Recently, I wrote about how companies who historically did not support work-from-home policies had begun putting them into place as a result of COVID-19 (aka the coronavirus), and how that was a good thing. I wrote that I hoped companies would realize the measures they put in place out of fear could work just as well in the absence of it.
I wasn't personally afraid, or even mildly concerned, about COVID-19 last week.
But a lot has changed since then.
The world's wake-up call likely happened when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Concerned about how fast the virus is spreading, the WHO labelled COVID-19 a pandemic, "to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops" in order to contain its spread.
Following the declaration, governments around the world have responded with various quarantine and "social distancing" measures:
* Italy has quarantined its population of 60 million; residents are, "not permitted to travel outside areas where they live unless they can prove they are doing so for medical reasons, a work-related need or an emergency or because they are returning home. Large gatherings and outdoor events, including sports, have been banned, while bars and restaurants will have to close by dusk. Schools and universities will also be closed."
* US President Donald Trump just instituted a 30-day travel ban on 26 European countries, drawing the ire of European leaders who correctly point out that COVID-19, "is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action." Right idea, wrong execution.
* California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to cancel or postpone gatherings of 250 or more people statewide to slow the spread of the disease through at least March; he issued an executive order and made it clear during a news conference, "that he considers the directive to be mandatory." (Oddly, the directive does not include casinos, theatres and large parks like Disneyland “because of the complexity of their unique circumstances,” Newsom said.)
* In a similar move, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio declared a State of Emergency, limiting gatherings of more than 500 people. De Blasio's declaration does include theatres -- including every theatre on Broadway, all of which can hold more than 500 people -- so if you had tickets to see Hamilton, you're out of luck.
* Ontario Mayor Doug Ford, in a move deemed, "necessary to keep people safe" and, "based on the advice of Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health" just ordered all publicly-funded schools to be closed from March 14 to April 5, extending the scheduled March Break for an additional two weeks. As an Ontario resident, I believe closing the schools is the right thing to do to help contain the spread of COVID-19... but also recognize doing so will have a serious and significant impact on working parents who will need to either find emergency childcare services or take unplanned (and possible, unpaid) time-off.
And the list goes on.
These measures can be considered extreme. But they're also necessary.
It's become more apparent that the threat of COVID-19 isn't in its fatality rate (which remains relatively low), it's in how rapidly the virus is spreading, and what that means to the people who are more at risk. I'm still not worried about personally dying from the coronavirus (because I'm a healthy man in my early 40's), but I'm increasingly worried at the thought of getting the virus and unknowingly passing it along to someone who could.
We expect our governments to make public health and safety a top priority in times like these.
So what should we expect from our companies?
We should expect companies to be proactive.
Over the past two days, I've gotten emails from Cineplex, Instacart, and my local CrossFit gym. The messages have all essentially been the same: we're not closing our doors, but we're taking steps to ensure we're creating safe environments for you. Practically, not every company can afford to shut its doors until COVID-19 is fully contained, but those that remain open have a responsibility to create environments that are as safe as possible.
We should expect companies to be flexible.
Not just with work-from-home arrangements, but with purchases that may need to be refunded. For example, many airlines have decided to waive their usual change-fees providing you give just 24-hours notice, so that people who are no longer able (or willing) to travel don't find themselves at a loss. That's the right thing to do, and it's the type of move that will earn customer loyalty. Conversely, companies who aren't flexible -- or who pretend to be, but bury exceptions in the fine print -- will ultimately pay the price. (I'm looking at you, Sunwing: requiring 14-days' notice before a penalty-free change can be made isn't reasonable under these circumstances, and anybody negatively impacted by your inflexible policy isn't likely to forgive you.)
We should expect companies to be fair.
People are panicking, and stocking up on items like face-masks, toilet-paper, and hand-sanitizer... and some companies are seeing this as an opportunity to raise prices. Companies who choose to do this may be acting legally, but they aren't acting ethically, and they certainly aren't earning any customer goodwill for when the COVID-19 situation subsides. (Kudos to Facebook, eBay, and Amazon for the steps they have taken to stop price-gouging on selecting products related to the coronavirus scare.)
We should expect companies to be compassionate.
"Walmart, Uber and other major companies announced new policies to grant paid leave or other compensation to workers who contract the new coronavirus or are quarantined by order of the government or their companies... the changes could help hourly and gig-economy workers in the service industry who do not normally receive paid time off, and who would bear an especially difficult burden of lost wages," according to the New York Times. Not everybody can work from home, and not everybody can afford to stay home when they're sick. Companies who say they care about their people now have the opportunity to prove it.
We should expect companies to put people over profits.
The Walt Disney Company announced it is closing its Disneyland Resort (Anaheim, CA), Walt Disney World Resort (Orlando, FL) and Disneyland Paris on account of the coronavirus pandemic, stating the closures were, “in the best interest of our guests and employees.” All three resorts will stay closed through the end of the month. The company is also suspending new departures for its Disney Cruise Line beginning tomorrow, a measure that will at least last until the end of the month.
All major sports are shutting down temporarily on account of the coronavirus, because introducing just a few infected people into a sports arena packed with thousands and thousands of people would be a really easy way for the virus to spread.
Disney, the sports leagues, and all other organizations who are choosing to close in order to help protect their customers are likely suffering enormous economic losses as a result of their decisions. But it's the right thing to do for their customers, their employees, and for society at large, and people tend to remember when companies do the right thing in times of crisis.
We're all in this together.
I've long considered myself a capitalist, and I think it's a company's responsibility to make money. But not at all costs, and certainly not during exceptional times like we find ourselves in today.
We're all in this together. So let's all act like it.
PS> If you want a really comprehensive, chart-filled read on COVID-19 and why things like social distancing are so crucial, read this.