UPDATE: On March 17th at noon, the City of Austin stated, “Community gatherings of 10 people or more in a single room or other confined indoor or outdoor space are prohibited, due to ‘the substantial risks to the public’. However, a number of ‘critical facilities’ are exempt from the Orders. They include but are not limited to government buildings providing essential services, schools or colleges, grocery stores and pharmacies, transit and transit facilities, the airport and airport operations, and hospitals and medical facilities. In these places “social distancing” and frequent cleaning is strongly encouraged.” This Order is effective immediately, through May 1st.
With COVID-19 (coronavirus), we’re all swimming in uncharted waters. Some are wading confidently while others are panic flailing. Business leaders are in an impossible situation now, having to initiate new and untested protocols.
In recent weeks, Austin tech companies have sent many employees home to work remotely, and restricted personal travel.
But many companies are still requiring employees to participate in person. For some industries, that makes sense, like service, medical, and even financial to an extent.
After talking to hundreds of employees at tech companies in Austin over the weekend, the pulse of those being asked to come into offices tomorrow is fearful and frustrated. People are scared to speak up because now’s not exactly a good time to lose a job.
Many companies are failing to openly communicate with their employees and information is disjointed, therefore, the growing sentiment is of distrust as the future is as unclear as it’s ever been.
While New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo is asking private businesses to “aggressively” consider voluntary closings today, Austin companies are struggling with the possibility of this request (and later, a potential command) to do the same. Sure, flush companies like Facebook can send their employees home and afford any hit, but how is a 13-person financial tech startup that handles sensitive financial information supposed to react?
Businesses are in this impossible spot right now, facing logistical nightmares, while employees are confiding in us that they feel profits are more important than people. How do we mitigate risk as a people without threatening the business ecosystem? No one knows the truth, so this story serves as a marker to point to what companies are and aren’t doing. There is plenty of coverage out there regarding companies telling their massive teams to go home. But there are hundreds of thousands of employees expected to hop in their car tomorrow and try not to get or spread COVID-19.
In talking with business decision makers, a common theme is emerging – the government’s working, so why should they send their teams home? And this litmus test is seen by many as dangerous because someone tweaking website graphics can work from home, while a City employee upholding infrastructure might be less inclined to do the same. FEMA employees did a work from home test last week, but all federal agency employees (including IRS employees) are reportedly required to show up Monday morning. The University of Texas sent professors and students home, but all non-faculty staff is still required to report in. The City of Austin hasn’t sent anyone home, nor has the State of Texas (including the risk management department, ironically), the Texas Senate, the Texas Workforce Commission, and so forth, regardless of any tested ability to work remotely. Endless employees reached out implying they can work remotely and aren’t being asked to – there is growing frustration.
What is more troubling is that the City of Austin has banned all gatherings of over 250 people until May 1st – how do employers with hundreds or thousands of employees not respond by sending tech employees home that are already tech savvy, have mobile equipment, and tested VPNs? They’re not yet required to, as grocery stores and office buildings are exempt from the City’s ban, but they could be part of the ban in the future.
And now, the CDC is urging all “organizers cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the U.S.” for the next 8 weeks.
Companies and employees are scared.
Some have already sent everyone home, others are testing their remote capabilities out, while others have their heads in the sand.
The following list is what employees at each company tell us is going on (not the public relations team’s polished presentation of the situation, rather the boots on the ground), and this is therefore their perception. That means some of this list will showcase communication problems at companies that are allowing work from home options where employees don’t know or understand clearly.
Companies whose employees are not working remotely:
Accenture – Facebook contractors – Facebook sent their employees home, but their contractors are expected to stay in the office to work. This move has made headlines, and one contractor told us the teams are feeling “unimportant” and “disrespected.”
In a contentious Monday meeting, the team was told that everyone who can work from home already is. Everyone in the meeting on-site was told their work “cannot be mobilized” and teams won’t be sent to work remotely, but they’re considering “strategies on keeping people safe” like seating options. Now, they “can” work remotely if they use their accrued paid time off (PTO) hours, and the big news from management was that they can go negative up to 80 hours on their PTO. Otherwise, everyone is still required in person as of Tuesday morning.
Accenture – Google contractors – Just like Facebook, Google sent employees home, but their contract workers are to stay put (which took longer to hit the news cycle, but finally has). One contractor told me they’re scared to go to work tomorrow, another said they’ll likely quit if they aren’t trusted to work remotely.
