The stock market just suffered its largest single day drop, stoked by concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Economic forecasters are predicting reduced corporate profits, and many corporations are providing guidance that indicates challenging financial performance for 2020.
While doomsday predictions are starting to look extreme, fears of a pandemic are leading many to paint a picture of closed businesses, quarantined consumers and epic binge-watching as newly minted shut-ins overwhelm Netflix servers.
Temporarily closed factories would no doubt cause problems for workers who are instructed to stay home, but white collar workers should be able to remain productive by embracing a virtual approach. Ironically, those who can adapt may realize they are far more productive working from home than in an office setting.
At Enterprise Health, we started working virtually from our inception. One of our founders is a software developer who would much rather write code at home than take the time to drive into the office. He made it clear he would most often work virtually, and he encouraged those of us who were interested to do the same. While we have more than enough office space for our entire organization, on any given day you will find no more than 25 percent of our staff on site.
To support virtual operations, every employee has their own conference bridge built into our phone system, and we are heavy users of Webex. Some of us use video, while some of us (yours truly included) have covered up their cameras so those on the other end of the line do not have to see what we look like in pajamas. Most important, we have made it clear to our staff that working from home is perfectly fine.
When I joined our company nearly 15 years ago, I lived more than two hours away from the office and fully intended to make the trek at least once a week. I also wondered if I would have the self-discipline required to work at home. I would now be hard-pressed to report to an office every day, and my productivity has more than doubled.
The math is simple. I do not waste time every morning “getting ready for work.” My commute lasts 20 seconds as I walk from the kitchen to my home office. Time wasted at the water cooler and “Lord, get me of this conversation” scenarios are a distant memory. I get up, pour a cup of coffee, start working, and work pretty much continuously with few distractions. I attend meetings, but I do so via teleconference. My colleagues and clients do the same, and we have learned to collaborate effectively from a distance. We are all more productive, and we all enjoy working remotely. In fact, our employees see the ability to work this way as one of the primary benefits of being part of Enterprise Health.
Drawbacks are few. My wife does remind me periodically to shower and to get up and walk around. And when I called her early on to ask if lunch was ready in the break room, I was forced to endure an at-home performance review. We build in time for face-to-face meetings and retreats where we can work in person. We make a point of visiting our clients periodically rather than relying solely on virtual interactions.
If the coronavirus does cause the disruptions many are predicting, Enterprise Health is well suited to keep working virtually with nary a hiccup — it’s what we do today and every day. We are confident we will be able to support our clients and operate on a business-as-usual basis. If there is a silver lining to what appears to be a serious black cloud, it is the notion that more businesses will see the value in working virtually — first as a necessary response to this outbreak, and long-term as a way to enhance productivity and job satisfaction.