Swine Flu: Panic in the Streets of London

It looks like I’m a little too late with a blog post on swine flu. Recent reports suggest that swine flu (or H1N1 influenza A to give it its proper name) has peaked in Mexico and is now in its declining phase. A pandemic is looking less likely despite two more cases being confirmed in the UK today (taking the total to 34) . So good news for us…

It’s been interesting watching the media reaction to the situation. They seemed to swing between panic and blasé depending on the current mood (or weather?). I enjoyed reading Ben Goldacre’s blog post on Swine flu and hype – a media illness. In it he points out that the media themselves are no longer even sure if they should be hyping it up – the truth seems to be getting more difficult to distinguish and is quite often no longer even relevant. As Ben puts it:

not only have the public lost all faith in the media; not only do so many people assume, now, that they are being misled; but more than that, the media themselves have lost all confidence in their own ability to give us the facts.

Maybe even our friend the social networking tool should take its share of the blame for the encouragement of uninformed speculation?

So where does all this media confusion and moral panic leave us remote workers?

When the swine Flu fever began it was like the snow all over again. The likelihood of a pandemic was another one of those things that got companies vexing about staff getting in to the office. Even without a pandemic there would be a rise in rates of absenteeism and therefore productivity. A big no no in credit crunch times.

As Gartner research director Steve Bittinger recently explained:

Handling Swine flu from an IT perspective is about enabling people to continue to work together or collaborate with reduced levels of face-to-face interaction. It’s a good idea to have work-from-home capabilities ready for staff. Executives need to think about how they would do business if the level of face-to-face contact with customers and staff drops dramatically.

For example, there may be high rates of people not wanting to come into the office because they don’t want to ride public transport, or they have a sick child or are sick themselves.

It may be that this all fizzles out or we may have a week or several weeks to get our act together before or if it hits. Organisations that have the ability for staff to work from home [in the event of an outbreak or pandemic] won’t suffer as badly as those who don’t.

It’s even filtered through to my world: academia. Christine Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield recently wrote a post on her department’s Pandemic Flu planning meeting. Closer to home still, last week a possible case of Swine flu was noted at the University of Bath, where UKOLN is based. At this point I must admit to thanking my lucky stars that I’m a remote worker. The test results later came back negative.

It’s no surprise that the swine flu crisis has led to a rise in enquiries into remote working.

All of this begs the question, why does it take a pandemic to make people realise the benefits of remote working?

A few more questions…

Why do organisations not have remote working strategies in place for times when travelling in to the office is out of the question. Should remote working now be an obligatory part of any organisation’s risk management policy? What will be the next crisis that has managers suddenly allowing their staff remote access to systems that they won’t let them have on an average day?

So it seems like for now normal service has been resumed, but maybe its time we started doing a little planning for the future while we can think straight and neither disease nor snow are banging at the door.