Good morning, MBA readers,
Working from home has been billed as a premier workplace perk for years. By 2018, nearly a quarter of the American labor force worked remotely in some capacity, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And about 95% of those remote workers would recommend the experience to others, according to a 2019 report.
Now, the coronavirus pandemic has catalyzed a surge in remote work, forcing millions of people to work from home for the first time. Firms big and small, from Cerner in Kansas City to Edward Jones in St. Louis, have embraced the practice, encouraging most of their employees to stay home out of concern over COVID-19.
In theory, one might expect the usual benefits: Employees on more flexible schedules may be happier with their jobs, while companies get to save on some overhead costs while minimizing the risk of spreading the virus at the office. But this surge in remote work seems to be a strenuous experiment for many who find themselves in uncharted waters, citing feelings of loneliness, communication breakdown and inefficiencies.
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Speaking Startup: Working from home and avoiding door handles
This week’s podcast features two entrepreneurs who have hatched solutions to challenges being brought to the fore by the spread of the coronavirus. Bryan Helmig is co-founder of Zapier, a software company that has been built using a remote team. He shares insights about working from home for companies being forced to do so by the pandemic. And southwest Missouri entrepreneur Mike Sewell is a co-creator of the StepNpull, a tool for opening doors without touching handles. The company has seen a surge in demand due to the virus.
KC officials report new coronavirus cases, suspend all bus fares
The Kansas City Health Department said Thursday that six people in the city have tested positive for COVID-19. RideKC has suspended fares on all its buses until further notice. (Kansas City Star, KMBC)
Not a ‘maybe’: Doctors warn of Seattle-level pandemic in KC area
The Kansas City metro could see as many positive coronavirus cases as Seattle, which reported nearly 1,200 as of Thursday, within the next two weeks, according to Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at The University of Kansas Health System. Other KU health experts agree, noting that the outbreak in Kansas City is still in the early stage. (Kansas City Star)
Spring flooding likely to delay Midwest planting season
Increased rainfall is likely to cause more flooding in 23 states this spring, potentially further delaying the Midwest planting season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. But officials believe this year’s floods will not be as severe or prolonged as last year’s historic floods across the Midwest. (Reuters)
T-Mobile to complete Sprint merger despite pandemic
The third-largest U.S. wireless carrier said Thursday that it is “financially prepared” to close its $26 billion merger with Sprint, assuring investors that all 16 of its banks remain committed to financing the deal. (MarketWatch)
St. Louis-area hospitals pause elective surgeries
Several area hospital systems, including BJC HealthCare, SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s announced Thursday that they will cancel all elective procedures starting Monday, in an effort to protect patients and caregivers from COVID-19. (Associated Press)
As Missourians stay home, state lottery again faces dwindling sales
Overall sales of Missouri Lottery tickets dropped 11% this week, a revenue loss of over $1.7 million for the state. The lottery sales figure, which was already down in recent months, further complicates efforts to pass the state budget for fiscal year 2021. Last year, the lottery raised $346 million in school funding. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Pandemic forces another St. Louis regional carrier to shut down
Compass Airlines, a regional carrier for American and Delta airlines, announced Thursday that it will stop flying in April due to decreased revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic. Compass is owned by Bridgeton-based Trans State Holdings, which shut down Trans State Airlines, a regional carrier for United Airlines, earlier this week. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
O’Reilly Hospitality announces temporary layoffs
The Springfield-based company, which has 1,800 employees in nine states, has made “temporary” layoffs due to “a dramatic reduction at our restaurants and hotels.” CEO Tim O’Reilly declined to disclose how many jobs are affected. (Springfield Business Journal)
Salt + Smoke lays off 218 as it pivots to takeouts and deliveries
The St. Louis barbecue chain on Wednesday filed a notice with the state that it will lay of 218 employees effective March 23 as the business pivots entirely to curbside pickup and delivery service. (St. Louis Business Journal)
Schnucks, Dierbergs limit sale of certain items
The two St. Louis-based grocers have limited the number of certain products, such as eggs and toilet paper, that customers can buy. The move comes after a week of rush on daily essential products. (St. Louis Business Journal)
Independence Center closes as other KC area malls remain open
The Independence Center mall closed its door Thursday with tentative plans to reopen on March 31. Other malls in the area, like Oak Park Mall and Legends Outlets Kansas City, remained open Thursday despite national retailers like Macy’s shuttering stores. (Kansas City Business Journal)
UM System to close all campuses next week
The University of Missouri System will close all four campuses through at least April 12 as staff and faculty work remotely if they can, system President Mun Choi said in a mass email Thursday. (Columbia Missourian)
Distilleries, breweries help meet demand for disinfectant
Kansas City-based J. Rieger & Co. has repurposed its overproof gin to make an all-natural disinfectant that customers may pick up on a pay-what-you-can scale. St. Louis-based 4 Hands Brewing is using its facility to produce hand sanitizers. (Kansas City Business Journal, St. Louis Business Journal)
Music business owner creates relief fund for St. Louis musicians
Ben Majchrzak, co-owner of the Native Sound recording studio, is raising money online to support St. Louis musicians as public life screeches to a halt. Majchrzak, who had raised more than $4,200 as of Thursday evening, said he will post an application form later this week and send out $250 checks on a first-come, first-served basis. (St. Louis Public Radio)
St. Louis puzzle business booms as people stay inside
Puzzle Warehouse, which has a storefront in Kirkwood, is hiring 10 new employees just to keep up with demand from new online orders for puzzles as more people are forced to spend more time at home. (KSDK)
Say that again
“It’s a very stressful time for everybody. Not only do you have to worry about not getting sick, but you also have to worry about if your bills are going to get paid.”
That’s Dustin Holland, general manager of Johnny Kaw’s Yard Bar in Kansas City, explaining why the establishment and others in the area plan to offer interest-free loans to their employees during the coronavirus outbreak, WDAF reports. Brett Allred, the owner of Johnny Kaw’s and eight other bars, said he had about $40,000 worth of alcohol stocked up for St. Patrick’s Day. Allred intends to sell the booze until it’s gone to help employees while they’re out of work. In all, Allred employs about 200 people, most of whom rely on tips for income.
That’s how many new unemployment claims Missouri received last week, marking a 27% jump in claims from the previous week as more businesses limit their operation and lay off staff to slow the spread of COVID-19, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Nationally, initial unemployment claims were up 70,000 last week to 281,000, with some economists projecting that figure to top a record 1.5 million next week. The U.S. Department of Labor confirmed the jump is “clearly attributable to impacts from the COVID-19 virus.”
Hello, my name is
This St. Louis-based digital health startup launched a free, text message-based program to provide resources and information on the COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Louis Business Journal reports. The COVID Companion program will be offered to health systems and the general public for free. Illinois-based OSF HealthCare, an existing CareSignal customer, has already begun using the program. CareSignal said it will provide customized features and marketing materials for other health systems that join. Founded in 2015, the company has developed a remote patient monitoring platform used by health systems, payers and physician groups.
It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning. Have a good weekend, and remember to keep that social distance.