Prevent COVID-19 with a Webcam

by Dave Michels

99% of confirmed cases of the Coronavirus have been in China, but it won’t stay that way. It has worked its way into 27 countries, and continues to spread. We have recently seen outbursts in Singapore and now Italy. While there’s only a few isolated cases in the US, it’s unlikely to stay that way. people wearing face masks

The spread of COVID-19 is inevitable. It is very contagious and infected people carry it before realizing they have it. Of the more than 600 passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan that tested positive, about half had no obvious COVID-19 symptoms. It spreads so quickly that many believe that containment strategies are more accurately described as delay tactics. 

The disease is going to wreak havoc in unexpected ways. We have already seen a sample of this in China. Of course, people stayed home, but the repercussions were broad. People stayed home, but that meant they didn’t go to movies, restaurants, and amusement parks. We don’t hear about how this impacts their economy, but we do hear that Starbucks, Nike, and Disney had to revise their forecasts. Disney expects that it might lose $280M while its regional parks are closed (that’s just ‘regional’ parks). In February, Apple informed investors it won’t meet its quarterly forecast. 

At the risk of political incorrectness, I will say there’s always a few bright spots in every disaster. There are some clear winners in the healthcare sector. Another benefactor will be the rise and acceptance of video and other virtual work enablers. 

There’s lots of advice out there on how to avoid getting sick. You can regularly and thoroughly wash your hands, you can wear a face mask, eat a low fiber diet, and get plenty of rest. But, here’s the best tip: don’t go to work. Don’t commute on trains or planes, and don’t physically interact with customers and colleagues. 

The public is going to become much more accepting of telework this year. And not just for general office workers either. I expect we will see an increase in work-at-home call center agents, and a big expansion in telehealth. Medical offices are full of contagious diseases, so scheduling online doctor appointments when possible will become preferred by patients and doctors. Coronavirus will change our perception of what constitutes a safe workplace. Or, more specifically, when does an employer become liable for providing an unsafe work environment?  Can an employer require employees to come to work if A) if they can work remotely, and/or B) if other employees have become sick? 

I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I am confident that 2020 is the year that teleworking transitions from a matter of preference to a matter of safety. If the disease spreads in the US (it will) teleworking is going to be the best containment strategy. There’s already lots of reasons to reduce travel and commuting. It’s expensive, it’s not the best use of time, commuting can be dangerous, it’s unpleasant (TSA, airlines, taxis, rental car counters, delays, etc.), and oh the carbon impact is destroying our planet. Coronavirus just might be the one to convince the holdouts. 

I doubt providers will actually promote teleworking as a preventative measure against Coronavirus. However, I do expect a massive shift (from providers and buyers) on the importance of teleworking — and it’s about time.