Accruent – Two employees told us that on March 13th, when asked about the possibility of working remotely, one VP responded, “Our sales and KPIs don’t stop.” Another says they’ve been told to work from home this coming week. A recruiter said after publication, “we are definitely not requiring anyone to go into the office, and people are being encouraged to test out whether or not their teams can work remotely,” indicating that her team is already working from home.
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) – AMD has over 2,000 employees in Austin and all will be required to work on-site, with no talk of any remote work in the future. Several employees expressed discomfort not only due to the size of the campus, but for no restrictions on travel with staff traveling from Europe as recently as last week prior to the travel ban (although we’ve seen documentation of non-essential travel restrictions).
Since publication, a handful of staff have told us AMD has responded, and as of today, they are now globally “work from home whenever possible,” for at least two weeks, but previously, it was at manager’s discretion. One employee told us “many managers were not willing,” so this company-wide push to work from home makes willingness irrelevant.
A representative told us, “The wellbeing of our employees is of the utmost importance and, at the time of your posting, we did have several global policies in place, including a critical business travel only policy for employees (with prior approval required), a restricted visitor policy, a work from home policy at many of our global sites and flexible WFH arrangements for most other sites (including Austin). That said, as we have continued to monitor this dynamic situation, this morning we updated our global policy and announced that all employees and contract workers are to work from home until March 27. This policy applies globally, with the exception of our mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore sites, which are at different stages of virus containment. AMD sites will remain open for a limited subset of critical on-site business functions, and we will take every precaution to ensure a safe working environment.”
Alchemy Systems – with manager approval, some staff say they are already working from home, but several reached out to us indicating that they don’t feel they can work from home, and that there is unclear communication about any plans, aside from a hand-washing training course two weeks ago. (This company was added after initial publication.)
Applied Materials – although employees must report to work on Monday, there are discussions that employees have caught wind of, so it appears that some departments may ultimately work from home, but semiconductor production doesn’t have that option. One employee told us the company is considering an A-B rotation with one week on-site, the next at home so the campus isn’t at capacity every day.
Arrive Logistics – they’ve already sent any staff home that either is or lives with someone pregnant or immunocompromised. It is unclear what their plans are, but multiple employees stated they believed the ultimate goal would be remote staff, they just haven’t made the move yet.
We are now hearing that the goal is to deploy as many laptops and computers as possible to get everyone working from home by Friday. The handful of staff that can’t work remotely (like facilities staff) will be onsite, and if sent home will still be paid.
BigCommerce – this appears to be one of the most disjointed companies yet. Multiple employees have a different perspective of what next steps will be. Some say they’re testing their equipment out for sending teams home, others believe they’ll be moving to a rotation schedule, and some have asked for the company to at least implement “social distancing” rules. A recent email from the CEO is being perceived differently by each employee we talked to (the following was provided by multiple staff):
“At BigCommerce, please know that our leadership team is using its best judgment to protect both you and the continued strength of our customers’ and partners’ businesses. We want to address both objectives without compromising either. Although some companies and institutions have chosen to close down, we are staying open for business. Our customers, and in many cases their livelihoods, depend on us. Not only do we need to help them stay in business, we need to do that for ourselves, too. If we closed all our offices for the next X months, we would not have a strong business and jobs to return to. By carrying on with care and confidence, we will ensure the continued vibrancy of our ecosystem, which includes employees, customers, and partners.”
– Brent Bellm, BigCommerce CEO
Employees bristle at the idea that working remotely equals closing down.
Since publication, one customer service employee tells us that starting today that they will immediately be rotating WFH and on-site, with no one sitting next to each other. Support staff does not appear to be on any rotation schedule yet, and is required to report to work in person.
Tuesday afternoon, we received the following: “Robert Alvarez, BigCommerce CFO here. I’d like to try to address some of the concerns raised in this article directly with all of you. We communicated to our teams last Friday that our offices would remain open, but we would support employees’ personal decisions and partner with them to identify temporary alternative work arrangements as needed. As you are aware, the situation has been rapidly evolving. As the CDC has issued new information and guidelines, we have clarified and updated our internal policies for employees.
As of yesterday, all BigCommerce employees are encouraged to work from home. The health and wellbeing of our employees is our top priority, and our disaster response and executive teams have been working hard to develop processes that better enable employees to work from home productively.
