. But will it have the pick of the bunch? Will it be able to cherry-pick the best of the best and the brightest of the bright? Possibly not and, realistically, that's a bad spot to be in when you're trying to change the world. Again.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • How did these people survive pre-covid? If you think they will leave in droves you are nuts. There is a reason people were doing those huge commutes to work at apple in the first place.
  • The best and brightest aren't complaining on slack and sending threats to their boss like angry pre teens to their parents that they are going to run away if they don't get what they want. These employees are the self entitled detriment to anywhere they go Apple would be wise to weed them out now and any future employer should avoid them like the plague.
  • That's what happens when everyone gets a participation trophy. Apple will easily find and replace the workers who leave.
  • Seems to me, it's the employees who are misguided.
  • There is nothing misguided about their policy. The author has no idea what it takes to develop and build the products Apple makes. Of the 150,000 employees at Apple I doubt they will miss anyone who is so upset they will leave rather than come to work. Any that do leave would be complaining about something else anyway.
  • Yet another anti-Apple screed from Oliver Haslam. All is lost, Apple will wither away and die if they don’t kowtow to prima donna employees. iMore has now become the new Apple hater. I guess it gets more clicks that way. Just how far down will it go with people like Haslam? By the way, pima donna means someone who has an inflated view of their own talent and importance, the perfect term to describe those employees.
  • Wow, the "Apple can do no wrong" cult is out in full force in these comments (before mine). The author is merely pointing out, correctly, that Apple's WFH policy might be misguided, due simple market dynamics - Employees want what's best for themselves and their families (whether pay, benefits, affordability, quality of life, etc). And if Apple's WFH policy does not present the best option, while legions of other tech companies will gladly scoop up talented Apple employees with full WFH and other benefits, Apple will find themselves having a harder time keeping and attracting the best talent. Again, simple market dynamics.
    But, the "Apple can do no wrong" cult has to throw a hissy fit, and accuse the author of an anti-Apple screed.
    Most likely, there won't be a mass exodus of Apple employees, or Apple's doom, or anything like that. But if Apple keeps this hard line WFH policy, they are in fact making themselves less competitive in attracting and keeping top talent. Plain and simple.
    After all, it's increasingly difficult to make a living in the Silicone Valley and San Francisco. Businesses and municipalities and school districts and utilities are having an extremely hard time hiring people, because they can't afford to pay people to a level where said people can afford to live there. It's a major problem. Who cares if Apple has this super cool spaceship campus? If you can't afford to buy a house or pay rent, or if there is a dearth of goods and services and good schools (because of aforementioned inability to hire due to costs), working at Apple, if forced to work there at least 3 days a week, becomes untenable for many people, regardless of salary or perks.
    But go ahead Apple Cult, have your hissy fit about the article. ;)
  • Apple has created and allowed this mind set to take hold. I agree with most of you. Let them leave. Those complaining will only be more of a problem as their sense of entitlement grows. Apple already let them in on hiring decisions and it’s a mistake that will only amplify over time. What are we talking about anyway? They only have to be in three days a week. Oh the horror!!
  • Agreed, the author of this article is as miss guided as those employees that need to be at work in their fancy high tech office three days out of the week. A lot of people are waiting to experience those nasty working conditions. 🙄
  • Apple’s WFH policy isn’t misguided. It’s reasonable and rational, given Apple’s long-standing culture. If there are a group of employees who aren’t satisfied with it, and Apple doesn’t want to accommodate them, then that’s fine - the employees should start looking for other jobs with work environments that are more compatible with their desires.
  • The WFH policy is indeed reasonable and rational. But in terms of competition for talent, it might be misguided. Let's face it, much of the tech world, and indeed other types of business, has experienced a major shift to fully enabling remote work. Many, many people want/need that remote work flexibility, and there is A LOT of opportunity for it. It's just market dynamics. And saying this isn't anit-Apple. Google is facing the same thing.