We’re now only beginning to see the business ramifications of COVID-19. Many companies worldwide are experiencing supply chain slowdown, with the Financial Times reporting that US ports should brace for cargo volumes to drop by 20% or more in Q1 2020. A report prepared by Frost & Sullivan also suggests that in the worst case scenario, where the virus outbreak intensifies and spreads worldwide before being brought under control by June-July, global GDP growth could dip to below 2%.
The current situation is challenging many companies to work in different ways to how they have previously operated. Emergency solutions are being applied to protect their employees and limit person-to-person virus transmission. Business trips to most affected areas have been suspended, office visitors are limited and managers are sending people home to work.
Last week Japan’s largest ad agency, Dentsu, told all its workers in its Tokyo headquarters to work from home. IBM, which famously moved away from remote work in 2017, has urged its employees in red areas to stay home according to the Washington Post. We’re certain there are more organizations to follow this.
In this context, a lot of people are asking: Is coronavirus good for remote work? Well, it absolutely is not.
Before we begin…
First of all, asking whether coronavirus is “good” or “bad” for remote work doesn’t make much sense and is in a sense ethically wrong. Nothing about this outbreak is good and we’d rather continue the conversation about remote work without the serious threat of a pandemic in the background. Up until today, WHO reports over 87,000 confirmed cases and 3,000 deaths globally. As there is currently no known effective antiviral therapy, we are all facing a critical situation. We need to be careful about how we navigate the conversations related to remote work and workplace flexibility in relation to the virus. It’s certain that more people will suffer from the coronavirus outbreak and this is without a doubt, not a good thing.
Remote work: ineffective and chaotic
We have always said this and we will repeat it over again: you can’t just give people laptops, send them home, and hope they will figure out how to work together organically. Successful implementation of remote work requires guidance, processes adjustments, software and hardware audit, and preparations. Done inappropriately and treated as a temporary emergency solution, remote work might turn out extremely ineffective and build up further bad expectations and frustrations around this workstyle. Many companies are not ready to send their whole teams or departments to work from home. If they fail at this “experiment”, they will draw a conclusion that remote work is not as effective as working in an office. The truth here actually is that they were not prepared for it to be effective.
Remote work: It is stressful!
Let’s admit it: remote work itself can be quite challenging for people who are not used to it. This is especially so when they haven’t developed the desired skills for remote work such as excellent communication. Therefore, for many people being forced to go remote might just add to the already stressful situation of the virus outbreak.
If a company is not proactively creating support groups and explaining the situation to their employees, many of them might feel left out. This is even more the case when employees are blamed for issues that might arise when are working from home. One way to combat this is to have standards and processes in place for how to collaborate outside the office, but companies simply haven’t had the time to prepare.
Remote work: not for long time
To collaborate effectively over a longer period of time, you need more than just using google hangouts or replying on email. Technology is critical to remote work, especially programs, software, and tools that help make the process easier and streamlined. If a team relies on sitting next to each other to get things completed, it’s a difficult transition to make for more than just a home office day
When more and more companies are forced to send their whole teams home to work remotely, they might be needing to adapt to new software without the time to develop a proper user’s guide. Some of these tools, like project management applications such as Asana or Jira, may already be in use in the office but not applied in a way that works well with remote. These policies, unfortunately, can’t just be created overnight.
Remote work: Isolation and loneliness
Many people might start associating remote work, particularly work from home, with isolation. European and US companies are beginning to send individual employees to work from home. That means that regular office life continues for the majority, and companies are not changing the way they work or run meetings to suit their remoters. This can cause an extremely intense feeling of missing out, loneliness, and isolation to those that are sent to work from home.
When working remotely everyone is much less visible, and it takes an effort to connect with other workers. At the moment, many companies are entering a survival mood and not taking the time to engage and comfort their remote workers.
Remote work: Encouragement to work when sick
We’re afraid this is yet another unhealthy misconception that might be developed when thinking about remote work. Some employers may ask their employees to continue working and participating in meetings, even if they don’t feel well.
It’s becoming an even more regular trend that you are expected to do some work when sick and outside the office. This becomes even more so when you are regularly outside the office due to remote work. When a whole company suddenly has to go remote, they may find it difficult to accept that people can’t work on a day because they are already just at home.
It’s no good news for remote work
According to the financial data platform Sentieo, so far 77 public company transcripts in February mentioned “work from home” or “working from home” (with the prior monthly record of 11 occurring back in April 2018!). Although the long-term consequences of the spread of coronavirus have yet to fully play out, we are definitely experiencing a sudden interest in remote work at a very high human cost.
Through this article, we wanted to outlay all the challenges that this pandemic can bring to remote work development worldwide. Our current feeling is that most workers and companies would rather go back to their previous work setup. No one is really focusing on taking notes on how to work effectively in the future with the experiences they are having today. Business enters the survival mode and no one ends up better off.
This is a dynamic and fluid situation we’re all facing. Employees will be looking to employers for guidance and direction. Having a plan in place will help ensure you can proactively address some of their concerns and uncertainty as the event unfolds over the coming months. If you would like to learn more about how to prepare and implement an emergency remote-work setup join our upcoming webinar (click below).