Especially in this volatile time, our 60,000+ customers in 120+ countries depend on our support representatives for help with running their online businesses (some of which provide critical supplies during a health crisis), and we want to keep their BigCommerce experience running as smoothly as possible. With that said, we’re keeping offices open for employees who prefer to work in an office environment, as well as those whose jobs have technical requirements that exceed their home environment. We’re also currently testing remote support operations to ensure all employees are equipped to provide the same level of customer service outside of our offices, and offering a temporary stipend to accommodate unexpected work from home expenses.
For those who are still working in the office, we’ve put guidelines in place to enforce social distancing. We are also disinfecting work and common areas daily and limiting visitor access to our facilities in an effort to combat the introduction and potential spread of the virus in any of our locations. It is our responsibility as an organization to protect our employees, families, and communities while remaining focused on our customers and the continued support and performance they rely on. Our disaster response team is closely monitoring government guidance and best practices, so we will continue to adjust our policies and implement any other precautionary measures as necessary to protect those we care about.”
We asked Alvarez about the sentiment that giving employees the “option” to work from home and the fears support staff have regarding raising their hands and risking not looking like a team player. He stated, “Our original note to employees last Friday did specify WFH on a case-by-case basis, but our latest guidance states that anyone who is able to do their job remotely can work from home. With the support organization in particular, we needed some time to ensure that all employees had the necessary technology and equipment to work from home effectively, and if not, needed to shift work around accordingly to accommodate their work preferences. Our intention was never to make employees feel as if they have to choose between being a team player and their safety, and we are working diligently to make sure all employees needs are accommodated. As of today, the only employees who are still working in the office are those who prefer to be in the office, and those that do not currently have the technological support to accommodate WFH (and we are in the process of working with them to alleviate this issue).”
Charles Schwab – like other companies, it appears that most full time employees are being sent home, while contractors are expected to arrive in person. But two staffers told us that it also depends on department. Like BigCommerce, the fact that so many people offered conflicting information indicates a clear need for more communication from the leadership team.
As of Wednesday, we are still getting conflicting information with some full time folks being sent home, and some (but not all) contractors. In a Tuesday email to contractors obtained by The American Genius: “If you normally work on-site at Schwab and wish to work from home instead, please discuss this with your employer and Schwab manager, who will determine whether this is feasible based on the work you are doing and our capacity to support remote access. Because of our business needs, the potential for other colleagues to work from home, and our remote access capacity, some employees and contingent works who currently telecommute may be required to work onsite as we manage our remote access capacity.”
ClearDATA – the entire team is working from home tomorrow as part of a test run that will continue through March if it goes well. If not, employees will be called back to the office.
On Monday, a spokesperson stated: “ClearDATA’s healthcare customers are on the front-lines of identifying, treating and solving for COVID-19 on the cloud, making it vital for us to determine if there are any loose ends, technical capacity issues, or other limitations prior to instituting a longer-term policy to work from home. Our role during this time is to keep healthcare secure and protect patient data which are at greater risk during a pandemic. Through the successful stress test, we are now able to implement work from home practices with confidence until the end of March as advised by the CDC and local officials while remaining committed to protecting our healthcare systems.”
Compeat – employees that are not feeling well but aren’t necessarily “sick” are asked to work from home to mitigate spread, along with anyone whose children cannot attend school. We’re told that everyone else is expected in the office.
Since publication, the team reached out, providing a note from the CEO: “Starting this week we are asking you to make work from home your preferred option for all of our locations. This is our time to both individually and collectively to halt the spread of this virus. On Friday we proved that we can get our work done with most of us working from home. We had minimal disruption to the business and I believe we can continue working in this manner. We will keep access to all of our offices open so that those who need or prefer to come into the office can do so but I encourage you to work from home if at all possible.”
The CMO told us, “We have been allowing any employees who feel uncomfortable to work from home for the past two weeks as well as requiring any sick employees to not come into the office. We restricted all international travel and limited domestic travel for weeks. We have made it clear to employees that if anyone feels uncomfortable they have the option to work from home. On Friday, Mar 13th, we conducted a planned emergency preparedness day asking all employees to work from home to identify any potential issues. It ran extremely smoothly. Earlier today, we announced a full work from home policy for the entire company until further notice.”
Data Foundry – while expected to continue to show up in the office, there are talks of potentially transitioning the team to fully remote.
