As Bangladesh reported the first coronavirus death and its local transmission, several companies ordered their employees to work from home in a move that has been lauded with some urging others to adopt the approach.
By the time the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Coronavirus a pandemic, Bangladesh had only confirmed three imported cases and was considering various options to limit the spread of the virus at home.
But a few more cases – currently 14 – and arrival of more than a thousand expatriates from European countries affected by Coronavirus, various companies operating in Bangladesh weighed the option of ‘home office’.
This meant that the companies can continue operations and still contribute to stopping Coronavirus which has so far had a global fatality rate of 9 percent.
Working from home may be a viable option for some but for others, such as the apparel and manufacturing factories, it is still unthinkable.
Dr AKM Ashikur Rahman, chairman of Buet’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), suggested taking precautionary measures until the first week of April by avoiding public transports and reducing public gatherings as much as possible.
“An increase in temperature in April will help the country contain the virus, but until then, we need to take all possible preventive measures, including keeping people at homes as much as possible,” he said.
He suggested that employers can allow their workers to work from home. “At this crisis moment, making offices virtual can be a good move,” he said, admitting that activities such as manufacturing, banking and policing cannot be done from home.
Dr Md Haider Ali, a professor of Dhaka University’s CSE Department, agreed, saying that virtual offices will help prevent a Coronavirus outbreak in the country which can be disastrous given how densely populated Bangladesh is.
“The government should encourage employers to allow their employees to work remotely,” he said, appreciating Unilever, Grameenphone, Robi, Banglalink and Uniliver for asking their employees to stay home and work.
He said a complete lockdown of the country for at least 14 days may yield good results. “The government should think about it with effective strategies to support the day labourers, rickshaw pullers and others who live from hand to mouth,” he said.
Kazi Mamun, the Chief Executive Officer of Canada-based software development company Cansoft Technologies, said they are allowing their staff to work from home for two weeks and the operation has not been affected.
Over the last few days, global companies like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Hitachi, Apple, Amazon, Chevron, Salesforce, and Spotify, have made work-from-home mandatory amid the spread of Coronavirus.
But for someone like Syed Alamgir, Managing Director of ACI Consumer Brands, a complete virtual office is still impossible.
“We’re not ready. Secondly, many of our employees need to come to office,” he said, admitting that they were not considering the option yet. “We’ll surely go for it if the situation deteriorates.”
Delay, however, could be disastrous for factories in which people work in close proximity. Dr Edward Pallab Rozario of Caritas Bangladesh noted that infection among factory workers will spread fast and be very hard to contain.
Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad, the principal of Dhaka Medical College, said calling off all social programmes for the next two months could prove beneficial in containing Coronavirus.
“Regimental quarantine will be difficult here,” he said. “There are many challenges.”
Bangladesh might not have to resort to drastic measures as a recent Chinese study suggested that high temperature and humidity can reduce the transmission of Coronavirus or COVID-19.
But if things do not improve, then the idea and practice of ‘home office’ will likely become the new normal for some organisations.