Medical Examiner

Work From Home Means Work From Home

Going to a café is cheating!

Three hip young people working on laptops at a table.
What a nice apartment these people have. Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

A lot of us are going to be working from home this week, in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In Seattle, where the coronavirus case count is highest in the U.S., several tech giants have instituted mandatory work-from-home policies. Twitter, headquartered in San Francisco, is “strongly encouraging” employees to work from home. Slate’s own New York and D.C. offices will be closed as of Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. My roommate group chat informs me that as of tomorrow, all four of us will be stuck in an apartment that is so small that we refer to it as the Sailboat. (At least we each have our own bedrooms.) People who normally get some space from their kids (whose schools may now be closed) or partners will increasingly find themselves shut in together. Things are going to get tense!

A common work-from-home hack, especially when there are so many people (in our case, also a beagle mix) underfoot, is to skip the “home” part and head to a café, food hall, or formal co-working space. There are good arguments for these places, under normal times: a change in scenery from your living room, some snacks, people but not the same ones you have to share one bathroom and a set of sheet pans with. These places are nice because they are … basically offices. They are offices that you pay for, whether with a day fee or conspicuously spaced-out muffin purchases. They are offices fit for a gig economy. They are, like offices, filled with germy people, and people on whom you can get your germs.

That is why you need to work from your home.

Do you really need to be that cautious? Let’s check in with an epidemiologist. “Everyone who can work from home should work from home,” William Hanage, of Harvard’s Center for Disease Dynamics, said in an interview with the Guardian, notably not saying “work from a nice, crowded Starbucks.” Spending eight hours parked in your living space can help slow the disease, protecting people who are vulnerable, health-wise, or really do need to go into a workplace because of the nature of their jobs.

Yes, experts are mixed on whether the measure is all that helpful if there hasn’t been a case detected at your workplace, as the Guardian explains. Any company that closes offices out of an abundance of caution is making something of a judgment call. But as the virus spreads and there are more confirmed cases, following the work-from-home directive will get more important. The main thing each of us can do right now is exercise some jurisdiction over the germs on our own bodies. We can each cut down on the probability that we are going to get sick. We can each cut down on the probability that if we are harboring the coronavirus—remember that you can have it and be asymptomatic—we do not give it to anyone else. One key way to do this is to wash your hands (yes, really). Another way to do this is to work from your actual home.