Not so random thoughts: COVID-19, the tech world, and all of us

COVID-19 has impacted the entire world - and we are tending to panic about it. Don't. Here's some ideas to consider, resources to check and thoughts that may help.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I'm currently slowly and lazily working on a post about Vlocity the 2020 Watchlist Winner/Vlocity the Salesforce acquisition but in the interim decided that I needed to get some thoughts down on "paper" around the coronavirus outbreak that is currently freaking us all out and emptying the airports, if not the streets.

First, to be clear, I am no expert when it comes to coronaviruses of any kind, or epidemiology, medical practices etc.  I am someone, like most of you reading this, being affected by the dramatic outbreak of this novel coronavirus. So, as a person in our industry, I'm doing a lot of research and reading and am basically of the same mind as Ray Wang and others – this is not a reason to freak out and panic.  It's a reason to respond with the measures that minimize the possibility of infection while the experts do their work and find out how to combat this.

If I was looking at my schedule last week, I'd have said that I had a busy March – and I did. Last week I flew out to San Francisco from Washington Dulles to do an advisory day with Oracle. However, while I was in San Francisco:

  1. Salesforce cancelled its analyst day this week – and announced on a much larger scale that it is cancelling all international and nonessential domestic travel for the month of March.
  2. Adobe cancelled its annual Experience Cloud Summit, which impacts, if past attendance is any indicator, about 15,000 people. They, as are many others (Nvidia, etc) are moving it to become a virtual event.  
  3. Oracle cancelled its MBX/MCX event, which was scheduled toward the end of March. It will be tentatively co-located with Oracle OpenWorld scheduled to take place September 21-24 in Las Vegas.
  4. Zoho cancelled its late April national conference Zoholics, which was to be held in Austin Texas.
  5. Pegasystems cancelled the live PegaWorld, which was to be held May 31 to June 2 and made it a one day June 2, virtual event
  6. Conferences that I'm not attending have been cancelled by the dozens, including most recently SXSW. Multiple other companies are either planning to or thinking about cancelling events and restricting travel.  I'm just waiting for plugs to be pulled.

This had started before I left. When I got to Dulles, it was eerily empty and the flight to San Francisco was light – which is literally the first time I can remember that in years. The Dulles to SFO route is routinely packed – until that day.  The San Francisco airport was pretty busy – maybe 15% -20% down from normal but still busy. On the return, the American Express Centurion Lounge was packed to the walls – so some things can clearly survive this outbreak.

I'm not going to go into all the data.  Suffice to say a large part of the tech industry is working from home.  Several companies – among them Microsoft, Zoho, Google, LinkedIn, Intel, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple – are either mandating work from home, or encouraging it very strongly.

So, I think we can easily conclude, the world is frightened about COVID-19. Having been through the fear of pandemic once before in 2009 with H1N1 aka swine flu, please remember a few things:

  1. The fear is generated because this is new, and we haven't had the time to get our arms around it.
  2. The media are doing a terrible job of explaining and instead are not just pandering to the fear but creating a good deal of it.
  3. The data is going to start coming in shortly, and it will help us understand this.
  4. Humanity, as fractured as it may be, tends to band together to solve crises of pandemic proportions.  And solve them, we do. This too will be solved.
  5. Please spend time reading up on it and take the ordinary precautions you need to take.
  6. Read Ray Wang's post on the Constellation Research blog and also go and read the links that he provides. All in all, that will give you enough info to understand what to do and how to think about it in a reasonable way – and hopefully will alleviate your fear but retain your concern.
  7. Additionally, Ray and his team are running a webcast series on how to handle yourself and your business during the COVID-19 scare that you can access here.
  8. Zoho is offering a suite of remote productivity tools free until July 1, 2020.  Forbes saw this as "sensing an opportunity" which makes me think that Forbes doesn't really fully understand Zoho, though they do admire them. The article does point out that Zoho managed to create this suite which Zoho calls, pretty obviously, Remotely – in  week. While of course it is an opportunity, Zoho does it because it is one of those unique companies that cares about what it does for humanity.  They are devoted to doing good and solving big problems on the earth – e.g. hunger and poverty among them, while at the same time building their "operating system for business." I can guarantee you two things:  first, that the suite is well engineered and will work, allowing you and your colleagues the ability to work from home and still get the work that you would have done at the office, done.  Second, their intent is to help. If something else comes of it, so be it. Get it here.
  9. Personally, I am not only making sure that I am washing up with soap and hot water for 20 seconds and keeping my hands off my face, but I am also suspending normal hugging for the month of March.  As funny as that sounds, that's not easy for me. (Check out this 2013 Huffington Post article by Salesforce Chief Evangelist, and all around wonderful person, Vala Afshar if you don't believe me). Though it is kind of funny.  I did come up with a COVID-19 modified version of a hug which is the equivalent of a body wide fist bump, though not a chest bump. You'll have to come over to see it. I'm not going anywhere this month.

