Apple is reportedly working on a program called “Retail Flex,” which will give its store employees the chance to work from home some weeks, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. According to the report, the employees would be remotely handling things like tech support and online sales part of the time, and working at the store as usual at other times.
Having employees who traditionally work in a store transitioning to a remote role, even if it’s only a partial change, is a big shift, likely brought on by the pandemic. It doesn’t seem like Apple is just jumping into it. The company is reportedly starting a pilot program that will last at least six months, with participating employees being paid the same salary, plus some extra for internet and office equipment.
If Apple does end up adopting a model that sees fewer employees working retail, it likely won’t be alone. With the US starting to enter its post-pandemic stage, physical stores will have to contend with the new habits people have formed of shopping online and doing in-store pickup.
For its non-retail staff, Apple will require at least some office time, with employees having to return to the office at least three days a week. Some of Apple’s workers pushed back against having to return to the office, but the company will reportedly still go through with the hybrid work model.
There’s an interesting contrast with Apple potentially lowering the number of retail employees it has working at most given times, and the other retail moves it’s been making. Over the past few years, it’s been rebranding some of its stores as “town halls” where events and classes can take place, and it just recently restored two historic buildings in Rome and Los Angeles into decadent stores. Now, with news of this plan, it seems like there could be fewer employees around.
Bloomberg does say that Apple’s plan is to scale employee presence with retail demand — it’s hard to imagine many employees scheduling work-from-home weeks during the iPhone launch — but we may be soon see the first steps toward a different, more online-focused Apple Store experience.