Work-from-Home City

Within an hour of my declaring Seattle “Alive and Mostly Well” yesterday, I received a notice from my employer to work from home for the next several weeks. Like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, my employer’s parent company Salesforce closed all of its offices in the Seattle metro area for the remainder of March. The novel coronavirus, which I just learned is named “SARS-CoV-2,” has so far killed 11 people in Washington and 59 others are currently infected. All but one of the 59 are in the Seattle metropolitan area.

With tens of thousands of employees at these and other companies working from home, Seattle has suddenly become a work-from-home city. Traffic on March 5 was “unusually clear”, reported local tech news site GeekWire, with the east-west bridges on SR-520 and I-90 extraordinarily empty for a morning commute. A cafe near my home was pretty full of customers and fully staffed. My walk to a morning doctor’s appointment — unrelated to any kind of respiratory issue — was along roads with a moderate amount of traffic, passing retail businesses that were still fully operational. Many pedestrians, some in pairs or groups, were out and none wore face masks.

This work-from-home situation is going to be quite the social experiment. Traffic has already plummeted. With fewer cars on the road and more flights being canceled, pollution will likely decrease. Businesses that serve office workers, like the restaurants and coffee shops at street level in my company’s buildings, will probably close. Businesses in residential areas favored by office workers will fare better, especially among those that offer delivery. Some of my coworkers are hastily building out a home office — and one is sheepishly admitting he hasn’t had Internet access at home for almost a year. Without regular access to all the unhealthy snacks my office provides, I’m expecting to lose about 5 pounds during this month. I’m also thinking about doing a round-trip bike “commute” every morning just to stay active. Teams are brainstorming ways to use our various collaboration tools to simulate the experience of overhearing and learning from ambient conversations in the workplace. Perhaps we’ll come up with something else novel.

I’m taking Friday off for a small staycation unrelated to COVID-19. Hopefully there will still be fun things to do around town and life will continue to go on.