Is It The Right Time To Go Home?

Thousands of people fled the coronavirus epidemic when it first began. From New York City, they relocated to a number of places identified in a cover story last week in the New York Times. Many packed up their families and moved out to second homes or rentals in the Hamptons, Westchester, Los Angeles and Miami. All sought safer places to ride out the pandemic storm.

During the past few months, these people have isolated, done business remotely, Face Timed friends and relatives, snuck out to the store for food with masks and sterile gloves and generally tried to stay active by exercising, reading books, playing games and drinking margaritas.

The moment of truth is now upon us. Many are probably in dire need of a change in venue, a return to normalcy. The kids want to see their friends, and the adults want to get back to their offices. How does one assess the risks of re-inhabiting a city that arguably is the most dangerous place in the world?

The first thing one might do is find out how strict the prevailing rules are at your intended destination. Is your gym open? Are household staffs allowed to enter the building? Can workers go to their offices? Can the kids visit their friends? Are your favorite restaurants open? Is it safe to visit your elderly mother and father?

The answers to these questions are a resounding “who knows?” Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo are saying everybody is “pretty safe.” You “probably” won’t get infected if you wear a mask, wash your hands, stay out of crowded places and isolate yourself. Why the hell is anybody contemplating a move back to the home front, if it isn’t definitively safe?

Some experts are predicting that by September the pandemic will be over, as if they really know. That may be true unless we do enough stupid things to endanger ourselves, relatives and friends. If the virus gets reinvigorated, are we all prepared to go back into deep isolation?

A related issue is the decision that CEOs must make. Trump and Cuomo are also saying business leaders should “bring back the workers; it’s safe.” Maybe workers are still frightened about returning to a great big office complex where a bug can attack scores of people and make them deathly ill. And, what if remote business techniques have been successful and even profitable? Maybe CEOs should think about continuing to allow employees to work from home a little bit longer.

If I were a CEO, I would be very careful about bringing subordinates back too soon. Unless the business is such that profits will suffer if workers don’t work at the office, or if morale is being impaired by work at home rules, why risk it? Why not let the most daring CEOs play Russian roulette with the health of their employees, and see how it works out? Do you really want to be the first to bring everybody back, and the first to have a recurrence of the virus? There is little upside to moving quickly.

If a company acts quickly and experiences a recurrence, the public and employee relations issues will be catastrophic.

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