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COVID-19: Are we sending our workers into a viral petri dish?

(BUSINESS) This remains an impossible situation for everyone involved, but COVID-19 has people nervous about going anywhere but home.

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Because you have a pulse, you already know what’s on everyone’s minds – COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged all gatherings in America of more than 50 people to be called off through April.

While that currently exempts employers, it feels like an inevitability at this point given that most employers have more than 50 people in a building at any given time.

And it’s a logistical nightmare. Making sure employees can work from home means equipping them with hardware (laptops/desktops), stable VPNs, and authentication tokens to make sure the company and their clients’ information is all protected. Some companies have literally asked employees to go through hand washing training. Others are repeatedly sending out CDC guidelines on hygiene.

But what plagues minds is that there is no end date in sight. Some, like the CDC, have set their sights on May 01, but we all know that can change. So employers are stuck wondering when business can go back to normal, not just from a sales perspective, but from an operations perspective.

Regardless, thousands of employees are in offices right now as I write this, nervous and afraid to speak up (overnight, job security became iffy for so many). Make no mistake – even employers that are using their best judgment to keep the company afloat are afraid, not just from a business perspective, but from a personal health perspective.

The startup culture perks and creature comforts like beer taps, cereal bars, snack baskets, ping pong tables, bean bags, and bathroom toiletries are all now seen as items that hold on to COVID-19 germs until the next person touches any of the perks.

People are walking through their office lobbies wondering if the person that walked in seconds before them just sneezed into the air, leaving an infected cloud for the person behind them.

Everyone is trying to keep their hands sanitized, but with COVID-19 living on surfaces anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days, people are nervous in offices, bathrooms, lobbies, and common areas.

From the front door keycard which could be contaminated, to the front door handle, to the elevator buttons, handrails, walls, chair backs, desks, drawer pulls, files, keyboards, screens, smartphones, tablets, break room surfaces, refrigerator doors, sparkling water cans, snacks, bathroom doors (and locks, and faucet knobs, and weird floss picks in an open container), it’s all fair game for this nasty virus.

The ramifications of keeping hundreds of people in a building for an 8 hour day are obvious – it may not be a 250-person gathering in the main room, but with hundreds of people in and out of the building in a day, there is a problem, even when creatively problem solving (like spacing workers out more to observe “social distancing”). You can see how even the cleanest of places becomes a viral petri dish.

“Am I a carrier? Am I spreading it? Or did I just pick it up?” the constant thought cycle permeates so many minds. People look around in fear anytime someone coughs or even sniffles, no matter their job title.

There is no clear answer here, but with a workforce often self-isolating at home, there are uneasy feelings of people in offices right this very moment. Some companies simply aren’t ready to pull the trigger on sending people home, and others literally can’t due to the nature of the work. We’ll have to see where this all ultimately takes us as a national work culture.

We have all had to rethink how we live. Now, we have to reconsider how we work – surfaces need to be sterilized, hygiene needs to be practiced by all, and nationally, you’re watching everyone realize exactly how many surfaces we all encounter in a single day.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ted Simmerman

    March 16, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    The comments I have read all beg the question, “What if the current administration and Congress continues to delay ANY workable solution?”

  2. Thomas Johnson

    March 17, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    According to the data from S Korea, where they have been testing everyone, twenty somethings are the largest percentage of positives And probably not symptomatic. More than anyone, Millenials should be locked down. These CEO’s should be locked in a room with them.

  3. Pingback: Instagram helps pass social isolation with co-watching

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Business News

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.

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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.’”

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Business News

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.

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”

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Business News

Weight Watchers lays off 4K employees on a brief Zoom call #cold

(BUSINESS NEWS) WW fires thousands of employees over Zoom, no questions asked or answered. So much for Wellness that Works, live up to your motto.

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WW International, formerly known as Weight Watchers, fired thousands of employees on a 3-minute phone call on Thursday, May 14. The call was muted so participants could not ask questions. Employee emails were closed by the weekend.

It is unclear exactly how many employees were let go, with some reporting up to 4,000. WW has declined to report the number. Laid off employees were both part-time and full-time. Some had been working for WW for more than a decade.

WW has been slowly shifting its services online, including building a comprehensive app for users to track their food. Founded in 1963, the weight loss company has come a long way from paper-and-pencil weight tracking. In 2018, the company changed its name from Weight Watchers to WW, adopting the slogan “Wellness that Works,” in a move to fully embrace the trendy wellness and self-care movements that have gripped younger audiences.

CFO Nick Hotchkin said, “It wasn’t practical to have all of the conversations be one on one.”

WW has staked its claim on empathy. They have cultivated a community of people motivated to lose weight, and support others on the same journey to also live a healthier lifestyle. Many WW employees are former customers who were so committed to the mission they wanted to join the community as a coach or meeting leader. The company offered many part-time roles that fit the schedules of full-time mothers, their primary demographic of clients from its inception.

Firing swaths of employees over Zoom calls is the latest form of cruelty in the employment chaos that the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on the economy. But companies can make choices – especially international mega-companies that bring in more than a billion dollars in revenue annually.

Has WW no sense of irony? Just two days before this call, WW announced a free, four-week virtual experience led by Oprah Winfrey, a WW investor, client, and champion.

“Now, it’s more important than ever to be and stay well and strong. Together, let’s reset, refocus and find clarity in what matters most,” Oprah said of the program. Apparently, thousands of employees are not considered an asset to the togetherness of this occasion.

Of course, WW like many other companies has a right to let go employees in anticipation of changes in business. But if caring for your employees, and conducting layoffs with empathy, grace, and compassion is not on the list of “what matters most,” then WW is sorely lacking mission alignment. It is severely disappointing to see a company driven by a compassionate mission act in such a callous way.

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