Apple wants its store staff to try work-from-home tech support

Discussion
Photo: Apple
Apr 03, 2020
Matthew Stern

Brick-and-mortar Apple stores are closed due to social distancing, but the chain is planning for its employees to work from home. The way that the tech giant is moving people into work-from-home roles, however, is not proving popular with all employees.

Apple is asking the employees usually on the sales floor in its stores to reinvent themselves as AppleCare employees, according to Bloomberg. Workers interested in taking on the service and tech support role are asked to take part in a virtual training course, which will occur in the next two weeks. They are required to have a quiet workspace capable of housing a 27-inch, Apple-provided iMac and a strong internet connection.

While some store staff are participating in the redeployment, others expressed concern that they weren’t appropriately set up to perform the new work-from-home role. Some believe being unable or unwilling to take on the new job would reflect poorly on them. Regardless of the employees’ decisions, Apple is continuing to pay full salaries and benefits to store staff displaced by the pandemic.

In the face of store closures, retailers have been forced to make quick, tough decisions about which staff to keep on the payroll and for how long, and how to possibly redeploy staff to work from home.

As many retail chains place employees on unpaid furloughs to wait out the pandemic without paychecks, workers are looking to state unemployment and federal bailout programs.

Especially for larger retailers, however, allowing employees to stay on the payroll for at least part of the duration of the crisis has emerged as an indicator of dedication to social responsibility.

In addition to keeping on store staff with the option of becoming AppleCare support staff, Apple has also committed to continuing to pay its hourly workers for at least the first two weeks of the lockdown, Harvard Business Review reported.

In mid-March, Apple announced the reopening of all 42 of its locations in China, with reduced hours, after a month-long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Apple’s method of redeploying and retraining store staff to take on online support roles, and do you expect to see other retailers make similar moves? Do think store associates who choose to participate in Apple’s work-from-home plan will  gain a career advantage over those who sit it out?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Everyone's most important possession right now is their computerized link to the outside world. Tech support is a lifeline for customers and a big boost to the Apple brand."
"Something it does for the staff involved is it gives them purpose. Something many who find themselves home and not working would love to have."
"The concerns from associates are also not surprising. Every one of us (management to employee) is facing a time of exceptional discomfort."

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15 Comments on "Apple wants its store staff to try work-from-home tech support"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I think it is brilliant. They are offering options to stay connected with the brand. The key sentence to me, “Regardless of the employees’ decisions, Apple is continuing to pay full salaries and benefits to store staff displaced by the pandemic.” I think larger retailers will be well advised to find ways to do similar things as there is no “all clear” coming soon.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Apple was an early adopter of a heightened level of caution during the beginning of the pandemic. This is another example of a leader showing what needs to be done; a retail role model. Their associates need to be properly trained and prepared to work remotely. This is the new normal. I applaud Apple for keeping as many people as they can, even if they have to change their roles. While they may not like it, many are continuing to receive a paycheck.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This is an opportunity for Apple employees that many employees of other retailers are not getting. It is an excellent move. More customers will be able to receive support than could recently. More store associates can stay busy and be productive while a company flush with cash continues to pay their salaries (don’t whine).

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

With workers everywhere moving to a work-from-home model, it’s inevitable that Apple should expect more support calls to be made. Leveraging their great store associates to augment online support and phone support is a fantastic idea to maintain their brand experience! Realizing some employees may be concerned about their status in the company if they turn down this offer, I don’t believe that would be the case. There is no advantage to Apple in doing so. The key comment is that they will still pay their associates whether or not they do this. By essentially asking for volunteers, they are trying to bring in the people that are most interested in helping customers. I see this as a win-win-win all around for Apple, its store associates, and customers.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Learning to be home-based tech support will only work for some people. It not only requires having the right tools at hand, it requires a very patient and willing personality to help customers solve problems remotely. But I applaud Apple’s efforts, and the fact that they will pay either way. For those who decide to participate, it should lead to career advantages – they have expanded their skill sets and challenged themselves.

