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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.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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.  

Coronavirus: How to clean and disinfect your tech gadgets

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. 

The modern workforce—and the companies that employ them—have increasingly embraced the concept of telecommuting. The benefits are well documented, including stress reduction, increased productivity, a wider talent pool, and better employee retention rates. Even so, it's important to establish ground rules to keep the remote work program effective and manageable. This set of policies will help guide you and your remote workers toward a successful telecommuting arrangement.

As more and more employees request the opportunity to perform some or all of their work from a remote location, the need has grown for organizations to have clearly defined guidelines that govern employee and company expectations and responsibilities.

This policy describes the organization's processes for requesting, obtaining, using, and terminating access to organization networks, systems, and data for the purpose of enabling staff members to regularly work remotely on a formal basis.

This policy outlines guidelines and processes for requesting, obtaining, using, and terminating remote access to organization networks, systems, and data. It applies to scenarios where employees connect remotely to in-house data centers as well as offsite facilities, such as cloud providers. The download includes a PDF version, along with a Word version to make customization easier.

As more and more users work from remote locations, the need for secure access to networks, systems, and data continues to grow. This policy provides guidelines to help IT ensure that VPNs are properly deployed and outlines acceptable use policies for end users on company-issued and personal devices.

Natural and man-made disasters can jeopardize the operations and future of any company, so it's critical to develop a plan to help ensure ongoing business processes in a crisis. This download explains what needs to go into your DR/BC plan to help your organization prepare for—and recover from—a potential disaster.

Risk management involves the practice of addressing and handling threats to the organization in the form of cybersecurity attacks and compromised or lost data. The process of establishing appropriate risk management guidelines is critical to ensure company operations and reputation do not suffer adverse impact.

It's not an easy process, achieving a sound risk management foundation, because of all the moving parts involved: Users, systems, network, data, remote or cloud locations, and other elements can produce a level of complexity difficult to tame. The approach must involve both the overall forest as well as individual "trees."

The purpose of this Risk Management Policy from TechRepublic Premium is to provide guidelines for establishing and maintaining appropriate risk management practices. This policy can be customized as needed to fit the needs of your organization.

When computer systems won't work, business grinds to a halt—and that costs your enterprise money. With the help of this tool, you can estimate just how much each downtime incident costs.

Business travel can be stressful and exhausting, but seasoned road warriors know a thing or two about minimizing the hassles and making trips go smoothly. This ebook rounds up advice from professionals who travel regularly on business

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