As of Tuesday, two employees told us that the new suggestion is that “essential” staff should wear N95 masks if not feeling well, and so far, only manager and network engineers are working remotely.
Dun & Bradstreet – employees are expected to arrive in person tomorrow morning.
EBQ – one employee told us everyone is expected in the office Monday, another said there are quiet talks about testing work from home, but nothing solid yet.
Since publication, EBQ has sent all non-management to work from home for now, requiring management to report in-person. An interesting move, quite opposite from several other companies where people are looking up from their desks and not seeing any higher-ups.
Everi – the company is sending anyone home that is sick, but employees are required to report in as of Tuesday morning. It appears that senior leadership is working remotely, but mid-level down are required on site.
On Tuesday afternoon, Everi sent all teams to work from home.
GoDaddy – there are several GoDaddy teams here (including GoDaddy, GoDaddy Social, MainStreetHub who they acquired), and we’re told that customer-facing roles are required to report to the offices, but some teams are being sent home (like content creators). One employee told us that they are taking high-risk individuals’ situations into account and allowing some individuals to work from home.
Several on staff said they’ve been told GoDaddy will only send everyone home to work remotely if there is a reported COVID-19 case in that specific office, and then it will only be that office.
Integreon – From Integreon: “As of last week, several employees and contractors began working from home, with others starting the process of getting set-up to work remotely. Given that some Integreon projects require that we handle sensitive documents, client approval must be obtained before work can be done from home. Many client approvals have come through, so many more Integreon resources are now working from home. Integreon takes the Coronavirus situation seriously and the company has been working diligently to protect its employees and contractors, as well as support its clients.”
LegalZoom – we were told that the communication regarding the future is in “slow motion,” and that they’re clearly working toward sending teams home to work remotely, how that will happen is unclear. One employee opined that they’re “scaling fast” to get teams home, yet another told us they’ve been told nothing about ever working remotely.
Since publication, a representative emailed to update us: “Employee safety and well-being is, and will continue to be, our number one guiding principle in our decision making throughout this difficult time. We already have many Zoomers working from home and, as the COVID-19 situation evolves, are working towards 100% work-from-home capabilities. As an operations-driven company, we have acted swiftly and nimbly so that our Zoomers and customers are taken care of. In the meantime, we have recommended people work from home if they can, in order to increase social distancing for our employees still in the office. We continue to keep all employees updated regularly through company-wide emails, our internal COVID-19 response site, and other communication channels.”
Mood Media – although staff is expected in person tomorrow, multiple employees told us there are talks of transitioning to temporary remote staff, and working on other solutions.
As of Monday afternoon, the last employees have snagged their laptops and have headed home to work remotely for now.
Netspend – the company has been testing their VPN in case work from home policies are initiated, and staff is directed to check their email before going in each day, just in case. Several suspect they’ll pull the trigger this week.
Since publication, employees that already have company-issued laptops are being told to work from home starting Tuesday, but call center staff does not have laptops, so it appears they’ll still be on-site. We’re not certain what the full company policy is as of yet.
National Instruments – NI just had a round of layoffs in Austin this December, so folks are already nervous. We’re told they tested work from home capabilities and their VPN on Friday, but some say everyone is expected to report in on Monday. Another told us that with manager approval, if an employee is able to do their job remotely, they’ll now be “permitted” and “encouraged” to work from home (which would exclude certain staff, perhaps lab staff, etc.).
After publication, we are told the HR department head emailed, “To be as clear as I can, the intent is to have the vast majority of our employees working from home. We understand that there may be certain individuals who are critical to attend work but they should be a small minority. Enabling your employees to work from home should be your default position.”
Personify – they’re sending everyone home on Tuesday to test their remote capabilities, but until the drill is complete, there is no official word on whether or not the company will transition to fully remote.
Monday evening, several staff told us the office is open for people who cannot work from home, otherwise everyone is asked to be remote.
RateGenius – multiple employees initially told us that all staff was required to report in on Monday. The company explains, “RateGenius welcomes the opportunity to clarify how we are handling work from home for our employees. The well-being of our employees is our top priority, and we have been monitoring what is occurring in our community in order to keep our employees safe.
