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We Will Never Go Back to the Pre-COVID-19 Workplace

The virus forced us to realize: Staying together apart has never been so easy

A friend tells me “I feel like my entire life has prepared me for this quarantine. I have a white claw variety pack, every streaming service available, and the new Animal Crossing game is being delivered on Friday.”

While many people (myself included) have railed against the excesses of technology and its tendency to weaken community spirit and understanding, it turns out that, in the present crisis, it is having the opposite effect. We are all stuck in our houses for the next several weeks. However, thanks to our new digital infrastructure, we aren’t really alone in the same way any more.

If you are stranded or separated or otherwise disconnected from your friends and family, you don’t have to lose touch any more. At one time, “quarantine” meant having limited personal contact with the world. Today, it leaves you alone with the best information delivery system ever conceived.

While many schools are closed for the time being, many others are moving online. For example, our homeschooling co-op has decided to meet online via Zoom, Chime, or another service. I am helping move a large convention from in-person attendance to online attendance.

Over the last decade, the IT profession has already gravitated to online presence. At the companies I work for, Slack addresses immediate communication, Zoom addresses coordinated communication, and I can handle most tasks via individual computer from my house. I can write books, trade stocks, manage projects, answer questions, do my taxes, pay my bills, get an education, and keep up with family and friends without leaving my chair.

I’m not unusual; a large segment of our population now works this way. Staying together apart has never been so easy.

Going forward, COVID-19 is going to change the way companies do business altogether. It’s one thing for a company to stubbornly resist a digital workstyle when nothing is at stake. It’s something else entirely to switch to it for several months as the price of survival and then choose to go back. I doubt that many will.

Our investment in technology infrastructure has paid off in spades, in a way that probably no one expected. It will allow us work peacefully and productively at home.

We will still have to figure out how to balance our digital and analog lives when the crisis is over. At least that part’s not urgent. It’s just part of our ongoing lives.

Also by Jonathan Bartlett:

COVID-19: Do quarantine rules apply to mega-geniuses? How did Elon Musk, who has a cozy relationship with China, get his upscale car factory classified as an essential business during the pandemic? If we are going to hold some people up as business icons, why should it be those who—in the present COVID-19 troubles—have relations with China that necessarily raise question


Jonathan Bartlett

Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Jonathan Bartlett is a senior software R&D engineer at Specialized Bicycle Components, where he focuses on solving problems that span multiple software teams. Previously he was a senior developer at ITX, where he developed applications for companies across the US. He also offers his time as the Director of The Blyth Institute, focusing on the interplay between mathematics, philosophy, engineering, and science. Jonathan is the author of several textbooks and edited volumes which have been used by universities as diverse as Princeton and DeVry.

We Will Never Go Back to the Pre-COVID-19 Workplace