With the whole of Italy’s 60 million population in lockdown and other countries taking drastic measures to control the coronavirus outbreak, the tech-giant companies are now asking their employees to work remotely.
Due to fears of COVID-19 spreading through large numbers of staff, Google had already announced last week that it was temporarily closing its office in Dublin and asking the 8,000 employees to work from home. Google has more than 70 offices in 50 countries and back at the end of January, Google also temporarily closed its offices in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan when the outbreak was still mainly based in China.
Amazon, which restricted all nonessential travel in the U.S for employees as of last month has, after an employee tested positive for coronavirus, asked workers from its Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, offices to work from home until the end of the month.
In addition to cancelling its annual developer conference which was due to be held on May 5 and 6 in San Jose, California (which attracted 5,000 people last year), Facebook has closed its Seattle office and asked all 5,000 of the office’s employees to work from home until the end of the month. Facebook has also closed its three London offices after an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19 and all 3,000 employees from those offices have been asked to work from home.
After an employee of Slack returned from travel and was suspected to have contracted COVID-19 (which turned out not to be the case), Slack closed its offices in San Francisco at the end of last week and a deep clean of the premises took place at the weekend. Meanwhile, employees were encouraged to work from home.
Microsoft has advised its Seattle and San Francisco employees that they can work from home until March 25th, Twitter has encouraged its employees to work from home, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has encouraged employees at several global offices to “work remotely from March 9th to 13th”.
One piece of positive news for Apple, however, is that all but four of Apple’s stores in mainland China, which is a vital market for Apple, have now reopened after being closed there during the main coronavirus outbreak.
Some scepticism about closures and reactions to the coronavirus outbreak has been expressed by Elon Musk who tweeted that the “coronavirus panic is dumb”, a tweet that was liked by around 2 million people.
In the UK last week, prime minister Boris Johnson announced in parliament that new rules will mean that statutory sick pay (SSP) will come into force on the first day of absence in order to make those who feel they may have the virus and want to self-isolate, by staying at home rather than coming into the office and potentially infecting others.
Tech Industry, Work From Home
On the plus side, the nature of many tech industry jobs means that working from home is perhaps more possible than for many other industries, and for the UK as a whole, a 2019 CIPD Job Quality Index survey reported that 54% of the UK’s workforce works flexibly.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
For those businesses that can’t easily allow employees to work home e.g. manufacturing, bricks and mortar retail, construction, events and entertainment, transport and logistics etc, the threat of a shutdown of work for what could be an unspecified period creates a real threat to the life of the business. The situation also presents a threat to many small businesses, sole traders, and self-employed people who may not have resources to last-out ‘lockdowns’, self-isolating, disruptions and complications caused by the spread of the coronavirus.
For companies that are forced to close offices, they now need to make sure that relevant staff can access company systems and intranets remotely, and that they have VPNs installed.
This situation is also a reminder of how business continuity planning and disaster recovery plans should have disease epidemic and pandemic scenarios built-in to them for the future, and this situation is likely to expose what work needs to be done by many companies in this areas of planning.