As background, RateGenius provides consumers with important money saving auto refinance options. As a fintech company, RateGenius handles and processes consumers’ personally identifiable information, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, income and work information. On a daily basis, more than half of our workforce processes our customers’ personal financial information in accordance with federal statutes and regulations. As a result, RateGenius has to balance safeguarding our customers’ data while providing work-from-home options. We are achieving this while seeing our current application volume increase by 30% due to federal reserve rate cuts and customers’ desire to take advantage of the potential savings.
Unlike traditional technology companies, RateGenius processes a significant amount of paper documentation. As part of our refinance process, RateGenius handles loan documents and auto title information within all 50 states. In particular, almost all auto titles are paper-based documents and certain processes need to be completed within our office. RateGenius is committed to having as many people work from home as possible while creating ample social distance and a clean environment for employees that need to be present to meet our customers’ needs.
Currently, almost 20% of our workforce is working from home. Our plan is to offer work from home to all employees that can sufficiently protect our customers’ data. Specifically, this requires secure home environments, virtual private networks on all employee computers and access to our secure phone network. For our in-office employees, we’ve implemented safety measures recommended by the CDC including social distancing, frequent sanitation of our facility, banning visitors from entering our building and self-quarantines for individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
RateGenius started planning for work from home in February and began asking employees to work from home the week of March 9th. We plan on continuing to move people to work from home as more equipment and resources become available. However, this will continue to be done with our customers’ data security in mind.”
Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS) – SAS has over 3,600 employees in Austin and observes a threat level chart (which is currently at “orange,” not high enough to send anyone home). They’ve added hand sanitizing stations in all buildings, and we’re told they’re treating it as a “when, not if” situation, but employees remain nervous, especially since they’re all asked to test their own temperatures before entering the building. We’re told they don’t have enough remote credentials to send teams home, and people don’t feel comfortable speaking up for fear of losing their jobs. “They would rather watch us die than close this place,” one coworker confided in another last week. Another employee told us, “it’s always profits over people for them.”
After publication, another staff reports that “The description of what will happen if we hit ‘code red’ was silently changed on our internal website from “Only essential personnel on site” to ‘Potentially limited personnel on site’ so we’re worried that they are walking back plans to allow people to work from home even if we do hit code red.”
Also after publication, several contract workers at Randstad (who are placed at SAS) have noted that there are at least 2 times as many contract workers on campus than full time employees. We have reviewed an email from Randstad to SAS employees to address “concerns about PTO,” noting no extra paid time off (PTO) will be offered, and while normally at the start of April, all PTO banks are reset (and they pay up to 20 hours of what had been saved), they’re opting to not reset PTO for several months. Contractors are saying the company is not communicative, and remains “dismissive.”
As of Wednesday: We’re told that starting next Monday, there is a plan to have 700 full time employees work from home on a 3-week rotation, and for those that don’t get to WFH, 2 weeks of emergency pay can be requested for those that are ill, caring for family in self-quarantine, or if childcare is unavailable to them. Contract workers are not necessarily granted any of these benefits, we’re still gathering information.
Shop LC – this company is like QVC, and the staff is upset they’re being required to work in-person, particularly given the international nature of where so many of their products are shipped in from.
On Tuesday afternoon, many employees were sent home to work remotely.
SolarWinds – Employees we spoke with were universally upset by a “condescending” video sent out company-wide, featuring CEO, Kevin Thompson. In addressing the potential for work from home, he noted that “it won’t be a coronavirus vacation if it happens.” Another employee called the tone “flippant,” and another said they felt “minimized” and “disrespected.” Nevertheless, it appears the company is at least considering the possibility of a remote workforce.
As of Tuesday morning, all staff was told they can work remotely starting Thursday, and systems are being tested. Employees are instructed to take their laptops and chargers home just in case, and have a readiness checklist to complete by close of business Wednesday. The current exception is the sales staff who are waiting on their “soft phone system” setup (so they can have calls routed to and answered from their laptops).
Kathleen Pai, the Chief People Officer at SolarWinds said in a statement, “The health, well-being, and safety of our employees, partners, and customers is our main priority at SolarWinds. Our hearts and thoughts go out to all those affected both directly and indirectly by the COVID-19 outbreak. This is uncharted territory for all of us, and with new developments being announced almost hourly, our dedicated business continuity team continues to monitor updates related to COVID-19 across our global footprint to help us make the best decisions on behalf of our 3,500+ employees. The actions that are already underway include the following: (1) Restriction of all business travel. (2) Suspension of all in-person events and conferences. (3) Enhancement of deep cleaning operations and supplies made available. (4) Institution of a work-from-home option globally. More than half of our global workforce has already been working remotely, and the remainder of our workforce will follow suit effective immediately.”
