Over the last few weeks, there has been a growing concern about the health implications of the spread of coronavirus. Governments around the world are scrambling to screen visitors upon arrival, stock up test kits and officials in Wuhan to treat those in need and stop the spread of the disease.
While it is important to analyze the public health implications of the virus, the economic implications should not be overlooked. The effects are expected to be felt globally but will be most brunt in China. Interestingly, telework modalities can lessen the effects to the local economy, helping keep companies operating and employees receiving paychecks without having to put their staff at risk of contracting the disease.
Remote work is already becoming more common worldwide with a general increase in the number of companies that are either completely remote, i.e. have no physical headquarters or offer flexible work arrangements for their employees, including the option to telework a set number of days.
This represents a greater understanding and appreciation of the benefits and added value of remote work mechanisms – that is for both the employee and employers. What we are also witnessing in China and other countries facing emergencies is a growing number of businesses being forced to use this modality during times of crises, whether that be civil unrest, weather-related events, or health epidemics. In such situations, some businesses are left with two options – either close doors temporarily given staff’s inability to reach the office and work in a safe environment or to be innovative and flexible.
It is in times like these that remote work becomes a necessity rather than a luxury for both employers who want to continue operations and employees who continue to be dependent on an income. Naturally, companies that already have some work from home modality in place will find the transition during emergency situations easier. They will have at least some established policies, expectations and mechanisms to ensure a smooth transition, lessening the crisis’ impact on company productivity and profit. Businesses who do not have such mechanisms in place will be forced to test the modality in the midst of a crisis – a real challenge.
China is not alone either. In countries recently experiencing civil unrest, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Chile and Hong Kong, companies that offered remote work options were able to sustain business activity, especially during road blocks and protests. Thanks to teleworking, bankers in Hong Kong were able to continue meeting deadlines despite clashes between demonstrators and police in the city’s central district in addition to train suspensions affecting their commutes to work.
The heat wave in India in June 2019 brought temperatures as high as 51° Celsius and claimed the lives of nearly 200 people. During this period, many startups in Delhi offered staff the option to work from home to keep them indoors and out of harm. Just last month – on January 7th – non-emergency federal employees in Washington D.C. were sent home some four hours early due to a winter weather advisory. Shutting down the federal government costs $90 million per day – and this does not include the cost of closing local businesses and the rise in traffic accidents. Agencies that offer telework can lessen the blow.
As the effects of climate change continue to be felt across the global, it is increasingly important for businesses to be prepared to respond to growing weather-related events. Ensuring that staff can continue to work even when they are not able to be physically present must be part of those efforts. Of course, telework is not suitable for all types of businesses. However, among those it is suitable for companies with developed telework mechanisms will be the most resilient during times of crises and be impacted least. It will soften the economic blow to both companies and the entire country.
Is your company ready to allow and manage telework modalities, if required to do so ?
References – listed in order of appearance in text