For anyone who hasn’t been following the news, the Coronavirus is causing a major stir and having a chilling effect on many public events throughout the world. Concerns about contagion have brought about travel bans, self-quarantines, and forced many high-profile industry gatherings – most recently the gigantic annual E3 and SXSW conferences – to be cancelled altogether.
It’s a well-established fact that curbing group events is an effective way to stop the spread of any virus, from COVID-19 to the common cold. None of this is to say we should stop having public events or stop going out with friends. It’s merely pointing out how showing up to an office every day is not dissimilar to an ongoing group event, and a likely place to spread infection.
There has been a sudden increased awareness around health in the workplace, and an outpouring of policies, articles, and thought-pieces reinforcing taking sick time or encouraging remote work as healthier options. The sideways irony to all this is many companies are finding out that a lot of their jobs don’t really need employees to be in the office in the first place. In doing so they hopefully have also realized the plethora of hidden benefits remote work brings, like improved holistic health, increased morale, greater productivity with less absenteeism, and reduced costs.
Workplace health has always been about public health, and the Coronavirus is waking a lot of people up to that fact. Companies are quick to suggest taking sick leave or staying home. However, a bill to grant emergency sick leave to all Americans was blocked in the Senate, and calling our federal sick leave policies archaic is a mild assessment. So naturally remote work is having a moment. But it shouldn’t take a global pandemic to put that in the spotlight.
It also shouldn’t dim the light on the millions of other workers out there in retail, service, and other frontline industries who are unable to work remotely in the first place. Many of them can’t afford to take days off to get better, and work in jobs that require lots of public interaction. To put it mildly, if you’re issuing press releases about COVID-19 but don’t offer paid sick leave, you’re doing it all wrong.
A Moment to Reflect
The health of any company is only as good as the health of its employees. When we call it a workplace “culture” we’re recognizing the fact that the actions we take in our organizations have a measurable effect on the people and communities around us. While remote work has a moment, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on what your culture says about you, and how we could all be creating healthier workplaces.
In the meantime, please take care of yourself and others, be safe, and keep washing your hands!