There are side-effects to Coronavirus. I suspect some of them will be permanent, and this is not a bad thing.
As my wife and I were walking around our neighborhood on Thursday afternoon, we noticed a lot of husbands and wives out walking, shopping, spending time cafes and restaurants, and enjoying themselves on a weekday when you would not have normally seen working-age people at leisure. As many companies in Japan are encouraging people to work from home, this is likely what a telecommuting lifestyle looks like—a stark contrast to the salaryman lifestyle with its crushing commutes into the city and late night drinking with colleagues and customers.
Later Thursday evening, Japanese Prime Minister Abe directed all public schools nationwide—that is to say primary, middle, and high schools—to close from March 2nd for the month. While shocking for parents like me, I suspect that the primary objective of Abe’s action is symbolism rather than pragmatism. Nonetheless, with school out, kids will now be thrown into the mix with their parents right at a time when the weather is getting pleasant.
My son’s school is executing a contingency plan for remote learning. Like many of their parents, the students will also be telecommuting. With whole families now telecommuting, I doubt all of them will keep themselves cooped up at home watching streaming movies and playing video games, even with the current virus fears—although some surely will. Rather, I expect to see parks used more than usual and families out for casual strolls. Tokyo and its environs are not Wuhan, China after all.
The Japanese government, before anyone had even heard of Coronavirus, had encouraged companies to allow for telecommuting during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as presumably much of the city’s mass transit will be under exceptional strain. At the time, there were few takers for the government’s suggestion. That was then.
As people experience how life can be better, and business leaders, managers, and staff alike experience that flexible work and telecommuting do not necessarily mean a drop in productivity—and might actually mean an boost, long after Coronavirus is gone, people including business leaders will naturally want to retain the best of what were intended to be temporary countermeasures.
I only hope we will all have the resolve to do so. If you lead a business, that resolve starts with you.