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Coronavirus prompts Shopify to tell employees to work from home starting March 16

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Shruti Shekar
·Telecom & Tech Reporter
·4 min read
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TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 4  -     Shopify has become Canada's tech darling by defying conventional norms and reinventing ways of doing business. This is a profile of the company built on entrepreneurship.  November 4, 2015.        (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify (SHOPT.TO) (SHOP) announced all of its workers will be working remotely starting March 16 due to COVID-19.

“Working from home will help play a part in reducing the spread of the virus, and hopefully lessen its potentially huge burden on the healthcare system,” the company said in a tweet Wednesday.

Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke also tweeted that it was a “hard decision but the right one.”

“Proximity is incredibly valuable for creative work. However, it’s possible for us to work together remotely and so we should,” Lütke wrote.

“Of course Shopify is no stranger to remote work. We actually closed our offices once for a [one] month period to build empathy for the remote workers of Shopify. Half the company already works from home, mostly customer support.”

The move comes after Google also advised all North America-based employees to work from home until at least April 10, as first reported by Business Insider.

“Contributing to social distancing if you are able to, helps the overall community spread and most importantly, will help offset the peak loads through critical healthcare systems and also saves it for people in need,” Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted on March 10.

Google also issued a company announcement the same day, indicating it was committing to a COVID-19 fund “that will enable all our temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19, or can’t come into work because they are quarantined.”

“Working with our partners, this fund will mean that members of our extended workforce will be compensated for their normal working hours if they can’t come into work for these reasons,” Google said.

The Canadian government also announced a $1 billion economic support package on Wednesday.

Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice, said in an interview that it is “really unclear” what responsibilities companies have as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“We are still in the very early short-run part of it... there isn’t a standard playbook and companies are really, in all honesty, making it up as [they] going along,” he said, adding that making the decision to ask employees to stay home in certain industries (like B2B sales, white-collar jobs that have security requirements) are exceptionally difficult.

In these circumstances, Kropp said the responsibility of employers in some circumstances is to ask employees to work from home and complete the portion of their tasks that do not require human interaction or office attendance.

“Companies are trying to task shift. They know you can’t come into work so they’ll say... ‘maybe spend the next week catching up on all the training that you’re supposed to do.’ Sort of creating opportunities that you can do remotely to kind of fill up that time,” he said.

Unfortunately, because companies are improvising as the situation develops, Kropp said sooner or later employees will run out of things to do remotely and will “run into a real problem.”

“If the person is not working full-time and it’s not that they’re sick, and they need to go on sick leave, and it’s not that they’re quarantined... the concern employees have is ‘well am I going to get laid off? Am I going to have my hours reduced?’” he said.

E3, among other tech conferences, cancelled

On March 11, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), announced via Twitter it is cancelling its conference which was set to take place in Los Angeles between June 9 and 11.

“After careful consultation with our member companies regarding the health and safety of everyone in our industry - our fans, our employees, our exhibitors and our longtime E3 partners - we have made the difficult decision to cancel E3 2020,” it said in a tweet.

Collision, one of Toronto’s biggest tech conferences, also announced it was cancelling its in-person events and moving the conference online.

Facebook’s F8 (May 6 to 8), Facebook Global Marketing Summit (March 9 to 12), Google I/O (April 6 to 8), Mobile World Congress (Feb 24 to 27) have all been cancelled.

SXSW (March 12 to 22) organizers announced March 6 that the event held in Austin, Texas is cancelled.

Shopify Unite 2020 Developers Conference (May 6-8) cancelled its Toronto in-person event and, like Collision, has moved online only.

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