Teleworking and the Coronavirus Crisis: Challenges and the Way Forward

May 28, 2020
Although not all work sectors have this possibility, many companies are opting for teleworking in order to try to contain COVID-19 infections. However, doing so is also a challenge, a challenge that forces us to take certain factors into account.

Winston Churchill said he didn’t care about action; what really bothered him was inaction. Every challenge, whether economic, military, or social, requires us to be able to accept and deal with change. Teleworking and the coronavirus crisis are urgent issues that the whole world is facing at the moment. Most countries are taking this seriously, and it’s something that we should all prepare for.

It’s clear that not all areas of work or companies can afford this option. However, the bulk of the labor market is practically obliged to do so… if not now, then in the coming weeks. Are we perhaps being alarmist in suggesting this? Not at all. The vast majority of business entities are already suggesting taking the step, and not only for prevention.

One thing we must understand about today’s world is interdependence. The now classic metaphor of a butterfly fluttering describes what we’re all experiencing very well. What happens at one part of the planet affects another.

What happens in one productive and business sphere ends up reaching other countries and sectors. The labor market isn’t an island; it’s a very complex web, similar to a spider’s web in many ways. When one part is shaken, the whole structure moves.

We really do need to unite and act with responsibility, empathy, and intelligence. If teleworking is the option being taken by a good number of organizations, then it’s the step that others must take as well.

Something like this is a challenge, a challenge that can also bring us very positive results in the long term. Let’s analyze this in detail.

Teleworking and coronavirus: what challenges lie ahead?

COVID-19 isn’t just a normal virus. Its presence is now affecting many sectors in our society: financial, labor, tourism, education, and, also, obviously, health.

In the face of this threat and the uncertainty that it’s generating, the best response is joint action. Measures need to be agreed upon along with experts, with the firm confidence that this challenge will be overcome.

The direct implication of this is that the labor market will have to make changes in order to mitigate risks and, as far as possible, contain the infection. And, of course, one of the options that companies are adopting is teleworking.

China was the first to implement this strategy. Its measures helped to shield and protect several cities and millions of people. Many of its companies are still operating remotely from home, as well as through video conferences and other electronic communication methods.

Now the rest of the world is starting to react in the same way. The experiences we’re seeing so far are as follows:

Companies taking action: working from home

Teleworking amid the coronavirus crisis shows us that we’re capable of accepting this challenge. However, maybe we’re a little out of practice.

The biggest problem today is a factor that’s very difficult to control: fear. This is causing many companies to opt for remote work from one day to the next.

  • Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, CNN, Citigroup, Ford, and Twitter have asked their employees to start working from home. This has forced them to suddenly remove the emergency protocols in this type of situation. As a result, they’ve discovered that they have to become up to date on quite a few points.
  • Many corporations have chosen to send their employees home while they clean and sanitize offices.
  • Face-to-face job interviews are now being banned. Previously, the option of selecting staff by teleconference was conducted in 20% of cases and only in certain companies. Now, however, it’s something that will be done on an ongoing and more general basis.
  • Japan’s largest advertising agency is now opting for remote working.
  • Northern Italy, the area in Europe currently with the highest number of infected people, was the first area in Europe to be quarantined. Italy as a whole is also implementing the teleworking option.
  • Business travel has been restricted. Most international conferences, congresses, and fairs are being closed or canceled. One way to continue the flow of communication and business feedback between countries is teleconferencing.

Teleworking, more than just working from home

However, not all job categories have this option. Doctors, nurses, and different types of health workers are undoubtedly the most vulnerable group at the moment. Also, they have the greatest responsibility in these days.

In addition to the health sector, the economy needs other sectors such as commerce, transport, and agriculture, among others. To continue to function, supplying us with everything we need and ensuring that life continues normally. However, any company that has the possibility of carrying out its work remotely and from home will simply have to take this step.

The goal is simple: to contain the number of infected people and, at the same time, to act in harmony with all the other companies that also carry out their work in this way. But how should they do this? What are the real challenges of teleworking amid the coronavirus crisis?

Teleworking and the coronavirus: what strategies should we implement?

Remote working is more than just working from home. A protocol, a strategy, and follow-up are needed. Likewise, we can’t ignore the current context of COVID-19 itself. Therefore, these are the guidelines we should consider:

  • Teleworking has particular working conditions that the worker must be aware of.
  • Companies should create the figure of the e-Leader. This is the person who will design, control, and evaluate teleworking in the organization.
  • Businesses must create virtual teams to draw up specific goals and guidelines to enforce between colleagues and managers.
  • They must create tools to analyze progress, performance, and achievements.
  • Time management is crucial: organizing both individual and group work.
  • The worker must be able to separate their working life from their family life and responsibilities.
  • In turn, it’s necessary to develop skills such as motivation in the face of this new way of working. Other skills to develop should include responsibility, creativity, proper communication at a distance, confidence, and loyalty, among others.

Transparency in communication: empathy as an everyday resource

Finally, companies such as Amazon, Uber, or Microsoft have all warned us of one specific area of concern. Remote working can increase the fear of the virus and rumors and misconceptions can spread easily. For this reason, these companies have considered creating specific areas where management and employees can send and receive memos.

The idea is to keep their employees informed about what steps the organization is taking. This will include information about office cleaning, restricting trips abroad, and if there are any infected people in the company. The aim is to avoid panic and quell fears about possible layoffs or closures of branches, among others. Transparency creates trust. Empathic communication creates positive links in an organization.

To conclude, teleworking in the coronavirus crisis is a reality. If we learn from this experience and act together, giving our all, then we’ll all come out stronger. It’s time to be proactive and act with confidence.