A woman walks along a shuttered business street in Beijing on February 4, 2020.A woman walks along a shuttered business street in Beijing on February 4, 2020. WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images

In offices across Asia, desks are empty and the phones are quiet, as the region grapples with a deadly virus.

Instead, millions of people are holed up in their apartments, in what may be the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment.

Frustrations at school: Many schools have been suspended, instead conducting classes remotely through digital learning tools — but this has proved more difficult for children with special learning needs or disabilities, and their educators.

“We use a lot of hands-on learning, so it’s been really challenging trying to make our online learning meaningful for the kids when we’re not in a classroom environment,” said Karen, a special education teacher in Hong Kong, who requested a pseudonym to avoid identifying the school.

Like other schools, Karen and her colleagues have relied on digital tools such as video calls and Google Docs — but challenges are made harder because her students need a lot of adult support.

The parents are also working from home, and are having to also be teachers — it’s almost an impossible situation,” she said.

Benefits in other sectors: For other digital-based sectors, working from home has instead been surprisingly effective.

“It’s a test run that we didn’t really choose to implement, but we’re quite happy with it,” said Brice Lamarque, sales and accounts director at a web and branding agency in Hong Kong. Nearly all the agency’s employees have been working from home this month.

“Before (the epidemic) happened, we were not really keen on letting our team work from home because we value collaboration,” said Lamarque. “But this experience actually showed us that the whole team collaborates quite well even if they’re not in the same room, so we’re looking at adding that into our employee benefits … maybe two to three weeks a year.”

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