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The Coronavirus Panic Is a Perfect Opportunity to Discuss Why We Need Better Work-From-Home Policies

So I’ve been sick lately. I never get sick. In fact, I pride myself on this. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that I spent over a decade of my life in San Francisco being exposed to Lord knows what cooties live in BART seats. I am to not getting sick as people who don’t own TVs are to telling you they don’t have a TV. I got a flu shot last flu season only because I was in the hospital and my nurse asked nicely if I would get one. “Not like I need it but sure,” I sneered. In hindsight, I realize that was an assy reaction, and I was in no place to get attitude with the nurse given the fact that I’d just come out of the emergency room and was tethered to my bed by an IV pole and a 12-lead ECG. Shit, I wandered off my initial point again, my bad. Oh right, I’ve been sick.

Maybe it’s because I never get sick, maybe it’s because whatever cooties are floating around out there are particularly nasty, but I have been sick for three weeks straight. It started like a moderate cold, then morphed into the flu, and then just as I thought I was getting better, I got slammed with laryngitis and a different cold. Clearly if you hear news of a zombie apocalypse in Virginia, it’s a safe assumption I’m patient zero. Except for one thing: I work from home.

I’ve barely left the house this whole time, so unless my cats can get the flu, I’m not out there distributing cooties to an unsuspecting public. Sure it’s driving me a little crazy not being able to run to the liquor store or go on Pokemon raids, but if the alternative is ending up on the news because I infected half the state with my weird, mutated illness, then so be it. And other than my alcohol supply being upsettingly dry and me being hopped up on cold medicine, life has pretty much gone on as usual, at least as far as work is concerned. It’s not like anyone wants to be the guy who infected the entire office, but in my case there’s no office to infect. I’m sure Bramwell is thrilled about that. If I were him I’d disinfect my phone after every Slack message I send him just to be safe.

All that to say: we need to have a discussion about why smart work-from-home policies protect people from illness, and a global pandemic that isn’t even fully understood yet is the perfect opportunity.

First, let’s go to the CDC website to see how it spreads. Before we even get to that, we’re greeted by a giant warning at the top of the page:

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States.

Super comforting. Moving on.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?
People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

How easily the virus spreads
How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious (spread easily), like measles, while other viruses do not spread as easily. Another factor is whether the spread is sustained, spreading continually without stopping.

The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas.

So basically once that shit is in your community, good luck. Someone who doesn’t even know they’re infected can spread it. Look around your office right now. Guarantee there are half-a-dozen tryhards or more you can think of off the top of your head who are always coming in, come hell or high water, with all manner of sniffly noses and sneezes or worse. “LOL my four kids have the flu and I have this weird rash on my hand that may or may not be scabies but MY JOB IS MY LIFE.” Fuck that guy (or gal). And fuck whatever demented mentality persists in public accounting that says potentially setting off a domino effect of illness at the firm is a worthy trade-off for showing up at the office. Who cares if everyone here gets sick, what about the clients?!

Why can’t we all just stay home? It’s not that crazy of a proposition. Especially nowadays when we all have laptops and video chat and decent Internet. What benefit is gained from crossing town and spending hours in the same space with other people who are doing the same thing? Our friend Blake Oliver agrees.

Oh, wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing. We’ve long been fans of remote work, and if you missed Grant’s 2018 article on how to convince your boss that you should work from home more, I suggest you check it out now. “Hey boss, I don’t want to die of a strange and easy-to-catch illness we don’t quite understand yet, mind if I work from home?” wouldn’t be a terrible opener.

A Deloitte employee in the U.K. has already tested positive for coronavirus, and even then the firm said “staff could return to work or they could work from home.” Could return to work? Look, I know depressed millennials and their constant death wish is a meme but my God, tell them to stay home! This isn’t just some shitty flu that keeps you in bed for a couple days, it’s literally killing people; 11 so far in the United States, and it’s only getting started. Sure, it’s not likely to kill healthy 22-year-old interns, but just how healthy is your average accounting firm, especially this time of year when you guys are getting less sleep and working more hours?

Accounting isn’t exactly known for being proactive but this might be the one time firm leaders need to get it together and protect their staff before things get bad. And as Blake said, hopefully when all’s said and done they’ll realize that public accountants spend far too much time traveling and filling chairs at the office just because that’s how it’s always been done.

HAHAHA who am I kidding, that will never happen. Stay safe out there, y’all.