With over 90 of Apple’s 271 outlets across the U.S. closed down once again due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the company is asking retail staff who are unable to show up to a physical location to instead work from home, according to a Monday report in Bloomberg. Apple reportedly also expects that its plan to swiftly return its workforce to major offices is no longer feasible and that those working remotely should plan on doing that until 2021.
Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and people, told workers in a video over the weekend that “If your store is closed, please sign up for Retail at Home,” according to Bloomberg. She added, “... Please talk to your manager, because we really need to make sure that we shift our teams to greet our customers remotely in this time. We may need to be working remotely for some period of time.”
O’Brien said in the video that “significant wait times” have become a problem due to the closures and that “people are really dependent upon their devices, especially right now.” Switching to online roles means that the retail workers will help facilitate online sales and customer service requests from home, away from their regular places of work.
Workers who remain in-store will receive lanyards that can be customized with Memoji—Apple’s 3D avatar system—as a substitute for faces covered by masks, according to Bloomberg.
In April and May, Apple was reported to be weighing a swifter return to its vacated offices than rival firms like Facebook and Google, both of which have stated they intend to allow customers to work from home for the long haul—with Apple planning on returning workers who can’t perform their jobs effectively from home to major location starting in June and start bringing back staff in larger numbers globally in July.
It turned out to be a bad gamble: The pandemic situation has worsened considerably since then in terms of absolute volume of cases, with the New York Times reporting an average of over 58,000 cases have been confirmed per day in the last week and nearly 3.4 million cases have been confirmed nationwide in total. In California, one of many states that botched plans to reopen shuttered businesses, the pandemic is now threatening to overwhelm hospitals and Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered rollbacks of the reopening process. Apple is headquartered in Cupertino in Santa Clara County, which is one of the regions in California where many businesses are expected to close again on Wednesday.
According to Bloomberg, Apple told staff in a memo that it is unlikely there will be a full return to offices by the end of 2020, though some workers unable to work remotely such as hardware developers may still be cleared to return under rules that “significantly limit total occupancy.”