As some of you know, I’m still working full-time in Toronto, where we learned a lot from the SARS epidemic.
This is how a smart organization stops the spread of the virus by social distancing at the company level.
The Company Stuff
First of all, we’re acting immediately to cut down the opportunity for transmission. Work from home is normal in 2019-20, and we encouraged it as soon as we heard there were Canadian cases.
This Monday morning everyone has to stay home. With no need to be in the office, no-one has to take the subways, the bus or line up at the lunch place. You want to be in the office? You need executive approval.
We are also asking everyone to stress-test our VPN Monday, as we’ve never had all the engineers working from home at the same time. Only about half their work requires a VPN, while half is on services like Slack, Google Docs or Confluence, but we want to know we have enough resources provisioned for the long run. [I’m a capacity planner, but I didn’t even have to ask for that. My executive management announced it before I even thought of it]
More importantly, we’ve deferred a conference and have stopped all travel to conferences that are still being held.
And finally, we made a donation to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their work on detection, isolation and treatment.
We sent an email to every one of our partners, saying we have instituted mandatory remote working and detailing our plans, including restricting all travel and self-isolation for everyone returning from previous trips.
Independently we sent a letter to everyone who attended one of our conferences, telling them that we have deferred our next one, and why.
Behind the scenes, we’ve done a ton more communicating to the whole company via email, wiki (confluence) and chat (slack). We started with weekly status reports, and have been updating daily this last week. Everyone knows what’s happening.
Initiatives from individuals
The things you won’t see from outside are the efforts by the engineers to help one another. There is a company covid slack channel, of course, but individuals have created several discussions of the new challenges they’re facing.
For example, there is a new “WFH tips” channel, with links to useful articles like
and individual tips like
- post your hours, as your colleagues can no longer look to see if you’re in
- run a “take a break” bot like http://www.workrave.org/
- use Google Docs instead of whiteboards in meetings
And, of course, since we’re mostly engineers and scientists, postings of leading articles about the science and math of epidemic transmission:
- Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now (Tomas Pueyo, Medium)
The key to fighting SARS was social distancing. The key to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan was social distancing. As soon as there was a lockdown, cases went down. That’s because people didn’t interact with each other, and the virus didn’t spread.
Go thou, and do likewise.