TORONTO -- A remote working expert has urged Canadian companies to prepare for a potential quarantine scenario, such as those in place for the novel coronavirus outbreak, after some international companies told their workers to stay home.

Paul Vallee, founder of Tehama, which specializes in IT solutions for remote working, cited cases in Japan and Germany where fear of the spread of COVID-19 has prompted employers to tell staff not to come into the office.

Earlier this month Japanese telecom giant NNT, which employs 200,000 people, told employees to work from home or use staggered hours in a bid to prevent infection, according to Japan’s national broadcaster NHK.

The company also asked staff to avoid holding meetings and instead use video and teleconferencing.

Serial entrepreneur Vallee, believes Canadian companies should be prepared to make similar arrangements if a coronavirus outbreak occurs here.

“They (NTT) felt, out of an abundance of caution, they should send their workers home while everyone is well,” Vallee told in a phone interview.

“This particular virus is uniquely dangerous because of its ability to spread without showing symptoms. The first line of defence is not coming into work (if you feel unwell). Relatively little symptoms has really changed things.”

Vallee’s company helps businesses access their IT systems remotely via the cloud, which can be adopted in a half day. But he admits not every company has the cash to use his service and patchy internet coverage across Canada means it isn’t an option for some.

“I want to call on Canadian companies to realize their work from home plan, test their plans if they need too,” he said.

“If this comes to Canada, the virus could well change our work culture and attitude to the possibilities of home working. That would be a huge benefit to workers.”

He added that the rural-urban divide could also be bridged as businesses implement more home working.

“If it (COVID-19) does spread and we see cases like the way it has been in China, it’s going to come with consequences. Employers should be planning now,” Vallee said.

The economic impact of COVID-19 has been devastating in China, where the new coronavirus originated in the central city of Wuhan. The virus has infected nearly 78,000 people globally and killed 2,345 in China.

Vallee said the impact has already been felt by Canadian businesses in “supply chain and inventory stress.”

Canada's economy slowed "sharply" in the final quarter of 2019, the parliamentary budget office said in its February economic and fiscal report.

The coronavirus outbreak, combined with lower-than-expected business spending, will likely push economic growth lower in the first quarter of 2020, the PBO projected.

Even Apple has warned investors that it won't meet its second-quarter financial guidance because the COVID-19 outbreak in China has cut production of iPhones.

“What has not happened yet is the local consequences,” Vallee said.

“If your business becomes directly affected, it is anyone’s guess what the cost will be.”

Vallee believes home working can change society in positive ways. He claimed workers are more productive and engaged, in part because they’re not micro-managed in the way they might be in a normal work environment.

With files from The Associated Press