Geek Squad's In-Home Agents Fear Spreading Coronavirus to the Elderly

Six current Geek Squad employees describe a lack of support from Best Buy, and how they may inadvertently help spread coronavirus.
March 18, 2020, 7:40pm
Geek Squad
Image: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Employees for Best Buy-owned Geek Squad who visit people's homes to install electronics are fearful that they may get sick or help spread the coronavirus as they are told to keep working during the pandemic. Many Geek Squad employees told Motherboard that their customers are most at risk of having a severe case of Covid-19, because many of them are elderly or have underlying health conditions.

The news comes after Motherboard reported how Best Buy was running at "full capacity," allowing hundreds of customers in stores at once and leading multiple employees to believe Best Buy saw a business opportunity in staying open during a time of crisis. After publication, Best Buy announced it would shorten opening hours and limit the number of customers allowed inside stores.

"What about field techs?" a comment posted under Best Buy's announcement in an internal messaging system obtained by Motherboard reads. "There is absolutely nothing about field services. Why is the company leaving us hanging? We will be dealing with this just as much if not more than the store level. Please address everyone!"

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After publishing our initial article, Motherboard spoke to six in-house Geek Squad agents and verified their position in the company by asking them to provide copies of internal Best Buy or Geek Squad emails and other identifying information. Many more people claiming to be Geek Squad employees also reached out with similar stories. Motherboard granted all of the employees anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak to the media.

In-house agents are tasked with setting up and repairing Best Buy customers' electronics in their homes. That might include installing a doorbell, television set, kitchen appliance, or setting up their computer or home router, for example.

"They're expected to be in people's homes where there are no personal boundaries, no social distancing, touching of product, etc," one current Geek Squad employee told Motherboard. "They have compared their employees to 'essential workers' [...] such as gas stations, hospitals, grocery stores."

An internal Best Buy email sent to agents and obtained by Motherboard reflected this, saying "The work we do is considered essential to our client's and customer's [sic] needs and we are being asked to continue to serve our clients in their homes."

Elderly people who cannot install technology themselves may wish to have such a service during the looming quarantine period in the U.S. But multiple Geek Squad employees Motherboard spoke to highlighted how they may be putting clients at risk because in-house agents cater heavily to retirement communities and senior citizens in general.

"Very concerned, concerned for the fact that the client might not be showing symptoms and now I'm going from home to home and possibly infecting others," one agent said. "I'm concerned as well as a lot of older generations are still inviting us in thinking the virus was a ploy by a political party and thereby putting themselves at risk."

Multiple sources and internal Best Buy communications obtained by Motherboard said that "in-home advisors"—employees that visit potential customers' homes to discuss what products they could buy—are working remotely. But those actually installing electronics that Motherboard spoke to feel they've been left to just keep on working.

"Our leadership is very passive, typically advising to operate as normal unless told otherwise," one agent said.

"There is absolutely nothing about field services. Why is the company leaving us hanging?"

One internal message obtained by Motherboard said that "deliveries and installations will continue wherever permitted under strict safety guidelines that we are sharing with relevant teams and customers."

In response, one agent told Motherboard, "Saying we will continue under strict safety guidelines is honestly laughable. The strictest form of safety would be ceasing all operations until further notice since we are in multiple customers' houses, sometimes for hours on a daily basis. At this point, the only way deliveries would be outright canceled is if the city made the decision to shut down all nonessential buildings and businesses."

Multiple agents said Best Buy has not provided them with basic hygiene supplies such as sanitizer, gloves, or masks, which could be especially important as the workers touch surfaces inside peoples' homes or their personal electronics.

"I took it upon myself to bring hand sanitizer to work for my shifts last week, but nothing was supplied to me via the company," one agent said.

"We are instructed not to use the client's restroom so it makes the keeping clean hands & washing part hard," another said, adding Best Buy has not provided them with gloves or a face mask, although they were provided a regular size bottle of sanitizer.

"The work we do is considered essential to our client's and customer's [sic] needs and we are being asked to continue to serve our clients in their homes."

Best Buy has issued some guidance in internal emails. If a customer is showing symptoms while an agent is in their home, the agent is allowed to cancel the current appointment. Agents can also ask in a pre-visit call if anyone in the household is experiencing symptoms.

But as for the first point, "you'd already be at the potential risk of exposure!" one agent said.

Another internal message said that customers no longer need to sign for completion of a visit, so as to minimize contact between clients and Best Buy employees' phones.

One agent told Motherboard they are not working because they feel sick, and so the company has put them on a two week, no pay quarantine. In this particular case the illness appears to be unrelated to the coronavirus, the agent said. Multiple sources said they made the decision to use paid-time-off to avoid working in peoples' homes at this time and avoid further exposure.

"Between yesterday and today, anyone that I work with that is apart [of] my district and department [has] called out of work out of both protest and concern and most likely will continue to do so until better decisions are made," another added.

Best Buy did not respond to a request for comment and a list of specific questions about in-home agents.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.