Because there is a lot of confusion and misinformation, today, we’re going to talk about how companies are adjusting to the endless unknowns of the spreading coronavirus (or COVID-19) threats.
The jobs report released this morning obliterated expectations, adding 273,000 jobs in February, and unemployment dipping to 3.5%, but this remains a lagging indicator, so the extent of the impact of the virus remain unknown.
Also unknown is how each company should adjust, and having not gone through this in the modern era, we’re all flying blind. Retail employees can’t work remotely, healthcare staff must also interface in person, but tech companies are reacting by sending their workforces home.
For example, Austin’s Amazon team has cut all business travel and cancelled any on-site job interviews.
Also up in the air is the conference circuit, as attendees are staying home, and sponsors are pulling out of conferences due to restricting employee travel.
Our favorite site for tracking conference cancellations is IsItCanceledYet.com which offers a simple yes/no tracking on major conferences.
So far, major conferences cancelled include Google I/O, Game Developers Conference, TwitchCon (Amsterdam), Adobe Summit, Facebook f8, Mobile World Congress, Internet Freedom Festival, IBM Think, and Kubecon.
Not yet cancelled are SXSW (despite widespread criticism and petitions to shut it down), Microsoft Build, TwitchCon (San Diego), Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), PAX West, Coachella, Seattle Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con, and Dell World.
UPDATE: SXSW has been cancelled, as have Seattle Comic Con and Dell World.
Most major tech companies in America have cancelled all business travel, essential or otherwise.
Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and Facebook in Seattle and San Francisco have all sent their teams home for work, and many of their Austin teams are following suit.
Austin tech companies are scrambling to determine whether or not teams should be sent home, given that the city has no confirmed cases yet. That said, there are confirmed cases in San Antonio and Houston, putting pressure on companies to consider their policies.
The spectrum of work from home policies at Austin tech companies:
- Several companies are sending everyone home 2-3 days next week to test out their readiness, but recalling everyone afterwards and waiting for various triggers (like a confirmed case in Austin).
- A few companies are being non-communicative, but are testing out all company equipment (like laptops) and using various excuses like an “annual update,” or “in case of weather emergencies.”
- Some companies are allowing any employee to work from home that wishes to, but most employees are still reporting in for work.
- Many companies are simply allowing anyone that feels ill with any COVID-19 symptoms to work remotely, but there is no discussion of sending all team members home.
- Some companies are allowing employees to work from home if they’re pregnant, living with someone pregnant, are immunocompromised, or living with someone immunocompromised.
- Other companies have requested that employees work from home (for example, Dun & Bradstreet has asked all team members with a laptop work remotely and use a VPN when doing so).
- Some Austin tech companies have straight up said they’re not making any adjustments, everyone must report in, and employees are simply instructed to wash their hands more frequently.
As you can see, there’s a pretty broad spectrum of responses for remote work.
The only theme we are seeing is that unlike other sectors, most Austin tech companies are at least trying to be communicative with their teams, and are willing to test their readiness in case confirmed cases hit the city.
What is now emerging is how Austin tech companies are responding to employees’ personal travel choices:
- Most companies have not communicated with employees about their personal travels. At all.
- The majority of companies that are being proactive are asking employees to observe a 14-day self-isolation period upon return, if visiting any nations that the CDC has labeled with a Level 2 or Level 3 Travel Health Notice. Some are mandating it (like the University of Texas), others are requesting it.
- A few tech companies have required employees to take work equipment with them during personal travels in case they’re quarantined or isolated and need to work remotely.
- Several companies are requiring that leadership or HR be notified of any personal travel in advance. Some are simply asking for a heads up so they can consider a response, others are noting that they have to approve that travel beforehand.
- Several companies, like DISCO, are requiring employees to fill out forms indicating where their personal travels will take them, and will react on a case by case basis.
- Some have urged employees not to travel at ALL. So far, there are no commands, but several polite requests.
We don’t know what the consensus will ultimately become regarding remote work and personal travel during this COVID-19 threat, or if a unanimous behavior will emerge.
Also still scattered is what the triggers are for ending remote work and personal travel mandates.
The target end date for restrictions is currently unknown by all, and while many companies are saying non-essential travel is restricted through March, other mandates remain indefinite.
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