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COVID-19: Time to go virtual

How does the curse go: “may you live in interesting times?” And so we find ourselves in the chaotic times of COVID-19, now officially a pandemic according to the WHO. Amidst the stock market market tumbles exceeding the 1987 crash, borders closing, travel being restricted, and inboxes filling with messages either of re-assurance to safely travel, or event and meeting cancellations, we try and continue to work as though nothing is happening.

We’ve started seeing and hearing of companies directing a work-from-home policy, effective now, or any day now. Looking around the world we can see more severe lockdowns, and consistent talk of ‘flattening the curve’ – trying to control the spread, and crossing over to where infections, and deaths, go vertical as they have in Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan already. Every now and then we get a globe-trotting celebrity, sportsperson or politician having to work out who they touched and where they went since contracting the disease somewhere on their travels. Government-lead initiatives to restrict travel, crowds, gatherings, meetings, and mixing of potential carriers with those particularly vulnerable continue to be announced; and there will be many more. Our leaders tell us not to panic, while supermarket aisles sit empty.

In our industry there is good penetration of digital, virtual and remote technology that makes working from home nearly as good as being in an office. Better, if you need to get some large blocks of quiet work or thinking done. The collaboration experience continues to improve with the technology and as we train ourselves on the etiquette. More recent virtual meetings I’ve attended have not had the initial 10 minutes lost to ‘setting up the tech’ as you would no doubt have experienced. While chaos gets more likely with larger groups on a conference, improving tech and experience helps. There are plenty of tips out there for setting yourself up to work more effectively in a remote setting, such as this excellent guide to remote collaboration.

With all of this in mind, what better way to end-run the situation of disease spread and inconvenience then, than to ‘call it’ and decide to ‘go virtual?’ You may be among the first; but pretty soon you won’t be alone.

This means:

  • Don’t travel anywhere. Even if it’s safe to go somewhere now, it may be declared unsafe while you are there. You might not be able to return without time in quarantine somewhere. What if you needed to get back in a hurry? With reduced capacity on airlines and other transport, it may add to the stress of needing a quick return to base.
  • Don’t go to that conference. Many conferences are either cancelled, postponed, or going virtual. This is a hint: they can’t guarantee your safety, so why risk it?
  • Make that meeting virtual. If you have the technology to attend a meeting over video conference, do it. Many of the leading platforms – Google Meeting, Zoom Video, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, are extending or promoting free trial periods to help you get started easily.
  • Stay disciplined. Working from home comes with the temptations that mean you can wander off, do personal things or just not be productive. There are many guides out there, such as this short and effective one for entrepreneurs.
  • Change up your priorities. If you have more quiet time working at home, get to some of those things that have been bouncing along on your list that require an hour or two of research, reading, or thinking. You don’t urgently need to chase up that sales lead or call back now – and the target may also appreciate a bit of extra space.
  • Look after each other. When you go virtual it’s easy to become isolated. Keep in touch with colleagues and friends, virtually. Check in at least once a day to see if folks are OK. A chat over the phone with a coffee in hand can help. So can being in a chat channel, where you can be more connected with your team – even if you tune out to get stuff done sometimes.

Although it’s hard to set a timeframe for when things settle down and it’s safer to move around and be in crowds, it’s fair to say we’re going to need to work this way for weeks, if not months to come. The great news is, we’ll all be experts at it soon enough, and we might even build a bit more remote work into our routine. Anyone who has the luxury of a day at home every now and then, or even every week, enjoys the balance, peace, and productivity. I hope you do, too.

Anthony Woodward is the CEO and Founder of Accelera