The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is a large-scale tragedy, and its impact is already being felt all over the globe. In recent weeks, the scare has given the global market its worst beating since the 2008 financial crisis. Fears concerning the further spread of the virus across territories, especially in the United States, prompted a massive selloff. After hitting an all-time high on February 19, the Nasdaq then fell over a thousand points eight days later. The S&P likewise took a 4.4% dip the same day.
Beyond its impact on the market, the outbreak has forced organizations to find ways to mitigate its impact on their operations and ensure business continuity. Global supply chains are already being disrupted, and consumers demand for certain products and services are also being affected. Hard-hit industries like travel and transportation are even forced to ask workers to go on leave without pay. Precautionary measures such as asking employees to work remotely are bound to affect productivity.
Organizations are looking toward communication and collaboration solutions to cope with their needs for effective remote working arrangements. Fortunately, providers like Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT), Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL), and Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) are currently offering short-term subscriptions and product trials for free. Webinar and virtual meeting platform ClickMeeting has also recently joined in, making their solution available at no cost for 90 days to schools, nonprofits, healthcare organizations, and other businesses affected by the outbreak.
“At Microsoft, our top concern is the well-being of our employees and supporting our customers in dealing with business impact during this challenging time,” EVP JP Courtois tweeted to announce that the company is making its Teams solution free to users for six months.
As more cases of transmission are reported worldwide, such solutions have become critical in allowing organizations to enable businesses to operate during the outbreak.
Limiting Mobility Within Organizations
The virus has a prolonged incubation period during which infected persons can remain asymptomatic. Companies are taking precautions to curb the spread of the virus within their organizations.
In light of travel bans issued by governments, companies are prohibiting employees to travel to and from countries with high incidences of infections. The US Travel Association estimates a 6% drop in international inbound travel over the next three months. Some companies are even prompting employees who have recently traveled in high-risk countries to self-quarantine before reporting to their office.
In order to further limit potential human-to-human transmission, organizations are encouraging employees and other stakeholders to telecommute and work remotely. Tech giants like Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), Google and Twitter Inc (NYSE: TWTR) are already encouraging employees in various US, European and Asian offices to work from home.
Schools have also been shut down in various parts of the world to limit potential transmission. While there have been fewer cases of younger people showing grave symptoms compared to older age groups, the bigger concern is about children spreading the virus to other members of their households. Students are resorting to online and distance learning to mitigate lost school days.
Even major corporate events and conferences are either being cancelled or postponed. The Adobe Summit, scheduled at the end of the month, has now become an online-only event. Google I/O and Facebook F8 have both been cancelled. Nonprofit organizations, which rely on events and patron's attendance to raise funds, are also hurting as calls for social distancing and non-congregation have forced several events to be rescheduled or cancelled.
"There is an unprecedented increase in remote working happening worldwide, which is growing exponentially daily. Today, due to global circumstances resulting from COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease), many who are working from home are not doing so as a perk, but as an imperative," writes Cisco SVP Sri Srinivasan.
Adopting Collaboration Tools
Communication and collaboration can effectively serve as virtual workplaces that allow employees to perform their tasks in conjunction with their colleagues. Modern platforms are capable of allowing for most office-based tasks to be performed online. They can also be accessed over a wide variety of devices including tablets and smartphones. Considering the ubiquity of internet access and mobile devices, most employees do have the essential tools to work remotely.
Large enterprises often already have remote work programs and such tools in place. However, smaller businesses and noncommercial organizations may face a tougher challenge. Many such companies have yet to invest in and implement collaboration tools. They may find it difficult to integrate new platforms and shift to such work arrangements quickly.
Fortunately, solutions providers are lowering the barriers to access to enterprise-grade tools by offering extended free trials which provide full access to their respective suites. ClickMeeting, for example, is extending the duration of its free trial offer from 30 to 90 days, while also ramping up on its technical infrastructure, to ensure that all accounts can stream live video smoothly. The service enables users to host online meetings, conduct trainings through interactive virtual classrooms, and collaborate remotely with minimal setup.
Having access to these features gives smaller organizations and educational institutions the capabilities to perform their functions. Managers and their teams can easily conduct productive meetings even if each attendee is working remotely. Teachers can also easily conduct distance learning with their students. Events and conferences can still be organized as webinars.
“Nobody knows where the coronavirus outbreak will go from here and for how long countries, businesses, and educational institutions will need to be in an emergency planning mode,” said Dominika Paciorkowska, ClickMeeting’s managing director. “That’s definitely a challenge so we made a decision to help companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.”
Prioritizing Health And Well-Being
Experts already warn that the virus will inevitably spread. Organizations across industries and territories will feel the crunch that the outbreak will bring. An Australian study even estimates that the global GDP will take a massive $2.4 trillion hit. This will undoubtedly test the mettle of businesses and force organizations to find creative ways to weather the worst of it.
As a human crisis, the coronavirus outbreak is an eye-opener for many a business; people's health and well-being should take precedence over the bottom line. Adopting measures such as remote work and telecommuting can help limit the spread of the virus while allowing organizations to achieve a level of productivity. The recent moves by providers to provide free and wider access to their tools are a positive step forward to help ease the pressure that the outbreak has put on organizations worldwide.