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If You Can, America, Stick to WFH


Photo of welcome mat
Image: Andy Dean -
Beyond the fact that the rapid and unprecedented increase in the use of meeting and collaboration solutions has enabled some businesses to keep employees working and delivering value in these troubling times, these tools have proven invaluable in enabling the physical distancing with social proximity required to limit the spread of an incredibly contagious disease.
However, the ability to hold meetings and continue collaborating while working remotely has only been a boon to a portion of the economy and workforce. Many jobs rely on a physical interactive presence for business transaction value to occur. And, as we’ve recently found, many of these latter jobs have been deemed non-essential during this crisis period.
While limiting work contact and opportunities for transmission is laudable at a societal level, the impact on these individuals and their families is huge -- unemployment is a percentage only until you’re the one without work. Further, this impact is most felt in small businesses. Many need to reopen soon or face bankruptcy and loss, a huge issue for communities across the country.
Fortunately, widespread efforts to limit the spread have brought the virus to a point where we can contemplate how we reopen society and our economy, knowing that waiting until there are no cases at all is economically challenging as well as politically difficult. Inevitably, the virus will lurk as we reopen; minimizing physical contact will be critical in preventing additional clusters to explode. People who have been sheltering at home for weeks if not months may end up overwhelming public places when released from quarantine, as happened in China. Similarly, many of us who have been working a changed life from home are clamoring to get back into the office and normalcy.
But I suggest we all consider an alternative to just jumping back to “normal.” Experts generally agree that the first 60 to 90 days post-shelter in place is a crucial period for containing a very infectious disease. Perhaps those of us whose jobs, incomes, and businesses can continue to be done virtually should do just that during that period so the majority of the new physical contact is limited to those workers whose livelihoods are dependent on that actual activity.
In other words, if you can stay home and work or only go to the office once a week or month, do that. Don’t do what the Chinese did and risk your office or business being the site of a new cluster. Don’t go back to holding a five-person meeting in a closed room. Go ahead and have an essential business lunch at a newly re-opened restaurant… but only if it’s been redesigned for dining at a social distance. When you can be virtual, be virtual. Limit physical work interaction to only “essential” for 90 days.
I firmly believe that many of us who can work and create value virtually, with around four to six more weeks of shelter in place from this point, will have reached a level of acceptance, utilization, and, for many, skill in using communications and collaboration technologies remotely such that we can continue for another 60 to 90 days without going back to our old ways. If that’s the price, or call it a sacrifice, we must pay to assure that the maximum number of workers and small businesses survive this calamity with some financial future, then we should all be glad to make it.
Further, we should all focus on continuing doing our business virtually for that time -- virtual meeting can be equally valuable, but limit the potential for transmission. Customers and clients that petulantly demand an in-person meeting when a virtual meeting would suffice should be, well, I would rather not say in public, but I assume few would want that to be known. If we who can all do our part to stay virtual for another 90 days, it will help immensely in enabling the rest of the economy to reopen.
Stay safe, and stay virtual if you can.