March 9, 2020

"The coronavirus is putting remote work to a gigantic test, and at a totally unprecedented scale."

"Throughout China, Italy, Japan and South Korea, workers have been on lockdown. Last week, the same happened in Seattle. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google all told employees there to remain home.... In fact, remote work isn't always possible. Fewer than half could do so at least some of the time, according to one Gallup survey. Hourly workers don't get paid if they don't work, and those in retail, manufacturing, or health care usually must be physically present to work.... 'I don't believe people are as productive at home'...."

From "Laundry Between Emails: Working From Home Goes Viral In The Time Of Coronavirus" (NPR).

35 comments:

Yancey Ward said...

When I was still working, there isn't a lot I could have done from home- some, but not the important stuff (I was medicinal chemist working in drug design/synthesis).

Of course, the major class breakdown here will be salaried vs hourly workers. Hourly workers might be able to not go to work for a month, but no longer than that.

Yancey Ward said...

And, yes, people working from home will be far less productive unless you literally put a camera on them, or some other full-proof method of surveillance.

Char Char Binks said...

When a few octogenarians get the sniffles, well, then everyone loses their minds!

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Definitely not as productive at home. And if they close the schools, forget it.

Mr. Pants has been a remote employee for five years, working at home when he’s not traveling to work with clients. We’ve just moved our longstanding home office into space in an office building. There are too many distractions at home, for both of us, to truly focus. I am not even employed but managing a large home and running a household of 8 busy, active people requires a fair amount of administration and being in a different setting without hands-on domestic needs allows me to concentrate. And he spends a lot of time talking on the phone and doing thought work and especially with summer break coming up, he needs to be outside of our house where he’s not getting interrupted every six minutes.

I imagine that people who are used to different kinds of distraction, such as what you find in a busy office, might have weird transition to a quiet home (as long as the kids are still in school) but filled with all your personal business that wants your attention.

Chris said...

I telecommute once a week. I'm a advanced product engineer. Am I as productive at home than when I am at work? Depends. Some days I have a TON to get done, whether I am home or at the office doesn't matter, it still needs to get done. Other days less so. The point is, I can be JUST as unproductive at work as I can be Productive at home, and vice versa. If your work ethic sucks, It's gonna suck at home or at the office.

tim maguire said...

Under the right conditions, I can be much more productive at home than I can at the office. But there are things that can only be done by showing up.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

His company closed all office in the Western Hemisphere for the next two months; everyone is directed to work from home, and hourly workers are basically on furlough but will continue to be paid. The company is also paying hourly workers an allowance for sanitation items and for child care if the schools close. Now let’s hope the economy doesn’t completely crash into a ditch so they can make some money in coming quarters to pay for all of this.

Scott Adams thinks it’s no big deal for everyone to basically stop working or work from home, but a bias toward white collar lifestyle is one of his blind spots. He doesn’t think much about people who need their paycheck from working the register at Walmart to feed their kids.

Enlighten-NewJersey said...

I was more productive working from home. Fewer interruptions, easier to concentrate in my quiet home and I could devote more hours to work without my daily 4 hour commute (2 hours each way).

Michael K said...

I imagine that people who are used to different kinds of distraction, such as what you find in a busy office, might have weird transition to a quiet home (as long as the kids are still in school) but filled with all your personal business that wants your attention.

My DIL has run a marketing business from home for years while raising her kids. She does travel to meetings ever few months but has resisted requests to relocate, to Chicago for example. My son is a fireman and gone three days a week, so her burden is greater. Their kids are now teenagers so the load is less but she has done a terrific job all these years. Her income is about three times his.

Kevin said...

I've worked from home for 10 years. It definitely isn't for a lot of people. But they'll still be more productive doing it than being sick or in the ICU or dead.

bagoh20 said...

Human nature assures us that a lot of people will be using this virus for an excuse to work from home. Later, all potential contagions must be avoided by staying home and still getting paid regardless of productivity. First, it will be a request, and very soon a right that Democrats will put into legislation which will force even more of the rest of us to work harder to pay for the slackers who constantly find new help in avoiding work and the sacrifices involved in it. Activists and politicians continuously burden the same people - those willing to work hard - and force us to carry an ever growing load of entitled slackers.

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

I've been working from home for the last 18 years. Most of the people in the teams I work with also work from home. I've never had productivity problems. In fact I find myself working more hours when my office is only a few steps away.

bagoh20 said...

It is my opinion from experience being both the employee and the employer of such that people working from home who claim to be as or more productive there are fooling themselves and/or the rest of us. At work, you are forced to concentrate on work, and have better access to tools, colleagues, and information than you do at home. The big difference is that your other life has a hard time getting to you at work. At home it is staring you right in the face. It's kind of like arguing that you drive better while talking on your phone. You can work longer hours at home, because you can do it unwashed and undressed, etc, but on an hourly basis, you are just not as productive. For a salaried person with clear job objectives who is putting in longer hours at home it can work out, but if you are only working the same hours you would at work, you likely do not get as much done.

narayanan said...

