More Companies Are Asking Employees to Work From Home As Coronavirus Spreads

Anne ChouFeatures

Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com

As the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on Wednesday with the coronavirus spreading across more than 120 countries and confirmed cases topping 125,000, an increasing number of companies are asking employees to work from home in an effort to stem the escalating public health crisis.

In the U.S., which now has more than 1,600 COVID-19 cases and an escalating response with new European travel restrictions announced by President Trump on Wednesday night, a number of major U.S. companies have already taken this measure.

By the end of last week, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and many other tech companies asked their employees in the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, which has become a U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus, to work remotely as a precautionary measure to prevent the virus’s spread within their workforce. Last Tuesday, Amazon confirmed that one if its employees in Seattle tested positive for COVID-19, and two Microsoft employees in Washington state have also tested positive for the virus.

As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., companies are quickly broadening their work-from-home guidelines. Google increased its response on Wednesday advising all of its staff in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to work from home, after being among the first to ask that employees throughout North America do so. Twitter, which last week had “strongly” encouraged its 4,900 employees worldwide to work from home, also escalated its response on Wednesday by mandating that all employees work from home. On Thursday, Amazon told all of its employees around the world to work remotely if they can do their jobs from home after previously telling employees in some of its offices to work remotely.

While tech companies are better positioned to accommodate work-from-home arrangements because of their existing technology infrastructure, other industries are following suit.

In the banking industry, JPMorgan Chase, which had recently tested the effectiveness of large-scale work-from-home programs, is now planning to implement a staggered work-from-home plan for its New York-area employees, according to Bloomberg News. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a CNN interview on Wednesday that he would ask businesses to help the state slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Other major financial institutions are also taking steps to protect workers and reduce business disruption. Citigroup began splitting its thousands of workers in the New York-area, telling some to work from home and sending others to redundancy sites. Capital One Financial Corp., the third-largest U.S. credit-card issuer, requested that employees work remotely if possible in an effort to reduce density in workplaces.

The situation is ever-evolving as the coronavirus continues to spread, and companies are evaluating how best to protect their workers while minimizing business disruptions. We can expect to see more companies either mandating or giving the option for employees to work from home. However, businesses will have to grapple with how to address the safety and welfare of workers whose jobs cannot be performed remotely. According to a recent Wall Street Journal/Survey Monkey poll, nearly four in 10 workers in the U.S., or 37%, say it isn’t possible for them to do their job by working from home for a period of several weeks.

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