On Wednesday, we heard that even hourly employees will still be paid their current hourly rate with no reduction of hours paid for.
Spectrum – staff understands that some cable jobs require in-person service, but support staff is upset they are not allowed to work from home. A memo from the CEO went out indicating that employees “can’t” do their jobs effectively from home. That said, we’re told they stress tested their VPN this weekend, and that Enterprise (Fiber) teams are gearing up for remote work. Remote work possibilities appear to depend on what department an employee is in.
A change.org petition was started this week and looks like it will soon hit the required 2,500 signature threshold.
TaskUs – all Austin team members are required to report in person.
The Riveter – all corporate staff of this coworking company is working remotely, but all on-site staff is required to continue reporting to work.
Since publication, there was an “emergency meeting” Monday morning, and all staff will now be working from home.
Visa – several employees told us that only client-facing roles are required to come in to the office for now.
Volt – AppleCare– This is a confusing one. Apple may have closed down all of their retail stores outside of China and sent corporate staff home, but Volt might be requiring AppleCare support team contractors to report to work. One contractor was told that Austin is a “relatively safer” location than others, not meriting any remote work, also citing the confidentiality of their work. Two Apple employees said that AppleCare is not required in person, so as with other cases, there might be a communication challenge in setting expectations.
As of Tuesday morning, Volt has sent all AppleCare team to work from home with either a Macbook or iMac, and is paying for their internet while teams are remote.
Whole Foods – this Amazon-owned company requires all staff to come in unless feeling sick, and they’re discouraging travel. Several expressed frustration at having to report in, given that Amazon corporate told everyone to work from home if they can.
As of Tuesday, all corporate teams were being sent home to work remotely. Rumors spread that WF was requiring corporate team members to go work in the stores, but it was instead a voluntary call, which many answered.
This is not a comprehensive list by any means, just a pulse of how companies are reacting in these uncharted waters. We suspect that this list will look very different by the end of the week. People are scared – employees and employers are trying to get on the same page. It will be a bumpy ride.
UPDATES (we’ll keep ’em coming):
– Accruent updated to indicate some (maybe all?) are WFH this week (and maybe more?).
– National Instruments updated to include information on teams being encouraged to work from home.
– Social Solutions, YETI, and Outbound Engine have been removed as they’ve provided company-wide communications pre-dating publication.
– CDC now urging all gatherings with more than 50 people be cancelled for the next 8 weeks.
– Updated RateGenius, Arrive Logistics, Integreon, Everi, ShopLC, Personify, Compeat, ClearDATA, Accruent – Facebook, EBQ, National Instruments, SAS (Samsung), SolarWinds, The Riveter, Mood Media, Netspend, Whole Foods, and Legal Zoom statuses.
– Added Alchemy Systems and Everi.
Note: We WILL report on any company layoffs at any of these companies, or any retaliatory measures taken against employees that spoke with us.
Reopening the nation: Best done by sector or calendar?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Analysis suggests reopening economies in phases in each country. How will we find harmony between economic, epidemiological, and political leaders?
After months indoors Americans are eager to reopen the economy. The United States has experimented with a series of stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and quarantines (the difference between these strategies being geographical and frankly, not always clear). However, the movement to stay home started with closed borders and reduced travel, and gradually became more restrictive as America fell in step behind other countries just in time to become the world’s hotspot for coronavirus infections.
After fraught disagreement between economists, scientists, and politicians, only a few things are certain to date: the economy has collapsed, 30 million people have lost jobs, more than 1.6 million people have been infected, and nearly 100,000 people have died as of this writing.*
Conversations have shifted from saving lives to saving both lives and livelihoods. Economists are making the case that a contracted economy magnifies health risks, and therefore potential mortality unrelated to or complementary to COVID-19 deaths. As such, it is time to consider various strategies for reopening the economy as a public health strategy not independent of hygienic and other measures.
Seven mostly friendly-looking suited-up white dudes from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland have analyzed a series of reopening strategies for the world to consider at this confusing, scary, and still uncertain juncture of how to proceed with defibrillating closed economies worldwide.
