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Burgers and Netflix, but can't pet the dog: A CEO's life in self-quarantine

Mar 15. 2020
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Jeff Green · BUSINESS, WORLD, HEALTH, CAREER-WORKPLACE, MIDDLE-EAST 

Harel Tayeb says one of the hardest things about the self-quarantine in his Tel Aviv home is that his dog Apollo doesn't understand why Tayeb can't pet him.

The Siberian husky, along with Tayeb's wife and four children ages 6 to 18, have to keep their distance from him until next week. It's part of a new policy in Israel requiring anyone who enters the country from abroad to go into a 14-day quarantine. Tayeb, the CEO of software automation company Kryon Systems Ltd., was ordered into quarantine March 6, the day the policy took effect, when he returned to Tel Aviv from a conference for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. He says he has no reason to believe he was exposed to the coronavirus.

"I can tell you that on a personal level, it's much more difficult for me," says Tayeb, who acknowledges he's a hand-shaking, face-to-face sort of executive. He jokes that he's used to jet-setting, not just sitting: "I'm used to having some kind of direct interaction all day long, and now I'm having no interaction with people. I'm sitting on my seat for eight hours in meeting after meeting. Even if it's by video, is very challenging."

People around the world are adjusting to new mandates, and millions are now under self-imposed or government-ordered quarantines in dozens of countries-16 million in Italy alone-as Covid-19 becomes a global pandemic. The U.S. is now requiring people returning from Europe to isolate for two weeks, as well.

Executives of global operations like Kryon-which has more than 10 offices including in New York, Frankfurt and Singapore-are likely to be caught in those policies because of business travel and forced to stay home. Tayeb is an early example of what life will look like soon for many companies.

The company, which helps automate business tasks, had developed a new protocol for employees who are in quarantine about two weeks ago, and Tayeb is among the first to test it. That's already leading to changes, he says. One thing that he is adding is a routine of regular personal or group video conferences so that people maintain some sense of a normal routine with colleagues. The company is also buying more equipment so that employees will be fully prepared if they have to work from home.

Tayeb says he's had to cancel flights to important meetings in London and Singapore, and this is usually the week when he works from the company's New York City office. In place of his nonstop face-to-face meetings, Tayeb says that he's adapting to the video conferences "sitting on his seat" instead. It's particularly ill-timed because Kryon's software is used by many of the companies that are in crisis because of the virus, such as airlines, and he has less flexibility to meet their needs, he said.

One big conclusion from Tayeb's experience so far: There's an adjustment period after an abrupt switch to remote work, even if you've planned and prepared.

The isolation is giving him a good primer on what businesses should expect as more countries turn to quarantines. For example, his regional executives are playing a larger role, because he can attend only virtually. He's also developing more flexible policies, such as letting more cash-strapped customers delay payments by several months to help them get past the crisis as he measures out how it's changing business patterns.

Mostly, Tayeb said, he's just trying to make the best of it until he's released from the restrictions. He's fueling up on espresso from his Nespresso coffee maker instead of taking a coffee break with staff. When he's not working, he's cooking and binge-watching the Formula 1 series on Netflix and getting too much delivery food. Hamburgers and Chinese food are top choices.

He has settled into a routine where stays separate in his office from his wife, children and dog, and when he has to move through common parts of the 11-room house, he warns the rest of the family away and wears a mask, just to be safe. "My dog can't understand," Tayeb says. "He comes running to me, and I have to keep my distance. That's an issue."

Tayeb thinks that at the current rate of the spread of the Covid-19 virus, all business being conducted may soon resemble his routine in self-quarantine, maybe by the time he's released next Thursday. 

"I believe that in maybe two weeks everyone will be, if not in quarantine, having to do something different," he said. "We will see the entire work environment will change. A lot of companies can take that in a good way. It might be enriching for them to become more efficient. We can make the best of a bad situation."

 

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