We are a long way from getting through this Covid-19 pandemic, but we should begin looking at the tactical policy changes we have made during the outbreak and consider whether to make them permanent. There are three policy changes that we are implementing that I think should be potentially strategic. They are limiting travel to critical trips, not using it as a matter of course. Requiring sick employees to remain home while they are sick. And, finally, permanently putting in place restrictions on physical contact at work or at events.
Let’s take each in turn.
By the time the Covid-19 crisis abates months from now, we will have learned to use technology to virtually travel and that technology effectively is likely to both advance and become more interoperable. People will have become more comfortable with attending meetings from remote locations, and we already know that video conferencing is both far less expensive and far safer than physical travel. Physical travel also opens the employee to sickness and injury, introduces jet lag that degrades performance, and working on a plane is sub-optimal when compared to working from a home or office.
So why not take the benefits that have been achieved by requiring employees to video conference rather than travel and revert them? We, as an industry, have been trying to get away from physical travel since the mid-1960s when video conferencing was first introduced to the world at the World’s Fair. Let’s make it stick, and not only will our employees be more productive, but they’ll also be healthier, less stressed out, and less likely to not make it through the week.
Mandatory Work From Home
We’ve been allowing people to come to work sick historically even though we’ve known it is a bad idea both from the standpoint of the person working sick and the perspective of everyone they contact. People have been not only coming to work sick they’ve been going to industry events ill and spreading their problem at the various mixers (many with finger food) they attend.
I think it is time to make the Covid-19 rule that you self-quarantine if you have a fever or a contagious virus (like a cold) a rule. This way, we reduce the spread of colds and Flu which damages productivity substantially and puts lives at risk. And we might finally get to the point where the Flu isn’t as damaging and where having that seasonal cold is more the exception than the rule. People can use the remote work tools they’ve been given to continue to be productive while preventing the spread of pathogens permanently. Covid-19 may mitigate, but, like the Flu, it will likely be with us for the foreseeable future, so we might as well bite the bullet and do what we always.
Finally, the firms that had aggressive work from home policies appear to be far less affected by this problem than firms who mandated coming into the office. We also know that firms with aggressive work at home policies tend to be more successful at recruitment. Since those policies also prevent the spread of pathogens, it might be wise to consider emulating the firms that have those aggressive work at home policies.
Limiting Physical Contact
Even without Covid-19, the #MeToo movement highlighted the problems regarding physical contact between employees. We have kissers, huggers, and grabbers, which are HR problems waiting to happen anyway, and a lot of firms have had trouble curtailing unwanted contact between employees. HR’s job gets a ton more manageable if the policy is that employees shouldn’t touch other employees.
Then it isn’t a focus on the motive. Still, one on policy and you can more aggressively eliminate the bad behavior and get the added benefit of limiting pathogen spreading across the company. Most of us aren’t fond of getting any sickness, and this would keep us healthier and make our employees, mainly are women employees, safer.
No event is all good or all bad, there are always unintended consequences. With Covid-19, we are being forced to implement several practices we should have implemented anyway. Shifting physical meetings to virtual meetings, requiring sick employees work from home, and eliminating physical contact between workers all go a long way to cutting excess costs, reducing excess waste, and limiting practices that make us less safe and less healthy.
While Covid-19 isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a good thing, some good can come out of it, and my list isn’t extensive. Perhaps some of the things we are doing to limit the spread of this pathogen should become the rule rather than the exception—something to noodle on this week.
Rob Enderle has been a Quinstreet columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.