What Would a Second Wave of COVID Mean for Remote Work?

You’re already remote - what else can happen?

Hi,

Welcome to Remotely Inclined, a newsletter about running a business remotely. If you’d like to subscribe, you can do so here. Want to share your feedback? Respond to this email (or send me one). Or just read on…

Today: I’m pondering… What does a second wave of COVID mean for remote work? (With an apology for this being a bit delayed!)


COVID accelerated the adoption of remote work perhaps more than the internet. While I still maintain the pandemic is a net negative for remote work, it’s impossible to argue that it didn’t help adoption. However, we’re on the precipice of the dreaded “second wave.” European countries are contemplating full lockdowns while countries like Israel have already done so. Canada and the USA are on the brink of further lockdowns as cases spiral back up to March and April levels. The global media is all but saying that the pandemic could kill the UK

But one thing is markedly different from the first wave to now: The world is already remote.

The remote work challenge in March 2020

When economies went into lockdown in March, the office world faced a barrage of challenges that nearly toppled the world order. But it wasn’t about food supply trade routes. It was about… zoom fatigue. 

In so many words, the office environment had become so entrenched in its physical space that it didn’t bother to think about how to run without it. So when that space was taken away, all hell broke loose. 

The office world faced: 

Communication issues: People seemingly forgot how to have meaningful discussions with people they didn’t run into in a hallway. 

Security issues: Companies had to worry about their data - and keeping customer information safe. 

Innovation issues: What to do when you don’t have the spark of being in the same room with someone. 

Mental health issues: How do you check in with others - and yourself - more effectively. 

Personal issues: This is a global health pandemic. People are dying. 

Was the first wave a practice run?

Understandably, risks of a second lockdown are striking fear into the hearts of many. Should it be the same economic fear, though? Companies that have gone remote now have had months to “practice” getting stuff done. On some level, if they haven’t figured it out by now, was the problem not having an office or was the office masking the problem? 

We then have the advancements in knowledge about COVID itself, namely how it spreads - through air droplets, less so through touch and surfaces. That means we can be even smarter about further COVID prevention. (Especially when you consider the sources of major outbreaks are frat parties and indoor weddings). 

I certainly don’t mean to belittle the economic risks of a second COVID lockdown. There are many essential services that can’t go remote. My comment is instead to suggest a ray of hope: if we go into a second lockdown, we should (hopefully) not see the same number of layoffs from office-based companies, given that they (hopefully) know how to operate and produce value remotely. 

I’m curious to know your thoughts. Do you agree with me? Disagree? Have something else to add? Leave a comment and let’s start the conversation. 

One more thing…

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