A few suggestions for Year 2 of Covid-19

Note: Usually I have a policy not to get too political here on the company blog. But it seems like right now, it’s somewhat of a duty to speak out publicly — after all I’m privileged enough to be able to afford doing so where others are not.

In this post, I want to suggest a few ideas for the German government to get us all through year 2 of Covid-19.

So, despite vaccinations starting to be distributed Covid-19 is still going strong. In many countries — including Germany, where I’m based — numbers aren’t going significantly down despite a so-called “hard lockdown”.

I put this in air quotes because really it’s only a hard lockdown for certain job groups as well as all people in their roles of private citizen as well as parents. Most bigger businesses benefit from a ton of exceptions and support, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

For now, let’s stipulate:

  • The infection isn’t going down fast enough, we’ll be living with a full blown pandemic for many more months. Most likely to the end of 2021.
  • The government’s measures have failed to get the pandemic under control.
  • The government has been spending significant (massive, really) amounts on corona crisis support, but with unclear results.
  • The government’s support has hugely favored certain types of businesses over others, creating an uneven playing field.
  • Parents are largely left alone to deal with the fallout.

From my vantage point, speaking as someone who both runs a small company where I’m self-employed as well as a parent of a young child, the situation looks like this:

  • Daycare has been unreliable, on and off, or with limited availability, meaning we cannot plan reliably. Which means others, like clients or my wife’s employer, cannot plan reliably with us in turn. (The daycare staff has been great and working themselves to the ground; alas they’re not in charge of the political decision about closures.)
  • Interpreting the rules about home office work to be so vague to allow certain industries to work onsite that absolutely need to, we both switched to working from home. Just to learn that many if not most companies just kept asking their staff to their offices. So now we’re two people working from home, often with no daycare, juggling a little kid with full time work, in ever evolving but constant shift systems. It’s been quite literally the most draining year of my life, with sleep as elusive as it could be.
  • Government financial support for the pandemic is structured so that my kind of company isn’t eligible for any meaningful support. Since I’m owner of my company, and so-called “owner’s salaries” are off-limits for support, all but a small one-off payment in March 2020 were off the table for my company. So, no government support; but because daycares are also not available, I’ve been in a situation where getting even a halfway normal workday out of 24 hours has been many times harder than usual.

So, little support as a parent and little support as a self-employed business owner: This is the intersection of the Venn diagram where the government takes your options off the table and then lets you deal with the fallout. That, at least, has been my experience. Leaving families so under-supported leads to highly problematic outcomes. Among other things, it tends to reinforce traditional family models (single earner, one stay-at-home parent) and old gender roles as women are disproportionately impacted by having a child at home: More often than not, it’s women who will bear the brunt of childcare even in families with two working partners.

With every day the government repeats their mistaken claims that it hurts the economy to lock down or to enforce home office work for knowledge workers (and the parties themselves!), the pandemic keeps going, further undermining my company’s outlook.

Adding insult to injury, this rhetoric flat out denies that my company, too, is part of the economy. I may not be running a Mercedes or SAP here, but it’s honest and good work I’m putting in here — and in an area of expertise that this country desperately lacks as we see over and over and over given the state of digital transformation and digital rights, if I may say so myself.

So, as they say on Twitter, here’s a #freeidea. In fact, a number of free ideas:

  • Enforce home office work for literally every job where all you do is speak and write. To show some spine and leadership, I’d propose doing this including and up to cabinet members and parliament and C-Level execs. This type of change has to happen top down, not bottom up.
  • Ban all non-essential travel, including and especially business travel. Again, if people are traveling for meetings, that’s plainly irresponsible and wrong. If you’re a heart surgeon and need to go to a different hospital, I get it. If you’re there for a negotiation, keep your ass on the chair and fire up Zoom like the rest of us. (I can’t believe I have to say this a year into the pandemic. This is ridiculous.)
  • Support parents by either keeping open day cares, who by now have tremendous concepts for keeping small groups that are firewalled from each other, and by offering them meaningful financial support to take time off.
  • Support all businesses and not just enterprises by offering flat out, no-strings-attached payments to get them through the year.

In fact, I’d argue it might very well be cheaper to pay companies to stop working altogether and cast multiple birds with one stone. Surely there are many sectors that don’t produce essential goods.

Currently, we haven’t seen a huge wave of bankruptcies because they don’t yet show up in the books. But structurally, there’s no chance this wave isn’t coming, and anecdotal evidence backs this up.

The focus now should be on two top priorities:

  1. Get the pandemic under control by closing all the loop holes that have allowed it to continue its spread, including and especially business-related loop holes.
  2. Get businesses and workers alike to a position where once the pandemic subsides they can pick things up from a level playing field through measures like financial support and anything else that might be available. A clear cut, then everyone start again at the same time.

I can’t stress this second point enough: Currently, some industries and types of structures (big export industries as well as traditional large-scale employers) are hugely favored by government support. Anyone outside the structure of corporation or traditional employment is fighting on two fronts now: Against the backdrop of living through a pandemic and also against the reality of a government failing to recognize and support significant parts of the economy as well as parents.

I know, everyone’s a critic. Anyway, here’s my #freeidea.

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