They concluded that a phased reopening by sector would balance the need to stimulate economic activity while minimizing epidemiological risk. They suggest that the order of sectors to reopen in each country should be chosen based on their inability to conduct core business from home, importance to the national economy, value added per worker, and business viability. You can read their full argument and the other strategies they evaluated here.
“This strategy has the virtue of being adaptive — as data is gathered following each sector-wide reopening, adjustments can be made concerning the timing of subsequent phases, and protective measures adopted in previously released sectors can be copied and improved as more is learned about the epidemic,” the team said.
The United States has already begun a regional reopening approach where Trump conceded that the states would determine their own reopening plans in phases. This strategy has already caused tension between states and municipalities (for example as between the large state of Texas and its highly populated capitol Austin).
Though the HBR argument is compelling, again, we find ourselves at a frustrating clash of experts in their fields. No matter how the economy is reopened, an increase in infections is likely if not inevitable as soon as more people return to a high-contact lifestyle – a point that scientists and epidemiologists have emphasized heavily. It also gives no mention of the role of testing and tracking the spread of the disease, and the path to population-level immunity whether by herd or vaccine.
Furthermore, this economic approach appears not to consider complementary supply chains and the interconnectedness of local, national, and global economies. Limiting travel was a key factor in slowing the spread and allowing control to become more localized, but much of the economy relies on the movement of people and things across communities.
Unfortunately, these decisions are ultimately made at the policy level. The United States government has proven itself incapable of a united approach to stemming the severity of this disease. Vaccines are in development, but it seems likely that when one is selected and approved for mass distribution, the decision will also be a political one. All of these considerations are ones Americans should bring to the ballot box in November. Or rather – to the mailbox with an absentee ballot, if we don’t manage to completely destroy our democracy between now and then.
*Such statistics, though widely cited, may be underreported or misrepresentative of the whole picture, as we learned about artificially deflated test rates in Texas last week.
Survey indicates that small businesses are optimistic despite COVID-19
(BUSINESS NEWS) Facebook survey captures tumult of spring 2020 on small and medium business, with a dash of optimism going into the summer.
This story contains information that probably will not evoke shock and awe by now, but is nonetheless upsetting. Stop now and check to see if you need a news cycle break before ingesting more garbage depressive news about the economy – but if you can wade through it, I promise it ends on a high note!
Though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is running amuck in the political world like one of those signs at restaurants that say “unattended children will be given ice cream and a puppy,” Facebook continues to effectively build an online community of more than 2.6 billion people worldwide – including more than half of the population in the United States. Given their audience and ease of access to business owners, they decided to use their powers for good for once to survey small and medium businesses.
The survey returned responses from 38,078 business owners and managers, 39,104 employees, and 8,694 personal enterprises in the United States (total of 85,876 respondents). Respondents’ industries spanned manufacturing, retail, services, logistics, hospitality, construction, and agriculture. Thirty-three percent of businesses were urban, forty-two percent were urban, and twenty-five percent were rural.
Here’s where it gets depressing: thirty-one percent of businesses reported closing in the last three months, with 71 percent of those closing since March 1. For personal businesses, 52 percent are closed. Of those businesses still operating, 60 percent reported a reduced workload, and 60 percent also report struggling with finances. Employee wages, bills, and rent were the top areas of financial concern.
So how is this important segment of the economy surviving the crisis? Forty-one percent of business owners and managers said they could pull from personal savings, but 45 percent said zero-interest loans were the most helpful option to subsidize lost business.
Unsurprisingly, 79% of businesses say they have made some change to operations to accommodate their customers and keep things moving, like using digital tools and delivery services.
The survey found some interesting geographical differences, for example, that businesses in the Southeast have made slightly more physical adjustments to business like offering curbside pickup and home delivery. They also found differences in strategy by leadership gender: “Businesses led by women are more likely to be using digital tools, particularly with online advertising (43%) and digital payment tools (40%), compared to just 37% and 34%, respectively, of businesses led by men.” And the differences don’t stop at the strategic level. More women owner-managers (33%) reported that managing life in a pandemic at home was affecting their ability to focus on work than men (25%).
Amongst all the chaos, people are optimistic about the future. In fact, 57% of owner-managers are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future of business. For employees, the results were surprisingly similar. Even though only 45% of SMB owner-managers and 32% of personal businesses reported that they would rehire the same workers when their businesses reopened, 59% of both the employed and unemployed were at least somewhat optimistic about their future employment.
