Impact of Coronavirus on Business: Cancelled Events, Online Meetings, Remote Work

The state of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic is fluid as the number of infected individual cases worldwide reaches more than 118,000 and the death toll surpasses 4,000, according to the most recent information from the World Health Organization (WHO)*. As the contagion continues its rapid spread around the world, the impact is being felt on numerous fronts including in the travel and hospital industry as events, meetings and conferences are cancelled as well as on businesses in general, which are increasingly limiting and restricting employee travel and turning to remote work in an effort to keep workers safe.

(FYI: Individuals infected by this strain of the coronavirus tend to develop symptoms about five days after exposure, and almost always within two weeks, according to a study released in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.)

Events/Conferences Cancelled, Online Meetings Encouraged

More and more business meetings and events are being cancelled with each passing day. A survey of 158 national and multinational employers, according to Willis Towers Watson, indicates that nearly two in three (63%) have cancelled planned trips to select countries for their North American employees who travel internationally for business, and 55% are encouraging virtual meetings to decrease travel. Nearly half (47%) have cancelled planned conferences in select countries. (This percentage is rising as the virus continues to spread throughout the United States.)

For example, Google I/O, Facebook’s F8 event, Mobile World Congress, SXSW and five other tech events have been cancelled due to the coronavirus. The direct economic loss as a result of these nine event cancellations has already surpassed $1 billion, according to Vox. This number includes losses from airfare, lodging, food, and transportation, but doesn’t cover lost revenue from sponsors, employee purchases, or ancillary impacts to the local economy, cites Vox.

The insurance industry is also experiencing event cancellations. Some of these include: the Property Liability Research Bureau (PLRB), which called off its 2020 Claims Conference; the Wholesale and Specialty Insurance Association (WSIA), which cancelled a number of symposiums and seminars throughout the country; and the Captive Insurance Companies Association (CICA) 2020 International Conference. Insurance data analytics and risk modeling firm Verisk decided to convert its “Cyber and Casualty Seminar” from an in-person to a free virtual event.

Working from Home

Additionally, more Americans are being encouraged by employers to work from home during the coronavirus outbreak. According to NPR, in Seattle alone, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google told their employees to remain home to reduce the risks from the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, HR departments everywhere are making contingency plans that include keeping workers home. For remote work to be successful, businesses should do what they can to facilitate people working from home. Following are several best practices and tips to optimize remote work: 

  • Communicate with your staff, sharing openly and often what the real impact of the coronavirus impact is on the organization.
  • Clarify goals at the team and individual level to stay focused on key priorities.
  • Keep employees informed frequently and regularly via video or phone check-ins. Don’t revert to only using email; humanize the communication.
  • Ensure that off-site workers feel connected to the rest of the team to avoid the feeling of isolation.
  • Trust that your employees will get the work done and convey that confidence.
  • Make sure employees have the right equipment and tools to effectively work remotely; i.e., computer; high-speed Internet connection; video-conferencing tools to conduct meetings such as Zoom, Go to Meeting, Cisco Web Ex, Skype, etc.; chat and collaboration tool such as Slack and Google Hangouts; and/or a project management app for everyone to keep track of tasks such as Asana, Slack, Basecamp, etc.
  • Provide secure access to reach and interact with corporate networks, data, communication channels, and applications.
  • Facilitate the collaboration on important projects via scheduled online meetings and brainstorming sessions and access to collaboration tools (either with a project management tool or via Microsoft 365 and Google Suite).
  • Communicate best practices in the use of technology, particularly important to protect against potential data breaches and other cyber-related threats.

The coronavirus outbreak has issued in a new normal right now for individuals and businesses here and abroad. One of the outcomes of this disruption may be an opportunity for organizations to create a remote work environment that is more engaging and participatory than before with an emphasis on human connection, contact and productivity.

*As of March 10, 2020.

Sources: WHO, Annals of Internal Medicine, Willis Towers Watson, Vox, Gartner, ZDNet