Just like Kendrick Lamar, I also “got a bone to pick” about COVID 19 virus. Which is why this piece may seem angrier than my usual posts.
It makes me angry when people have to literally drop dead before attitudes towards old-fashioned business arrangements change, especially in relation to remote working.
The COVID 19 virus, whatever thoughts you may have of it, is forcing the world to re-examine how people work, how they should work, and as a by-product, to explore the very real benefits of remote work.
These benefits are not just to avoid people and therefore possible contamination or spreading of germs, even though that is the reason for Chinese companies instructing their employees to stay home, and for many multinational corporations to issue travel bans of their people.
No, there are even bigger stakes at play. My learned friend Peter du Toit is all but baying from rooftops with a loudspeaker on how much of an imperative remote work is for businesses, for a variety of reasons. He should know – he lives it, having made a lifestyle change decision that seems him today living in the coastal south of South Africa, away from the large urban commercial centres, yet as plugged into the digital community as ever before while making a real impact on forward thinking businesses.
According to Peter, the interruption induced by the COVID 19 virus on what he terms “business as usual” is having major (positive) impact on emissions. Remote work arrangements could therefore undeniably form some of the quick wins that can be achieved globally, almost immediately and with ZERO cost.
We’re talking about the emissions resulting from work commutes and business-related air travel.
By any reasonable estimate, there are hundreds of millions of office workers who grind through daily commutes from hell. Imagine the impact on emissions if companies decided to adopt remote work policies. Imagine all of these people not on the road every morning. I wish there was an equally magical, zero-cost solution to the taxis and minibus taxis flying down the wrong side of roads, but that’s another story totally.
Business-related travel is another area of low-hanging fruit. Even if your company doesn’t use an online video conferencing and meeting system, it is ridiculously easy to do so on a personal level without compromising security. Anyone who says, we need to evaluate risks of these solutions first, should go back to the stone age. Or spend the required week to do so. The standard encryption offered by most platforms these days is adequate for most business communications. After all, we’re not talking about Board meetings here, but operational business exchanges.
A more chilling observation from Peter in relation to the COVID 19 outbreak is related to business preparedness, or to use real-speak, how to keep the lights on if the worst happens. Well, in the case of the distributed company, or the ones with remote working, they simply continue as usual. It’s the rest of the corporates who will scramble for solutions, squandering valuable time in the process as decisions by Committee await approval.
Peter has powerful support too.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also advise businesses to explore flexible work policies as part of social distancing strategies, if activated. They encourage Managers to direct employees who are able to telework, to do so until situations settle. They understand that eliminating commutes to central, densely populated locations, increases their prevention of outbreaks of disease.
It goes without saying that the right information technology and infrastructure is paramount to support a work from home approach. The big consulting companies, and indeed most technology companies, already have such ecosystems in place, such that I recently met a Big 4 firm Partner who pointed at his backpack and said, that’s my office right there.
How ready are most companies for such a scenario?
There is much talk about closing schools and businesses for months in the event of a pandemic. At the very minimum, all companies should be looking at some form of video conferencing, even if it is just basic video calls, enterprise social networks, even if it is just a closed LinkedIn Group; and cloud-based document management, even if it is just Google Drive. No matter how small the company is, there are solutions.
Yet, as always, it is the large organisations who are the largest spoilers when it comes to embracing distributed tams. While I might have a vested interest in this subject as a founder of a platform enterprise company, my anger at their stubbornness stems from my very real human interest in saving actual lives.
According to Dr Michael J. Ryan, deputy director of WHO’s health emergency program, the COVID 19 outbreak is a reality check for every government.
The likes of Peter and I are extending this to say this should also be a reality check for every Board of Directors and CEO too.