For many of us, the primary impact of COVID-19 has been to move our place of work from an office building to home territory. The coronavirus has really driven home the message that modern technology allows white collar workers to enjoy a flexibility that prior generations just didn’t have.
Think, for a minute, about the impact of the kind of closure measures that were imposed during the 1918-1919 “Spanish flu” pandemic, or what the effect of workplace closures being imposed now would have had even 30 years ago when computer networks were in their infancy. The vast majority of people in those eras would have been thrown out of work because there was no option to work remotely. But now, thanks to the invention and proliferation of laptops, wireless technology, cellphones, and the internet, a considerable chunk of the American work force can turn off the lights in their offices, remove their laptops from their docking stations, go home, turn on the lights in their kitchens, studies, or dining rooms, log in, enter a password or two, and get right back to work. We’ve come to take this technology for granted, but it’s really pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.
When something as disruptive as the Great Coronavirus Crisis of 2020 hits, you wonder whether it will have long-term impacts on work habits, social interaction, and other aspects of American culture. Did the 1918-1919 flu — which was far more pervasive and impactful than the coronavirus, and which led to many closings in an effort to stop the spread of the infection — have such an effect? I’m not aware of any fundamental social changes that occurred. But I suspect that what we are doing now will simply spur a trend that was well underway before anyone heard of coronavirus: working remotely, without being tied to an office building.
Of course, not everyone has the ability to work remotely, and we should all be thinking about what we can do to help those businesses and workers who have been most affected by the closures imposed by authorities. Kish and I are going to be sure to get carry-out over the next few days, for example, to help support the restaurants and bars that have been shuttered and allow them to maintain some cash flow until things reopen down the road.
But now, it’s back to work.