As companies start to prepare for the increased likelihood that the coronavirus outbreak may become more widespread, several big tech companies have started to tell employees they should work from home. Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon have all given their employees instructions to work remotely for the time being if they can do so.

For example, Twitter has asked all 5,000 of its employees to work from home and has made it mandatory for employees in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. While the company's San Francisco headquarters will stay open for employees who feel they need to come in for work, the company has canceled all business travel and backed out of SXSW. 

Amazon's headquarters is in Seattle, an area that has seen several deaths from the virus, and the company announced that a worker there tested positive. Amazon is currently notifying others who may have had contact with that employee and has asked its Seattle employees to work from home.

And those aren't the only companies sending team members home for the foreseeable future. Microsoft is encouraging its Seattle and San Francisco employees to work from home in addition to those working in South Korea and Singapore. Google has halted all international travel and has recommended its Seattle-area employees work remotely.  

The move doesn't only affect the way employees at those companies work--it also affects potential employees. Facebook, for example, has started conducting interviews via videoconferencing instead of in person. The company has also asked employees who do come to the office not to bring guests, a move Google has put in place as well. 

Deciding whether to encourage your team to work from home can be a challenge. If you don't have systems in place to support their work and keep everyone connected, suddenly working remotely can create a number of problems. At the same time, keeping your team healthy and productive should be equal priorities, especially since beyond just your responsibility to the people who work for you, a sick workforce isn't a particularly productive one. 

Fortunately, several of those same companies are offering free versions of their team collaboration tools for the next few months. Microsoft and Google, for example, are making their fully featured tiers of Teams and Hangouts Chat, respectively, available as a free trial for the next few months.

In reality, most small businesses don't have plans to respond to public health concerns, but now is the time to start considering how your company might respond should a more widespread outbreak occur. That plan should include both when it makes sense for employees to work remotely, as well as what tools you'll need to keep your team connected.

It's still entirely possible that areas of the country won't see large numbers of Covid-19 cases, but hoping that's the case isn't a plan. That's your job as a leader, to make a plan now so that you're ready when you need it. Your company, your team, and your customers deserve nothing less.

Published on: Mar 6, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.