The good that tech companies are doing that should be imitated

  1. The aforementioned Zoho giving away a remote suite.
  2. Microsoft paying their hourly workers full wages even when their hours are reduced. This was followed by Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter and Expedia doing the same thing. 
  3. Microsoft is giving whoever wants it a six month premium Teams subscription so that they can work remotely and collaborate.  Also, as of March 10, the free version will lift the limits of the numbers of users and allow all users to schedule video conferences and calls.
  4. Amazon, Google and Twitter are doing that following Microsoft's footsteps and paying one month's rent for all small businesses that are operating inside the owned buildings of those companies (mostly Amazon in this latter case)
  5. Despite what you may think of Facebook, it is providing unlimited free ad credits thus access to the World Health Organization to promote accurate information on the crisis and moving to stop fear-mongering and fake cure and prevention ads etc. Criticize as  you may, this is a positive step.


Here are some great resources to keep you sane – and safe. Remember, we don't know much about it  yet, including the number of actual cases, due to the unreported/undiscovered cases. The bad news is that there are a lot more most likely – but that means some good news too. That means the percentage of those dying of the coronavirus is likely much smaller than the reported 3.4% of the identified cases. So, again, keep balanced here and sane, not just safe. Let the experts do what they do and listen to those who are neither panicking or promoting panic.  

  1. WHO
  2. CDC (general info)
  3. CDC (resources page)
  4. Ray Wang (blog postings)(webinar series on coronavirus business hacks)
  5. Zoho (to download Remotely)
  6. Five people to follow on Twitter (highly recommended by Chris Anderson, TED founder and Ray Wang):






   7.   A good explanation on why soap and water work so well on viruses like this.

For now, that's about all the support I can provide that stays within what I do actually know. I'm not going to babble on with my "learned" opinion on this, going to areas that I have ZERO expertise in. I'm only going to argue for the one thing I am qualified to argue for – reason rather than panic and fear.

There are no guarantees that we will get through this because nothing in life is guaranteed, but let's just say the odds weigh heavily in our favor. Let me close with something I wrote a few years ago about how I think about the people we as a species, are:

"The very hallmark of continued human social existence has been that each of us as a human, has an infinite capacity to create something that in some way, incrementally and on occasion profoundly impacts the continued existence of society and the human species.  It's happened frequently enough throughout history, with the right combinations of people and resources, to so far, ensure, at least for now, the continued existence and even flourishing of humanity and the cultures and society associated with it, with all their problems, glitches, denial of opportunities, errors of judgment and action, and even criminality. Despite the bad, we survive as a species and grow. Because the good always outweighs the bad, and over time, even if it doesn't seem so, overcomes the bad. That tells you something – human beings, as a rule, are good, not evil, despite the cynics who would have you think otherwise. Complaining doesn't solve problems – finding solutions to the problems solve them."

So, stay safe, stay home as much as you are able and wash your hands with soap and water. We will answer this.

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