And now for a quote from President Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire Primary speech amidst our last recession, without a smidge of tacky irony or liberal preaching: “We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we’ve been told we’re not ready, or that we shouldn’t try, or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: ‘Yes we can.’”
Who will get to work from home once COVID-19 stay-home orders are over?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Many large tech firms review and update their work from home policies. This could be presented as THE biggest work perk of 2021.
The large tech firms that we all know and use frequently are making big announcements on their timing and policies for their employees to work from home as updates on COVID-19 come in.
Square and Twitter have said many employees will work from home indefinitely – even after states begin to open back up. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all extended dates on returning to offices. You can read more details here on The Verge.
Let’s break down some pros and cons – especially if this means that working from home will become the hottest recruiting tool in the future. Like ping pong tables and Friday at 4pm beer carts once were.
Some high-level things that contribute to why people love (or tolerate) their W2 jobs:
- They like the PEOPLE they work with
- They have a feeling of purpose, and genuinely enjoy the work
- There are miscellaneous perks (gym membership reimbursement, free cafeterias, personal development workshops, tuition reimbursement, travel opportunities)
- Their employer helps to pay for healthcare benefits, and makes 401K contributions
- Their team rotates, and they get to work from home once in a while*
*This is nice to allow some flexibility. Employees can choose to treat their morning how they would like (maybe wake up a little later, or enjoy their coffee at a coffee shop). It allows them to not rush out the door to sit in traffic, or on the bus or train. They can take the day off of wearing real pants, and work in pajamas. Heck, they can even save time on Saturday or Sunday by doing the laundry on their work from home (WFH) day. It could also be a great opportunity to fit in doctor appointments, or have real quality focus time – missing less of the work day.
This is NOT an implication that people work less that day, in fact working from home, you usually work more because there are not things that force you to break up the day like the commute, meetings, or lunch with your colleagues.
Some high-level things that might contribute to the desire to be an entrepreneur:
- Your work is a main piece of your identity – usually being a product or service that YOU created, and it leverages a perfect marriage of your talents, skills, and passions
- You likely get to be your own boss, and make your own creative decisions
- You constantly have the opportunity to learn, and this can be great for those who love the constant change and challenges
- It’s just never really worked out for you to work for someone else, or for a corporation
- Something drives you to build something of your own
- Working from home* in all its glory
*A common misconception of the entrepreneurship or freelance lifestyle is that you work from home or a coffee shop, and it’s oh so very sexy and freeing, and you get to do whatever you want whenever you want. While arguably, yes, you do have more control over your schedule, and there are perks to your own business; likely you are working 24/7, and wearing every single hat from the Producer to Customer Services to Finance to the Accounting department. This requires you to be really open to learning or knowing what you don’t know, and possibly hiring experts.
So, moving forward, will the “you can work remotely! From wherever you’d like” become the hottest recruiting trend of 2021? Here’s why we predict that may not be the best way to move forward.
- People are social creatures. Working from home sporadically vs 100% of the time are two completely different things. You could possibly lose the momentum with your teams if they no longer know and trust one another. Plus, no doubt there will be turn-over, and when there are numerous parts and teams, it can be helpful for them to have in person experiences together.
- Does this make sense for the commercial real estate industry, and the leases that have been signed? It’s unlikely that many large corporations just perfectly timed their leases that align with COVID-19. Many will likely want to bring people back just for that fact.
- All of this takes an enormous amount of money, additional tech support, and infrastructure, (not to mention mailing costs for all office equipment, etc.) and it’s not possible that only the most profitable firms will prevail and be able to do this.
- How would large cities (read: high cost of living) like the Bay Area be able to retain talent, and/or why would you pay to live there if you can live anywhere. This could drastically shift urban planning and development.
We just don’t see it moving all the way to the extreme of all knowledge workers working from home indefinitely. If you want to see how people are feeling about working from home, you have to check out this Buzzfeed article, “Zoom Fatigue is Real, And You Probably Have It If You Relate to These 16 Tweets.”
A look into why AI couldn’t save the world from COVID-19
Reopening the nation: Best done by sector or calendar?
Survey indicates that small businesses are optimistic despite COVID-19
Who will get to work from home once COVID-19 stay-home orders are over?
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Ladies and gentlemen, the U.S. National Anthem
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