Remote Work Could Prove Essential to the Economy if a Pandemic (COVID-19, etc) Takes Place

March 2nd, 2020:

If COVID-19 is to continue growing, it may become imperative for more businesses (SMB’s to corporates) worldwide to adopt remote work cultures. 

Why? The economy will be dependent on it.

In this post, I’m first going to dive into how remote work relates to work in modern society. Secondly, I’ll touch on how it could help mitigate risk to our health (and society) in a worst case scenario if a pandemic spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is to continue. 

I don’t write this as a scare based post. I write this more as a practical thought exercise on if we (citizens) had to say “bunker down for 3-21 days at home” or if travel mobility was severely hindered. We already do this for snowstorms, hurricanes, etc.

Note: I’m not a scientist (nor do I play one on the internet), but I do have a deep understanding on remote work culture.

Let’s dive in…

Over the last 10-15 years, the ability for oneself to “work remotely” has become more feasible as each year passes. Easy access to the internet, VoIP (voice over internet protocol), and ever emerging software collaboration tools make this all possible.

What is remote work?

In short, remote work is having the ability to perform your everyday job from outside of a typical office setting. You have the freedom to work from home, a local coffee shop, or wherever (as long as you have a stable Wi-Fi connection).

Depending on your line of work, there may (or may not) be limitations placed on your ability to work remotely 100%.

You would be surprised though…there are a wide range of careers that can be performed more efficiently remotely than you might have initially believed.

Let’s comb through a few real world examples using varying professions…..

Technical professions that don’t involve hardware have it the easiest (think backend developers, software engineers, quants, etc). Many of these workers still work in offices today, but 95% of their day to day activities could be performed from a Starbucks. 

If you’re a teacher, your ability to work remotely is quite possible too. Same goes for if you are a business consultant, financial adviser, or project manager. The list goes on….

You might be reading this right now and saying “well that won’t work for my job…..because I have to be there in person to do the work.” 

I hear you….it’s true that there is something unique about face to face interaction. 

But…..if we walked through your day-to-day by the minute for many professions, you’d see that most of your work could be accomplished remotely. 

As a teacher, your classes could be taught through a video call where students tuned in from home. Those planning sessions with fellow teachers could be done virtually too. This practice been done for decades with online education from Ivy Leagues to Khan Academy. A few years ago, I took Intro to Computer Science at Harvard (CS50) online…it’s completely free (pictured below).

As a financial adviser, your workday would just involve less in-person handshakes and more virtual coffee hangouts. 

As a pastor, priest, rabbi, pandit…sermons could be given virtually for a period of time if needed. Many congregations already provide this option for those who can’t attend in person.

One of my own businesses, Prolific Fitness, has been run virtually for a while. We have replaced in-person interaction (a personal trainer in a gym) with virtual communication (direct messaging, video sharing, software).

I use these examples to show that a large chunk of the world’s workforce can work remotely (if needed) in a relatively easy transition.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are various lines of work that do not suit remote work well.

Lines of Work That Do Not Suit Remote Work Well

If you build a product in person (space shuttle, a factory produced good) or work in a hands on service industry (Uber driver, waiter/waitress), you’re more limited in your ability to work remotely. Ride sharing apps won’t have this dilemma in a decade or so though since physical drivers will be removed from the equation. Autonomous vehicles will handling the transportation from point A to B entirely.

The most foundational careers that keep our societies running (farmers, police/fire, hospital workers, doctors/nurses, etc) also don’t work well remotely.

Without these individuals, the rest of the economy would crumble. 

Deep thought from the government will have to go into how to keep first line workers safe since a fully remote option is not realistic in regards here.

In the case of a mandatory work stoppage, if your line of work doesn’t fit the bill for remote work, you’ll either be forced to adapt to different work (temporarily if needed) or risk a shortage of financial means. This is a scenario that no one wishes.

Within a country like China, the government has complete authority to enforce travel restrictions as a means to try to control spread of the virus, but this practice may not bode so well in more independent democratic societies such as the United States, Canada, and countries of the European Union.

If a pandemic is to arise, the primary factor prohibiting many workplaces from adapting to remote work culture will be the owners strong beliefs about an office culture and/or stubbornness not to change.

Remote work has it’s downsides too. Physical work environments provide an intimate sense of belonging, community, and connectivity.

I’m not shunning in-person interaction here though. 

I am speaking specifically in terms of if a situation were to arise that a physical work stoppage were needed due to a global pandemic.

Now that we’ve covered remote work…let’s delve into the fiscal side of things (note: we’ll keep it brief here since it’s much too early to speculate on financial outcomes long term. It’s March 1, 2020.

With over 1.4 billion people, China has one of the largest markets in the world. Everything from Apple iPhones to large manufacturing products are all produced in mainland China. 

Only 2 months since the initial outbreak of the disease in Wuhan (Hubei Province), the Chinese economy has come to a massive halt. A few weeks ago, over $390 billion was wiped off the stock market and several exchanges closed due to selloff fear.

We’ve now starting to see the financial effect of the virus on a global level. 

Stock exchanges in the US to Europe have seen the hit hard. Both the S & P and DOW have fallen this past week in dramatic fashion.

They’re getting to correction level lows, but there’s still reason to take note financially….we’re seeing some of the worst weekly losses since the 2008 recession. 

The economic impact could get much worse if the virus doesn’t get contained. 

Time will be the true judge……no reason to speculate more here until it plays out further. It’s important to note though that some of the world’s largest companies have already taken a gut punch in Q1 of 2020.

In closing, no one (not even the scientists) know for certain what will occur moving forward regarding COVID-19 at this point.

What I hope you can take away from this article is simply thinking about how if a situation were to arise, how would you handle it?

Would your employer be open to the idea of remote work?

If not, what would be the best plan of action be for you?

Because if a pandemic is too arise (whether now or in future years), ensuring hundreds of millions of workers still have the ability to work and keep the economy functioning as best as possible will be essential.

In the meantime, feel free share this post…..then go wash your hands (you probably haven’t cleaned your keyboard or phone screen in a while).


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