Coronavirus: When The World Is Forced To Work Remotely

In a bid to stop the deadly spread of coronavirus, many employees are being told to work from home.
  • In a bid to stop the deadly spread of coronavirus, many employees are being told to work from home.
  • However this creates its own problems, as few office-based workers have been trained on how to work remotely or manage remote workers.
  • Restriction on movement is also causing widespread problems for shared workspaces, with some forced to close their doors.

The coronavirus continues to be a huge topic and its ripple effects are growing across most industries and populations around the globe. 

As of February 14, 2020, the WHO put the total death toll from coronavirus at 1,383, with all but two in China. The number of total cases worldwide have now hit 49,053.

596 different companies have talked about the coronavirus so far on their first quarter earnings calls. There have also been a total of 3167 mentions so far according to Amenity Analytics. That is up from 2210 mentions last week.

Many offices and stores in China have closed.

There are production shortages.

Event venues are on lockdown. The Mobile World Conference in Barcelona has been canceled along with the Black Hat conference in Asia.

Numerous large organizations across the globe are warning about the current and future impacts.

The Workforce in China is Heading Home

In China, many employees and workers are being told to stay home.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to test working from home at scale,” said Alvin Foo, managing director of Reprise Digital, a Shanghai ad agency with 400 people that’s part of Interpublic Group. “Obviously, it’s not easy for a creative ad agency that brainstorms a lot in person.”

It’s going to mean a lot of video chats and phone calls, he said.

“The cohorts working from home are about to grow into armies. At the moment, most people in China are still on vacation for the Lunar New Year. But as Chinese companies begin to restart operations, it’s likely to usher in the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.”

Have Workers in China Been Trained to Work Remotely?

It isn’t entirely clear, but it appears that the answer for the most part is no. In a culture where being in a central office is the norm, there have been reports of challenges between managers and employees.

For example, some managers are requesting frequent check-ins, leaving video cameras on, and other ways of remote work micromanagement.

Unfortunately, without training on how to define expectations while working remotely — including giving feedback, understanding how to communicate and manage tasks and people — it is possible that many organizations will experience continued challenges and a distaste in the future for home-based, remote, flexible, or telework opportunities.

However, there are still plenty of cases of organizations and teams falling into a good rhythm of work and being highly productive. But without some preparation and understanding that remote work requires different skills and processes, the test is likely to not yield positive results even though the actual benefits are quite high for many knowledge workers.

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The Impact on the Shared Workspace Industry

If people can’t get together physically to work, meet, or travel, the coworking, flex, and shared workspace industries will struggle.

“It will be a very tough time,” said Dave Tai, deputy director of Beeplus, a Chinese coworking space and bakery with 300 employees.

“The virus delayed the opening of its Beijing location and he says it’s pretty much impossible for him and others in his industry to work from home. Without customers willing to work in close quarters at the physical space, the business will die.”

Even WeWork closed 25 offices throughout China. “Shanghai and Beijing locations were among the 90 workspaces to resume operations Monday local time. WeWork is asking customers to have their temperatures checked when entering and to wear surgical masks while inside. All events in common areas will be suspended.”

These protocols remind me of airports that screen you before entering the country.

Will our next workplaces be responsible for checking our temperature and confirming that we are able to work from the office?

If this continues into the future, this is likely to impact many things such as the monthly rates of a workspace, insurance costs, and even what is promoted as amenities.

Illness Policies and a Culture of Staying Home when Sick

Should employers and workspaces implement policies focused on sickness or extreme occasions such as pandemics?

If a person feels feverish or ill, stay home instead of risking others’ health. Many people have stated the importance of this in the past, however, it is consistently an issue in many countries and workspaces.


Suggested Reading: Presenteeism: What is it and Why is it a Problem?


Unfortunately, in the US specifically, sick time, if you have it, is seen as a benefit instead of a right. This disconnect costs organizations millions per year in lost productivity.

I have, a number of times that I know, caught an illness by a coworker. I believe we all have.

Nothing will protect us from sickness completely but establishing policies focused on courtesy just makes sense from both an economic and a health standpoint.

The main thing that organizations should be cautious of, is not to incentivize the wrong behavior with new policies put into place. For example, the unlimited holidays policy backfired and people took less time off because they were worried about the repercussions of taking a day more than another person. Every decision and every policy has its own impact, some of which we can’t always foresee.

Working directly with your members, employees, and your team to develop an appropriate policy will be important, as one size almost never fits all needs.

What do you think?

Should organizations and workspaces do more to prepare and change the way employees work?

What policies are you implementing?

Have you trained your employees to work remotely?

Tell me about your experiences in coworking, flexible workspaces, and working remotely from home.

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