Are Gig Workers theoretically working from (in. with) their 'home offices'?

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...
Definitely not as productive at home. And if they close the schools, forget it."

I am reminded of that commercial with the guy trying to teleconference while his two little boys are giggling, running around and sticking things on his face.

Amy said...

Worked from home for 11+ years. No comparison in terms of productivity - much more productive at home. But it does take a bit of getting used to. Would never go back.

Amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I have a friend who started her own freelance translation business back in the '90's. She floundered terribly at first because it was just too tempting to hang out at the coffee shop and putter around the house rather than work. She had to force herself to treat it like an office job and set regular hours. She'd go into her home office at 8 am, work until noon and then return after lunch and work at least until 5. No "oh, it's really nice out today, it would be a shame to sit inside instead of going to the park." If she took time out to go to the doctor or grocery shop or go to a museum, she had to make up those work hours in the evening.

She said the adjustment period was a bit like going off to college and realizing no teacher was going to give you a detention if you didn't go to class. A lot of freshman have difficulty buckling down when they are unsupervised - until the midterm grades come out and they realize they can't just party and hang out at the student union. If you're going to be successful, you have to establish some sort of routine.

JAORE said...

During my working years they pushed us to tele-work at least some of the time. I always begged off. I was a hands-on (no sexual motive intended) and believed in mini-brain storming/hashing out solution group efforts. Not "meetings", gawd no!

Plus, I know myself.
Gotta be at work by eight? Leave in time to get there by 7:45 to allow for traffic or other delays. So I usually started at 7:45.

Eight o'clock at home? Well let me finish this cup and then I'll get to it.

Got a task to complete at the office? Especially one that is to be handed off to another team? Get it done before the deadline then start on another project.

At home, when the other team is "out of sight,out of mind"? Well, if it is due Tuesday I'll for sure have it done Monday.

More importantly the teams handing off to me almost ALWAYS failed to hit the target while they worked at home.

Michael K said...

As a surgeon, working from home was not an option but I did wear a mask all the time.

Curious George said...

"In fact I find myself working more hours when my office is only a few steps away."

No kidding. You're always at work, so work you do.

wbfjrr2 said...

Powerline has an excellent post on the virus, copied below:

"It’s been a long time since we heard from science writer Michael Fumento. Fumento’s journalism on the AIDS hysteria culminated in The Myth of Heterosexual Aids (1990). Against the tenor of the then reigning misinformation and hysteria, Fumento, I believe, had it right.

Since his work on AIDS and diet, Fumento appears to have gone to law school and moved from the United States, first to Latin America and now the Philippines. Today he reappears in the New York Post with observations that tend to belie the panic:


China is the origin of the virus and still accounts for over 80 percent of cases and deaths. But its cases peaked and began ­declining more than a month ago, according to data presented by the Canadian epidemiologist who spearheaded the World Health Organization’s coronavirus mission to China. Fewer than 200 new cases are reported daily, down from a peak of 4,000.

Subsequent countries will follow this same pattern, in what’s called Farr’s Law. First formulated in 1840 and ignored in ­every epidemic hysteria since, the law states that epidemics tend to rise and fall in a roughly symmetrical pattern or bell-shaped curve. AIDS, SARS, Ebola — they all followed that pattern. So does seasonal flu each year.

Clearly, flu is vastly more contagious than the new coronavirus, as the WHO has noted. Consider that the first known coronavirus cases date back to early December, and since then, the virus has ­afflicted fewer people in total than flu does in a few days. Oh, and why are there no flu quarantines? Because it’s so contagious, it would be impossible.

As for death rates, as I first noted in these pages on Jan. 24, you can’t employ simple math — as everyone is doing — and look at deaths versus cases because those are ­reported cases. With both flu and assuredly with coronavirus, the great majority of those infected have symptoms so mild — if any — that they don’t seek medical attention and don’t get counted in the caseload.

Furthermore, those calculating rates ­ignore the importance of good health care. Given that the vast majority of cases have occurred in a country with poor health care, that’s going to dramatically exaggerate the death rate.

The rate also varies tremendously according to age, with a Chinese government analysis showing 0.2 percent deaths below age 40 but 14.8 percent above 80. A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association found zero deaths worldwide among children 9 and under. Zero.

Like the flu, the coronavirus is afflicting high-risk groups: the elderly, those with ­underlying health conditions like diabetes or heart disease and those with compromised immune systems. Are there exceptions? Sure. But that’s the case with almost every complex biological phenomenon of the kind.

