Coronavirus: the stick that urges teleworking

After last month’s blog on disasters, particularly induced by the coronavirus (COVID-19), matters have accelerated. As of this writing there were 127,863 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 4,718 deaths from it worldwide. The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic. One of the primary recommendations for surviving the virus — or preventing it from spreading — is to stay at home. One consequence of the widespread publicity about COVID-19 is that major changes are occurring in working conditions.

Foremost among these changes is sudden emphasis on remote working aka teleworking. What decades of imploring employers has failed to do, COVID-19 is making happen. Major employers are having their employees work from home. Universities and school districts are converting to telelearning. Telemedicine is being used to lessen the load on hospital emergency rooms. The years of telling employers that teleworking helps the bottom line, teleworking’s primary carrot, have had some effect. But that effect is nothing compared to the stick provided by COVID-19.

Survival trumps better performance. Teleworking enables survival.

One of the side effects of this is that energy use and CO2 production have dropped significantly because of the widespread self- or otherwise quarantines forcing workers to stay home. More good news.

Unfortunately, new problems have arisen. Not everyone can work at home. Many people, at least one-fifth of the American workforce, have location-dependent jobs. They have to be at their usual workplace to do their job. If the schools send their kids home, what are their stuck-at-work parents supposed to do for sudden childcare? Some potential teleworkers don’t have the equipment at home or the training (even Apple and Business Insider get into the act) to work effectively there. Currently part-time telecommuters need quickly to rearrange their car-pool schedules (assuming the car-pool still is in operation). And so on.

Still, the coronavirus stick has certainly stirred up some positive activity. I hope that all this enforced teleworking will change the minds of many employers and employees alike. If coronavirus acts like many other disasters the number of teleworkers will increase permanently, possibly dramatically. And the environment will thank them.

Caveat (19 March 2020)

The sudden rush to teleworking may be causing severe strains on nations’ telecommunications capacity. For example, according to Network World,

Research by VPN [Virtual Private Network] vendor Atlas shows that VPN usage in the U.S. grew by 53% between March 9 and 15, and it could grow faster. VPN usage in Italy, where the virus outbreak is about two weeks ahead of the U.S., increased by 112% during the last week. “We estimate that VPN usage in the U.S. could increase over 150% by the end of the month,” said Rachel Welch, chief operating officer of Atlas VPN, in a statement.

It might become difficult for some teleworkers to be in constant contact with home base as a consequence. Such strains will diminish as network capabilities expand but be prepared for some bumps in the connectable roads in the next few months.

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