On September 30, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson wrote a letter addressed to the company’s 4,000 corporate employees in Seattle detailing adjustments the coffee giant is making during the pandemic. Employees at the headquarters in SoDo can now work remotely until October 2021 (the remote working policy was originally set to expire in January).
Starbucks HQ, known as the Seattle Support Center (SSC), will be restructured to allow for more work flexibility, which could include using virtual whiteboards, more online conferences, and less floor space. Johnson also mentioned possibly using mobile devices to order lunch from food trucks in the neighborhood. The time between now and when employees plan to return to the headquarters next fall will be taken to revamp the layout and other aspects of the building.
This announcement follows several other major companies in Seattle extending their own work-from-home policies, although not quite as far out into the future as Starbucks. Amazon let its Seattle corporate employees know that if they can perform duties remotely, they’re welcome to do so until Jan. 8, 2021. And Microsoft issued a similar policy through January as well.
Those policies from Amazon and Microsoft have had severe impacts on surrounding small businesses, particularly restaurants and bars in the area. In March, when the companies basically told everyone at their offices to stay home, businesses around the tech hubs lost the majority of their revenue within days, and many closed temporarily even before Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home was first issued. Since then, there have been quite a few high profile permanent closures downtown and in South Lake Union.
While Starbucks HQ isn’t in a location near as many restaurants or bars as the other two companies’ main campuses, small businesses in the SoDo area still could be impacted by the absence of thousands of workers for a full year. In his letter to corporate employees, Johnson mentioned how workers could order items from food trucks via apps, but didn’t elaborate on whether there would be further outreach to other hospitality operations, such as catering companies. Starbucks had no comment on the impact to local businesses.
The extension of the work-from-home corporate policy may also increase scrutiny on the protections Starbucks is providing for its employees on the frontlines, as there have been reports of cases at various locations over the past six months, including in Seattle.
Back in March, a petition with over 20,000 signatures circulated from the company’s employees to suspend business until further notice. The petition was started by Aniya Johnson, a barista in Philadelphia who told Vice, “There’s no solid choice for anyone — it’s go to work, or miss pay. And a lot of people can’t afford to miss pay because they have children, elderly loved ones, or just bills.”
Indeed, Starbucks did close its U.S. locations this past spring for dine-in service, shifting to mostly a drive-thru model across the country. And it extended its “catastrophe pay program” to employees affected by the novel coronavirus. By the summer, the company had reopened the majority of its cafes in at least a limited capacity. The last update on how Starbucks is handling COVID-19 via the official blog dates back to July.