More good news. This month, the Northern Hemisphere, which includes the countries with the most cases, starts heating up. Almost all respiratory viruses hate warm and moist weather. That’s why flu dies out in America every year by May at the latest and probably why Latin America has reported only 25 coronavirus cases. The Philippines, where I live, has about a third of the US population, but it’s so damned hot and humid here, so far we have had no confirmed cases of internal transmission.

The only questions are what the impact will be in the Southern Hemisphere, where far fewer people live, and whether it will ­return to the north in the fall.

Still, if you want to try to reduce your ­low risk even further, then use what works against flu and colds. Both the surgeon general and head of the CDC have advised we nix the masks; they don’t work. Instead, wash your hands with hot water and soap or an alcohol solution for at least 10 to 20 seconds. That way you won’t spread any germs when you use the TV remote to flip off the latest hysterical news report."

tcrosse said...

The IT shop where I worked was OK with phoning it in from Mumbai, but not from St. Paul.

Leland said...

In Houston, hurricane Harvey put remote work to the test, and the results were positive. I now work remotely about as often as I travel into an office. One fond memory of Harvey was sitting on a conference call with folks in Cairo. They were amazed I had the technology to conduct the meeting from my home during a hurricane.

Jim at said...

Been working from home for nearly 20 years. Admittedly, I'd get more done if I spent an eight-hour window at the office, as opposed to those same eight hours at home.

But negotiations, sales, development ... etc can be done any time at home when the mood strikes. Saves money on suits and ties, too.

Curious George said...

"Saves money on suits and ties, too."

Gas. Wear and tear on vehicle. Lunch.

Iman said...

I worked at home for the last 8 years of my career and - in my experience - one can be very productive. It all depends on your work ethic and the sort of work you do. As my work mainly consisted of writing reports, hosting conference calls, and leading and coordinating the activities of teams whose members were scattered across the USA, I appreciated the ability to walk 20 feet, open my office, get the coffee brewing and start and end my workday without a commute. I usually worked from 5AM until 5PM and as the corporation had put trust in me, I gave them my best effort.

Sebastian said...

"Laundry Between Emails: Working From Home"

Emails = "working"?

Michael K said...

As my work mainly consisted of writing reports, hosting conference calls, and leading and coordinating the activities of teams whose members were scattered across the USA,

This resembles my DIL's career. She has been doing this for 20 years. Occasionally, she gets so busy she talks about quitting and finding another job but they have kids soon to start college. My son can retire in a few years and they might relocate out of CA since she can work from anywhere with internet and an airport.

Michael K said...

That way you won’t spread any germs when you use the TV remote to flip off the latest hysterical news report."

There is criticism of that Fumento report. I agree with much of it. This is not the flu since there is no vaccine and wont be for at least a year. On the other hand there is effective treatment for the severe pneumonia cases. Testing is probably less important since the PCR machines will be limited and lots of positives in asymptomatic cases will be expected.

Both Chloroquin, an old drug for malaria, and remdesivir, an antiviral that is new, are both effective. Remdesivir resolved a severe case's symptoms in 24 hours.

Treatment with intravenous remdesivir (a novel nucleotide analogue prodrug in development10,11) was initiated on the evening of day 7, and no adverse events were observed in association with the infusion. Vancomycin was discontinued on the evening of day 7, and cefepime was discontinued on the following day, after serial negative procalcitonin levels and negative nasal PCR testing for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

On hospital day 8 (illness day 12), the patient’s clinical condition improved. Supplemental oxygen was discontinued, and his oxygen saturation values improved to 94 to 96% while he was breathing ambient air. The previous bilateral lower-lobe rales were no longer present.


Once that gets ramped up, the disease should be treatable. Limiting infection is an obvious measure that should be followed.

Unknown said...

I'd comment on home vs work productivity, but since I'm in the office today I'm definitely not leaving a comment on a not-work-related blog. Oh wait.

Since most of my coworkers are scattered around the world, being in the office doesn't add much. Of the thirty or so people I routinely deal with, only five are in the same city.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

"During my working years they pushed us to tele-work at least some of the time. I always begged off. I was a hands-on (no sexual motive intended) and believed in mini-brain storming/hashing out solution group efforts. Not "meetings", gawd no!"

Likewise. I'm fueled by the cut and thrust of human interaction. I've consistently refused the work from home opportunities. Too dry, too uninspiring. Plus, I actually am the smartest guy in the room. Why miss the chance to show off?

Chuck said...

I heard PDJT say that his Administration had it under control; there were only 15 cases and in a couple of days it would be down to zero.

Did Pence fuck this up? Can’t trust that guy.

Michael K said...

Chuck hears things.

Static Ping said...

My job is such that I can work from home and be quite productive in that capacity, but I have to be in the office for some things. For a while my role was a bit different and I could work from home exclusively. It was productive, but I missed human interaction.

It really depends on what your job is. In this sort of situation, keeping as many people at home as possible is going to help, but it is not practical for all people.