Why we closed our office

Now that we announced on Friday, March 13th that we were closing our office for the first time in 21 years — other than for the annual holiday break — I want to take a few minutes and explore why it was the right decision, no matter how the Covid-19 pandemic plays out. This virus is magnitudes more deadly than the common flu and seems to wreak havoc on the elderly and unwell.

Covid-19 is serious business

At the beginning of the week, when the fear of what was coming was escalating quickly, we were at the point of considering if maybe it wasn’t the best idea for one of our team members to travel to a conference in Baltimore. By the end of the week, we locked down our physical space and sent everyone home to work remotely for an undetermined amount of time. We were sending emails to our clients and partners to let them know our situation but, more importantly, to make sure that they were safe.

Our government and local institutions had come to realize that we needed to limit the amount of exposure that each of us could have to the virus, and we felt the same way about our team. We came to our decision because of some critical points.

We don’t need to be in the office

While I am proud of the company we’ve built together, and a significant part of our culture has been that we generally enjoy being in our space together, it isn’t a necessary feature of our ability to do our work. Sure it has enhanced our relationships and overall culture, but until a concert venue, a restaurant or a grocery store, everyone could do their work from a distance. Our company can and will continue to run without in-person interactions. Will it be a bit more challenging? Of course, it will be, but it will be an inconvenience rather than an impossibility.

With our team on laptops and our file storage in the cloud, we have no reason to be in the office other than “we like to be in the office”. At a time of crisis, it’s a small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.

Travel to our office is not safe

I’ve always been proud that our office is a 2-minute walk to the Metro so that our team members can get to our downtown office without the need for a car. It’s great to realize that we are doing something right to reduce our carbon footprint. On the other hand, for people to now get on crowded public transport to get to the office they are being exposed to hundreds of people and in fact, exceeding exposure to the 250+ people that our government recently said isn’t safe. As a result, I feel that asking and expecting our team to travel to our office given the current situation means that I am asking them to endanger themselves, their health and the health of others. 

Reduce the curve

It may seem insignificant if one person chooses to quarantine themselves or, at a minimum, reduce interactions. The reality is that Social Distancing is a Social Responsibility. If you aren’t taking any precautions to limit your exposure to others, you are in fact, creating more and more opportunities for the coronavirus to spread. You are making a decision that will doom more of our parents and grandparents to a severe illness or an early death.

“Continuing the weekend tradition of packing the bars is selfish and reckless during this pandemic. It will speed up the spread of the virus, increasing the suffering for older and more vulnerable people and for the medical workers who will be caring for them. Though the virus appears dramatically less fatal for those under 50, younger, healthier people can still contract the virus, not show symptoms and infect at-risk populations.” – Please, Don’t Go Out to Brunch Today, New York Times

I’ve chosen to limit my exposure to others by staying indoors at least 90% of the time, and when I do go out to get a bit of exercise or purchase some food and supplies, I am going at a time when I am least likely to be exposed to others.

It’s the right thing to do

While I want Plank to weather this storm and be a viable business during this crisis, I also recognize that work comes second to our health and the health of others. At a time like this, I want people to be with their families and loved ones. It’s a scary and stressful period, and the only way we are going to get through it is with the comfort of those around us that we love and trust.

I care deeply about our team, and as much as I’d love to see their smiling faces right in front of me, I’ll be fine with chatting with them on Slack or on a Zoom video conference. At least we know that when we do see each other again, we will cherish that time together even more.

Be safe and take of yourself.