The big experiment

The lemon slice in Corona beer is there for hygiene reasons. It is used to clean the bottleneck from the dirt that has accumulated under the crown cork. Currently the bottleneck in Switzerland is the supply of disinfectants against Corona. We are tumbling into a system stress test. How does the world work without Chinese products, without long journeys and major events, with hamster purchases and people working from home?

Even before the pandemic panic, medicines, vaccines and medical products which were produced only in China were no longer available. When production in China comes to a partial standstill and domestic demand rises at the same time, our supply situation becomes even worse. Let’s see what will ultimately cause more deaths in the rest of the world: the virus or the bottleneck in supply of pharmaceutical products. Conversely, we will see whether the disciplined hand hygiene and event abstinence in our own country can reduce the number of normal flu infections and fatalities.

What I am most excited about is the big working from home experiment. In all these years of futile lobbying for the improvement of the quality of life and work with working from home allowance, not much has happened. Corona is doing the job now. The fear of a relatively marginal health threat is bringing movement to the desires that have so far been stigmatized with lazyness. We work from home now. Voluntarily or by order of employers. Gone is the pressure of presence. What does that do to us? Are we more relaxed, more satisfied – or more lonely? Are we more productive, more cooperative – or more careless? What do we do with the commuting time we save? Are absences due to illness decreasing or increasing?

Experimental behavioral research indicates that home office productivity increases significantly and sick leave decreases. On the downside of the study, however, it shows that those employees who work from home are less likely to be considered for promotions. You have to mark presence if you’re on a career track. But perhaps Corona will also change this interdepence. Will Remote Leadership Effectiveness be the new promotion qualification?

Column by Esther-Mirjam de Boer, published in the Handelszeitung on 5 March 2020.