In the Midst of a Global Healthcare Crisis……. Keep in Mind One Important Positive

By: Patricia Walsh Chadwick

There’s no way to minimize the level of worry and fear permeating the community we live in, and that replicates what is happening in villages, towns, cities and countries around the world. As a nation of 330 million people, we’re getting used to waking up each day and scouring the news to find out how many new cases of COVID-19 have erupted overnight and then facing new rules, guidelines and proscriptions intended to minimize our social interactions.

The full impact of this virus on commerce in the local economy (as well as the thousands of connected economies across the country) has yet to be quantified, but we all know it’s not good news.

But truth be told, the economic fallout would be orders of magnitude greater, were it not for the fact that over the last two, five and ten years, companies have invested billions of dollars into technology that is proving to have been sound business planning. While the capability to work remotely was put in place over the course of the past decade, only now is it being put to the test.

Time will tell, but from my direct interaction with major companies across the country, so far so good.
At the most basic level, board meetings – corporate, scholastic, charitable, religious and on and on – are continuing unabated, with empty conference room and active video conferencing, or Zooming (it’s now become its own verb). As an aside, the stock (Symbol: ZM), not surprisingly, has been a stellar performer in this dismal stock market.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, there was an estimate that somewhere between 8 and 10 million of the nearly 160 million people employed in the U.S., were working from home. That figure pales in comparison to the tectonic overnight shift in the workplace. Anecdotal information – available from a review of myriad online articles – leads me to bet there are perhaps as many as 50 million (or more even) Americans who, over the last couple of weeks, have migrated from the office to some space in their home from which they are now working full time.

Examples abound. The largest technology companies – Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and others – which together have more than a million employees in this country alone, assert that they have the capability of allowing most of their employees – around the globe – to work remotely. NASA recently issued mandatory orders for employees to work from home at a number of its operations and it’s encouraging all employees, who can work remotely, to do so.

In the broad spectrum of the financial services sector in this country – companies that include banks, investment management companies, mutual funds, insurance companies, real estate management companies and that employ more than six million Americans – there has been a major migration from the office workplace (corporate headquarters or local offices) to the home. Despite the size of the logistical task executed by hundreds of companies all at once, there have been no headline failures, no Business Continuity Plan disasters.
Ironically, our Federal Government appears to be relatively unprepared to require its hundreds of thousand employees in our Nation’s Capital, Washington DC to comply with its own directive to engage in social distancing. I’m not sure Congress would be understanding of a private sector company that was so ill-prepared for the crisis we are facing.

The preparedness of so many companies to meet the challenges of requiring their employees to work from home in no way minimizes the huge layoffs that are happening and impending in many parts of the service sector of the economy, including food service, lodging and travel. Economic activity in the second quarter of this year will undoubtedly be sharply negative, and unemployment will rise sharply.

The thrust of this piece has been to express appreciation for the technological advances that have been implemented by so many companies, thus mitigating what could have been a true national disaster. Thanks are due both to companies and to their dedicated employees.