Art Suriano
Guest

I commend Apple for its “thinking outside the box” strategy having employees retrain as AppleCare workers and working from home. We can’t expect businesses to keep paying employees if they cannot contribute. It’s a nice gesture short-term but we are not getting any indication of when the social distancing will end, and businesses have to survive. Apple makes a great product and they are able to continue sales online. Many users have problems and need tech support, so if retraining store employees can help provide more service to those in need, then it’s an excellent idea. It may not be right for everyone, but I believe most Apple employees will be able to adjust. As for other retailers, there I think we’ll have difficulty because it’s hard to imagine an apparel store associate working from home the same way an Apple employee can. Hopefully this doesn’t last much longer, and we won’t have to worry about the next steps because we’ll be focusing on rebuilding our businesses.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Bob’s right. Everyone’s most important possession right now is their computerized link to the outside world. Virtual tech support is a lifeline for customers and a big boost to the Apple brand. Genius, indeed.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
5 months 22 days ago

Compared to remotely troubleshooting a desktop/laptop – fixing mobile devices remotely is a pain. You need to walk the users through the steps. While something is better than no support, customers should expect degraded quality of support.

From an employee standpoint, I don’t see them having much option but to comply with corporate policies on remote working. Good for them that Apple is giving them options. I really don’t understand employees expressing concern.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

This is a great idea for many reasons. As Cathy stated, tech support is even more important now as connectivity is vital for those who find themselves working from home and for connecting to friends and family. Adding to the pool of people who can provide it helps Apple reinforce its brand appeal. Something it does for the staff involved is it gives them purpose. Something many who find themselves home and not working would love to have.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

What will be interesting to see is what Apple will do when the retail stores re-open.
It’s always so crowded with people almost every day. I am curious to see how they will address that.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I was thinking, isn’t Apple, or any tech support for that matter, “essential”? If your computer breaks down, you’re toast in this age of COVID-19. And the phone crew can’t always handle the tough problems but the Genius team seems to solve everything once they do diagnostics in person. IMO, they should be required to be open just for that. Clear out the front tables, open up a 400-square foot area and take repairs. Fully masked, gloved and wiped of course. Like it or not, it is hard to imagine life/work/shopping for essentials without these damned machines.

George Anderson
Staff

I know that some authorized Apple repair centers are open and are listed on the company’s site. I guess that was their plan for dealing with issues that arose while stores were closed.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Sometimes remote tech support can be very, very efficient, especially if you are willing and able to let the support person remotely control your machine. For some percentage of issues this will work just fine, and it allows a pool of Apple geniuses to serve multiple “locations” more effectively. Even after COVID-19, some of us aren’t going to run out to get into a crowd.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

This sounds like a smart move by Apple. (However, given my experience of a loss of savvy among Apple store employees, I admit to some concern at how well it will work in reality.)

The concerns from associates are also not surprising. Every one of us (management to employee) is facing a time of exceptional discomfort. The foundations around which we have constructed our lives and our confidence in the future are shaken and there’s no way to know when we’ll be able to relax again.

Managers need to understand what a difficult time this is for employees. At the same time, employees need to understand that their discomfort is NOT the company’s responsibility. Companies are as threatened by Covid-19 as are employees — essentially everyone is scrambling.

As to gaining career advantage? Absolutely. Companies (hopefully) remember those who stood up when change happened. It’s natural, human, and mostly important. That said, companies need also not punish those who don’t. There are plenty of innocent circumstances by which good employees won’t be able to participate.

Paul Conley
Guest

This seems like a fantastic move for Apple and its store employees. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that any employee would pass on the offer. Sure, the company is still paying all employees. But that can’t last forever. It would seem the wisest move would be to accept a new role and work to support the company. There are 10s of thousands of workers across the country who would have loved a we’ll-train-you-to-work-from-home offer from their employer.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Everyone's most important possession right now is their computerized link to the outside world. Tech support is a lifeline for customers and a big boost to the Apple brand."
"Something it does for the staff involved is it gives them purpose. Something many who find themselves home and not working would love to have."
"The concerns from associates are also not surprising. Every one of us (management to employee) is facing a time of exceptional discomfort."

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