​Coronavirus and Working from Home

​Coronavirus and Working from Home

What is it and why is it so bad?


SARS-CoV-2 is the name of a virus that causes the current pandemic disease COVID-19. It’s a type of virus named for the appearance of a crown--thus corona--around the virus particles under the microscope. The virus is genetically similar to a strain of bat virus, and it is a distant relation of the 2003 SARS virus.

However, the most important feature of the virus is how incredibly easily it spreads. This is possibly due to the fact that people are generally contagious well before they feel symptoms, and the virus produces a huge number of viral particles. You may hear that the virus is not airborne, but this is possibly misleading. It does not linger in the air--what some scientists consider airborne--but it does spread in another sense through the air, through droplets.

When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even just breathes, they produce tiny droplets containing viral bodies--obviously more when they sneeze or cough more violently. These droplets can alight on surfaces where another person can pick them up and then give them a ride to easy entry points like the eyes, nose, and mouth. This is why the admonition against touching your face is so often repeated. That is not to say that you can never touch your face again; if you’ve sanitized your hands by washing them correctly, using hand sanitizer of appropriate strength (60% or more alcohol), or however, then you should be fine. That is, until you interact with another person. And there’s the rub.

This is why so many are recommending social isolation. It may sound like something from a dystopian novel, but it’s really our #1 weapon against infectious disease of this kind. Staying at least six feet from anyone keeps you relatively outside of their potential droplet radius, and staying at home keeps you from interacting with anyone or anything that has possibly been in contact with these droplets. If everyone in the country could stay home for the next few weeks, the disease would diminish rapidly to almost nothing.

The goal of such a strategy in the long run isn’t necessarily to prevent people individually from getting infected, though this would likely reduce the total number of cases greatly. Rather, its purpose is to prevent many people from having the disease all at once, a rush in the demand for healthcare that could easily overwhelm even the capacities of large medical systems. That said, people infected with the virus do stop being contagious generally between a week and two after symptoms present. Thus, whether you know if you have gotten it or not, staying at home prevents anyone from being out during their contagious period--the worst of which is the time before symptoms show up, when people are less likely to take the possibility of contagion seriously.

What can I do?

Wash your hands

This is so straightforward, you’re probably tired of hearing it.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  2. Do it frequently during the day when you’re out in public
  3. Do not touch your face if you can avoid it, and generally only do so when your hands have been sanitized
  4. Stay home if you can even if you are not sick
  5. If you are sick, even if you know it’s something else, stay home
  6. Cover coughs and sneezes, preferably with something disposable, and sanitize your hands afterward
  7. Clean and disinfect surfaces that you touch regularly
  8. If you are sick, wear a face mask
  9. If you are sick, call your doctor, do not go to your doctor--if you have a telemedicine option available, use that

Last, stay up to date on the news about the virus. The CDC’s website is awash in information, including what you can do and how to diagnose the disease. You can visit their page on COVID-19 here.

Working from Home

Work from Home

With all that in mind, most people who could stay at home do still need to work. As a developer, in particular a developer working with networking technology, it’s important for me to stay connected. In particular, I need access to the same resources at work or at home or abroad. Generally I do--the only limitations on my access are physical, if I for instance need a new piece of hardware, or goodness forbid I need to forcefully reboot a machine.

Sabai, naturally, has VPN access to its own office via the Home Server, and I have similar access to my own home network. Additionally, if you’re a developer, or really IT of most kinds, SSH is certainly indispensable. But there are additional steps you can take to make an office remotely accessible. This is important not just because an unforeseen pandemic might make working from home acutely attractive: remote access enables productivity, helps guarantee continuity when someone is injured or ill, and helps an office be welcoming to people with disabilities.

The first tool in the remote access arsenal is the VPN connection, and the Sabai Home Server can provide remote access securely using modern VPN protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard®. However, I’m not actually here to toot our own horn, I swear! There are other important pieces to this puzzle.

In particular, the use of cloud services and other online tools is essential. Sabai uses an issue tracker that is available anywhere because it’s hosted outside our office. We use online tools for sharing documents, files, and information. A team chat, in particular one that can be separated into channels, is incredibly useful even for a small team. Password managers are a must even if your office isn’t online. In this age of connectivity, having an office entirely online makes it possible to work just about anywhere.

I was purposefully vague about exactly which products we use because this is not to advocate for a specific toolset, but to emphasize the necessity of having them available.

Now, once you’re connected and you’re actually set up to work from home, the actual experience has its own complexities, but that’s a whole other story. There is plenty of information available--advice about setting up a home office, how to deal with taxes, how to deal with family or roomies, how to be productive. Circumstances dictate most of that, but you have to be able to work from home in the first place before any of it is even a concern.

If you’re IT in a position to make such decisions, I recommend you deploy VPN access, with appropriate security measures of course. If you’re a dev working on internal software, consider how that software might be more accessible, both in terms of access and in terms of usability. If you’re in a position to affect the administrative structure of your office, going completely electronic and online is tremendously useful--not just when disaster strikes.

Mar 19th 2020 David Thomas

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