The highly contagious coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is rapidly spreading across the world, dramatically impacting our lives at home and at work. Many countries have already implemented strict measures to stop the spread of the virus, and an increasing number of companies (including Envoy) are encouraging or requiring their employees to work remotely, as workplaces everywhere are shutting down.
Envoy Visitors is currently used to sign in guests in 13,000 offices, giving us a unique dataset to measure the effect the virus has had on workplaces (and the economy as a whole). Using visitor data—specifically the number of visitors signing in—as a proxy of workplace and economic activity, we can construct a timeline of how this pandemic impacted the world.
Week of February 3rd: Calm before the storm
At the beginning of this week, there are around 20,000 confirmed cases of the virus and over 400 deaths, almost all in China. The S&P 500 closes the week at 3,327, a near all-time high, as investors have yet to view the epidemic as a threat to economic activity.
However, there are signs that something larger is looming. The World Health Organization (WHO) determined that the outbreak in China constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Li Wenliang, the doctor who initially warned authorities of a SARS-like virus in December, dies from the disease on January 30th, and the U.S. confirms its first case of person-to-person transmission.
The impact: Despite the alarming news, there was no measurable drop in global workplace activity. It appears the majority of the world has yet to realize the severity of the situation.
Week of February 10th: The cracks begin to show
By this time, there are over 43,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths, still mostly confined to China. The S&P closes the week at 3,380, very close to its all-time high. People don’t know it yet, but this is the highest it will be for the foreseeable future.
Across the world, more reports of the virus begin to surface. On February 14th, a Chinese tourist dies of the virus in France, making it the first related death in Europe. On the same day, Egypt reports its first case of the virus making it the first case in Africa.
The impact: There is still no drop in overall visitor traffic, but some small changes can be seen. Visitor traffic is down by 3% in international (non-U.S.) offices relative to past data, but in the U.S. traffic is actually up 6% as economic activity continues to grow.
Week of February 17th: On the brink
At the start of the week, there are over 73,000 cases and over 1,800 deaths. The S&P closes the week at 3,337, down 1.2% from the prior week, but still close to its all-time high. The spread of the virus is well underway, as several countries report their first deaths.
Iran and South Korea, two of the countries hit hardest by the virus, report their first deaths on February 19th. The Italian region of Lombardy reports its first case of local transmission, meaning that people who hadn’t traveled abroad are contracting the virus.
The impact: This is also the first week there is a meaningful drop in workplace activity across our customer base, as international visitor traffic is down by more than 10%. Meanwhile, visitor traffic is up by 5% in the U.S., highlighting the delayed reaction to the coming pandemic from the American population as compared to the rest of the world.
Week of February 24th: A new world emerges
At the start of this week, there are over 80,000 cases and 2,400 deaths. The S&P closes at 2,954, down over 11% from the prior week as investors finally realize the impact the virus could have on economic activity.
Italy places many towns and villages in Lombardy under lockdown to fight the spread of the virus. The U.S. confirms its first case of the virus from someone who hadn’t traveled internationally and several states declare a state of emergency to prepare drastic measures to slow the spread.
The impact: Overall visitor traffic is down for the first time, with international traffic down over 11% and U.S. visitor traffic remaining flat.
Week of March 2nd: The crisis quickly escalates
At the beginning of this week, there are over 90,000 cases and 3,100 deaths. The S&P 500 closes the week at 2,972, a small increase from the prior week as investors hope that measures taken by the government and Federal Reserve will keep the economy afloat.
One of these measures is a half percent cut in interest rates in an attempt to boost demand, the first unscheduled emergency rate cut since 2008. This is also the week the CDC finally removes restrictions on coronavirus testing, a change from their previous policy of only testing people in the hospital. Across the world, the number of cases and deaths grow. Iran crosses 4,700 cases and 120 deaths, including a member of their parliament.
The impact: International visitor traffic is down 14% at this point, while U.S. visitor traffic is down slightly by 3%. In hindsight, it is surprising that visitor volume was still so high in the U.S. despite weeks of troubling news.
Week of March 9th: Pandemic
At this point, there have been over 114,000 confirmed cases and 4,000 deaths worldwide. The S&P closes the week at 2,711, down almost 9% from the prior week, and down almost 20% from its high a few weeks earlier.
The WHO officially declares COVID-19 a pandemic. The entire country of Italy goes into complete lockdown. The NBA season is suspended as several players test positive for the virus. Travel is restricted to the US from Europe for at least 30 days and Trump declares a national emergency to free up $50 billion in funding to fight the spread of the virus.
The impact: This week, both U.S. and international visitor traffic are down by over 20%. This is a sharp drop in activity for the U.S., while international workplaces had been trending to this number for weeks. Areas such as Italy and Washington State that are hit hard by the virus see even bigger drops, at roughly 85% and 55%.
Interviews are down globally by over 60% this week, showing that more companies are adopting stricter policies around visitors. Based on visitor data, this is the week where many people, especially Americans, start seeing disruptions in their daily work routines.
Week of March 16th: Global shutdown
By now, there are over 182,000 cases and 7,100 deaths from the virus. The S&P has another disastrous week, closing at 2,398, down almost 12% from the prior week and 30% from a month prior. The U.S. economy is teetering on the brink of a major recession—a sentence that would have been unthinkable just one month ago.
Congress quickly races to pass an enormous $1 trillion stimulus package to keep business and people financially afloat. New York City closes down all its bars, theaters, and restaurants to limit public gatherings, while the Bay Area goes a step further and institutes a ‘shelter in place’ policy, meaning all non-essential businesses must close.
The impact: Visitor traffic is down by roughly 80% in both the U.S. and abroad, as numerous workplaces shut down entirely to limit the spread of the disease. In California, more than 600 out of the top 800 offices (by visitor volume) shut their doors entirely.
What is surprising is the number of workplaces that remain open. In California, there are still almost 300 offices, across a variety of industries, that are actively receiving visitors.
Workplaces are doing what they can to stop the spread of the virus
While the situation is constantly changing, we can certainly see that this pandemic has caused a large number of workplaces to shut down or at least minimize visitors. These policies help slow the spread of the virus and ensure that our collective healthcare systems do not get overwhelmed.
Envoy itself has moved to a mandatory work-from-home policy since March 13th, and we have recently shut down our offices completely. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing best practices from Envoy’s Workplace Experience team as they tackle the same challenges faced by workplaces globally today—maintaining company culture, supporting employees with the equipment and environments they need, and keeping their teams effective and connected while quickly pivoting to remote work.