Will the Coronavirus Change the Work-From-Home Landscape?

In the last five years, there’s been a 44% growth in remote work, but the Coronavirus or COVID-19 might cause that number to skyrocket. As of early March, there were over 116,000 cases worldwide and over 4,000 deaths. When you have an outbreak of a fast-spreading virus that could be contagious for up to two weeks, one of the best solutions is to keep people at home to stop it from wreaking so much havoc.

Companies that allow their staff to work from home, especially in high-risk areas, can help lessen the economic blow of the Coronavirus. Essentially it’s the opportunity to keep the company operating as efficiently as possible while keeping their employees as safe as possible. 

Working from Home – A Benefit for Employee Health and Safety

safety first

When looking at what companies and employees can do to help stop this wildfire-like virus, it’s easy to play the blame game. Companies will often state that employees are responsible for staying home when they’re sick. While employees will argue that their employers aren’t doing enough to protect them in the workplace. So who’s right?

If every employee were to call out when they felt the slightest tinge of symptoms, no one would ever be at work. Signs for the Coronavirus include shortness of breath, cough, and fever. Most adults aren’t acutely aware when they have a fever, and most won’t stay home just for a cough or a hard time catching their breath. 

Viruses, including the Coronavirus, are transmitted via respiratory droplets from an infected person. That can happen before the infected person experiences symptoms such as a fever. Meaning that sending people home or telling them to stay home when they’re sick may not be enough to keep employees safe. 

Then there’s the sick day issue. The culture around taking sick days is very slowly changing with American’s averaging 2.5 sick days per year. When you have a virus that is contagious for up to fourteen days, it’s clear that someone taking two days off work is merely ineffective.

As employees avoid taking sick leave, especially when it’s unpaid, the bulk of the responsibility then falls to the employers. Are employers providing safe workspaces? It seems that the only thing employers can do in the wake of virus outbreaks is to encourage good hygiene and send people home when they exhibit symptoms. 

OSH Law outlines that employers must provide “a workplace free from serious recognized hazards…” although not explicitly stated, that can include outbreaks of infectious disease. Telling people to wash their hands or stay home is not taking action to mitigate this health hazard. Working from home, however, does provide a safe workspace as each employee can manage their level of interaction with possibly infected people.

Ultimately, working from home or offering a remote work option may be the only option to secure employee health and promote public safety. 

Top Tech Companies Leading the Way in Seattle 

Seattle skyline

Not all high-tech companies allow their staff to work from home whenever they please. Even among companies that you would expect to have remote work policies and procedures in place, there is a severe delay in using those systems. Major tech companies in Seattle are changing their approach to who can and should work at home during this outbreak.

Typically companies are very wary with work-from-home options for their staff. They’re concerned that it will lead to laziness, complacency with security, or unintentional security breaches. However, the Coronavirus is teaching many of these companies that the security risk could never outweigh the health risks. 

The following companies have hubs or major offices in Seattle and have encouraged staff to work from home:

  • Alphabet Inc. – Otherwise known as Google
  • Amazon – Seattle based with thousands of employees
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft

One significant takeaway here is that these companies have paid sick leave policies in place and are still prioritizing remote work. They understand that about 90% of sick employees come to work anyway. 

Seattle is setting the bar in terms of expectations for an appropriate response from private entities. Not only are many of their companies encouraging people to stay home and work remotely, but their University system is doing the same. The University of Washington went ‘online-only’, canceling classes, sports activities, and community events to get students to isolate themselves and slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The Coronavirus, Workplace Change, and Telecommute Opportunities

The Coronavirus is not slowing down despite the best efforts of governments, specific cities, and employers. Then there’s the issue that the virus itself is mutating with at least one other strain identified, SARS-COV-2. It’s not uncommon for viruses to evolve, and this second strain has few differences from the first rendition of the Coronavirus. This situation makes it more difficult to stop.

Some experts anticipate the continued mutation of the Coronavirus and expect that it will return annually like seasonal flu. There are various seasonal respiratory infections, and the Coronavirus may be the newest addition. Experts even cited that respiratory infections often don’t pair with immunity and that with age, adults could contract the Coronavirus again later.  

Workplaces need to prioritize the safety of their staff, contribute toward the general public’s health, and remain productive. The only apparent solution is remote work, but most companies can’t snap their fingers and let their staff carry on from home. There are many obstacles for employers to allow their teams to work remotely, especially concerning data security.

What Can Employers Do to Initiate Workplace Change?

However, employers should see COVID-19 as the opportunity to begin taking action on work-from-home initiatives that may have been on the back burner for some time. Companies do need to plan out specific elements to make remote work within their organization a successful investment. 

To get a work-from-home initiative off the ground companies need:

  • Security for their data with remote access
  • A way to log time for payroll remotely
  • Policies for expectations in terms of productivity and professional conduct
  • Set channels of communication for staff and management

The Coronavirus has delivered a unique opportunity to help companies stop dragging their feet on this front. It’s the chance to finalize remote work plans and to establish a plan of action so that if this should happen again, then working from home is already an option.

What Can an Employee or Job Seeker Do to Support Remote Work Culture?

It may be difficult, especially if you enjoy who you work with, but it may be time to seek out a remote work arrangement. There are countless companies available that provide remote work options. Any of the numerous work-from-home job boards online can help people find those opportunities. 

If you’re in a city that’s affected or worried that the contagion is quickly spreading through your state, then you might consider starting your job search now. Many professions have remote work opportunities, including writers, medical billing, administrative work, legal professionals, teachers, data entry, and more. It’s very likely that what you do currently could be done on a computer at home.

What we’re experiencing is a growing trend in demand for work-from-home options for the sake of public safety. People that take the initiative either within their company to help bring in remote work options or seek out work-from-home employment will continue to push that workplace culture change. 

Is the Work-from-Home Culture Already Changing?

Yes, the Coronavirus has already had a substantial impact in various countries. Even Japan, notorious for its long-hours workplace culture, now has tens of thousands of people working from home. Companies such as Panasonic and Mitsubishi that have invested significantly in their workplace cultures are now requiring people to work remotely. Now over half of  Japanese companies offer telecommuting.

MarketWatch announced that the same initiatives are happening in China. As Italy joins in on the country-wide shutdowns, they should expect to see a greater portion of their population working remotely too. The cited reasons are not singular to the Coronavirus. A few years ago, when China’s economy was growing exponentially year over year, companies could afford the costs of closing for two weeks or so. Now, that’s not the case because economic growth has slowed, and companies in China are turning to telecommuting to keep their businesses moving forward.

The goal of these countries and companies is to get through this outbreak with minimal economic impact. The United States, China, and many other countries are already feeling the effects financially as the Coronavirus is changing the global economy. On March 9th of 2020, the U.S. experienced the worst day on Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis. Additionally, China’s index sank to a level on par with the 2008 global economic climate.

To minimize the impact, companies are trying to find ways to sustain productivity, and working at home is the solution. Employees and employers are equally responsible for making remote work initiatives successful. Individually, people may seek out work-from-home job opportunities now to manage their safety and healthcare better while still earning an income.