How coronavirus COVID-19 is accelerating the future of work

The coronavirus is forcing enterprises to rethink the way they do business and dust off policies for security, business continuity, and remote workers. Chances are that some of these efforts will stick.

The coronavirus could make remote work the norm, what businesses need to know

The coronavirus outbreak may speed up the evolution of work and ultimately retool multiple industries as everything from conferences to collaboration to sales and commercial real estate are rethought.

China combatted the COVID-19 outbreak with quarantines and school and business closures. The supply chain still hasn't recovered, and the parade of companies issuing profit warnings has picked up this week. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control in the US indicated that quarantines and other measures are likely in the US. Travel abroad and to conferences has also been limited and impacted other businesses ranging from airlines to restaurants to retail.

But in the grand scheme of things, the coronavirus scare may just accelerate changes in work already in play. Collaboration has relied more on video. Travel bans may retool sales and marketing practices as companies realize maybe those cross-country flights for drinks and dinner don't deliver economic returns. And if most of the workforce can work from home without productivity loss, it's going to be hard to justify commercial real estate costs. 

Simply put, the coronavirus scare may just show us a better way to work. How enterprises navigate the coronavirus and changes to work will be telling. One thing is certain: The coronavirus is likely to mean the definition of business, as usual, will change. 

A few mileposts to consider:

  • At the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference in New York in early February, Chinese researchers mostly delivered their talks via video conferencing or canned presentations due to travel bans. The AAAI conference was lucky in that it was actually able to convene. Facebook's F8 and Mobile World Congress are two high-profile conferences that have been cut. Perhaps video conferences are the future.
  • Consumer behavior in China has already been altered and may not revert. The rest of the world may see similar inflection points. Alibaba CEO Yong Zhang noted:

"Seventeen years ago, the e-commerce business experienced tremendous growth after SARS. We believe that adversity will be followed by change in behavior among consumers and enterprises and bring ensuing opportunities. We have observed more and more consumers getting comfortable with taking care of their daily living needs and working requirements through digital means. We are confident in the ongoing digitization of China's economy and society and are ready to see the opportunity to build the foundation for the long-term growth of Alibaba's digital economy."

  • Remote work is being considered by a wider group of people. Today, the average worker is in the office, but now needs to test access, ergonomics and meeting access pronto. Why? The CDC advises. if anyone is seeing symptoms that may be coronavirus related, they should stay home.
  • Worker health is being brought to the forefront. Multiple executive comments have noted that employee health is a paramount concern and things like cleaning and sterilization are being prioritized. 

Also: Disinfection robots bypass coronavirus blockade Robots are now helping fight the coronavirus

Coronavirus accelerates work reinvention; profits keep it in place

Zhang said that coronavirus is likely to alter how consumers conduct business in China. In the US, buying behavior may also change. Ultimately, coronavirus is going to lead to more efficient operations and perhaps lead to better work practices and profits. While coronavirus will hit certain parts of the economy hard, enterprises may see real savings.


  1. Travel expenses will fall. Once enterprises realize you can survive with a lot fewer face-to-face interactions, travel expenses will be questioned more. Remember that the initial argument for video conferencing was that enterprises would see returns due to travel savings.
  2. The use of automation will be accelerated to augment the workforce. 
  3. Commercial real estate costs fall. Once remote work becomes more of the norm, the need for hulking corporate complexes diminishes. This move toward more adaptable commercial real estate has been underway for a while, but coronavirus may accelerate the trend.
  4. HR practices will change. Fewer humans in one confined space may mean fewer human resource issues and investigations. Already stretched HR departments could allocate their time better.

At first, the demand hit from the coronavirus is likely to eclipse savings, but there will be efficiencies that stay.  

Your coronavirus enterprise toolkit

While work contingency plans are being formed, it's worth revisiting your existing policies and filling in gaps. Here are IT policies that apply to potential coronavirus impacts. 

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