Coronavirus is something that could not have been predicted. Its impacts span far and wide and have affected more than just our ability to go out for a coffee, visit a friend, or take a trip to the cinema. COVID-19 has indirectly meant that New York’s pollution levels have been reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus, the global average road transport activity (by the end of March 2020) fell to 50% of what it was in 2019, and wildlife around the world has been given a chance to explore the places that they used to call home.
The initial outbreak saw massive social disruption; across the globe, schools and universities closed, and large gatherings and parades were canceled. As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 grew and grew, it soon became clear that disruption would take effect in almost every sector, and adapting to these unforeseen changes would be inevitable.
Luckily for those working in the tech industry, disruption is nothing new. And whilst a global pandemic, for most, is new (and scary), people need to adapt and evolve as much as possible.
So let’s take a look at some of the ways in which COVID-19 has affected communication and technology, and what these sectors have done to adapt.
Coronavirus has had a direct impact on the use of in-home media around the world. According to Statista, a global survey conducted in March 2020 revealed that over 40% of consumers spend longer on messaging services, entertainment services, and social media, on average than before the crisis.
It makes sense when you think about it; we’re highly social creatures and we’ve become accustomed to regular, physical communication with workmates, housemates, friends, family, partners, etc. Lockdown made it so that this communication was reduced significantly. So, what is the logical action for most people? Communicate digitally. From messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to social media and entertainment platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, consumers are now inundated with available outlets.
Now, these are not new platforms or ideas, they’ve been around for a while, but their general usage has increased due to the coronavirus outbreak:
But not everyone is a keen socialite, and many of us enjoy hanging out face-to-face but aren’t fans of phone conversations or video chats. That’s chiefly because our most common forms of social interaction are texting, emailing, and face-to-face contact, and this has been the norm for such a long time. So when someone calls, it’s a less familiar form of communication. Nevertheless, phone calls and video chats with friends, family, partners, and workmates suddenly became standard practice. So even those who tend to avoid chatting on the phone or FaceTiming were getting in on the action without hesitation.
People have now come to embrace voice and video chats simply because, when it comes to the social interaction we crave, it’s the next best thing.
Whilst many people have been put on government job-retention schemes or, sadly, lost their jobs, a lot of companies have been able to continue running their businesses by enabling employees to work remotely. One of the primary reasons that working from home, for some, has been so seamless and successful is down to our good friend, technology.
Pre-pandemic, working from home, for the most part, was not the norm. If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that allows remote work then you may have experienced it. But remote working raises key issues for some companies: are our teams communicating well or as well as they would in the office? Do our employees take regular breaks? How can we maintain motivation when we don’t meet every day? Etc.
Technology has been a key player in safeguarding these potential issues. Thanks to applications like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc., companies can maintain communication and monitor production and wellbeing with relative ease.
And whilst not everyone is lucky enough to be able to work remotely, many can. Research shows that remote working can positively impact companies and individuals, as employees that work from home statistically take fewer sick days and less vacation time, and are generally more productive when working remotely (of course this is subject to employer policies and practices).
More companies are committing to having a remote workforce for the foreseeable future and many tech brands have offered support in the form of training, reassurance, and free access to collaborative tools.
From contributing to entertainment and education to helping us with tasks, fitness, or mental wellbeing, apps have come to be a valuable and ever-present part of our everyday lives. And this has only been magnified since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown.
Millions of people all over the world are being encouraged to download and use applications that aim to improve the understanding and management of coronavirus and also prevent it from spreading at such a rapid rate. Ireland, for example, has released a contact-tracing app ‘COVID Tracker Ireland’, wherein users input information about themselves and, using Bluetooth technology, will become notified if they are in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for the virus.
This is similar to Australia’s COVIDSafe app, Singapore’s TraceTogether app, and many others that are emerging globally. Apps like these also allow users to note and monitor their health and emerging symptoms, should they have any.
Whilst people need to interact with doctors and medical professionals about the coronavirus, other medical necessities like prescriptions or emerging symptoms of other illnesses or injuries will, of course, still occur. Whilst healthcare providers may have or create their own apps or telephone services to provide prescriptions and services, COVID-19 has seen the emergence of brand new apps like Doctor on Demand, Amwell, or Teladoc Health, which offer virtual care, guidance, medical attention, or support without having to physically enter a building.
Physical and mental wellbeing
COVID-19 has forced the closing of gyms and fitness classes worldwide, meaning that people have had to compensate by creating personal workouts or accessing exercise classes and tips digitally. Luckily, innovative app creators are on the ball. This means that we have seen a huge surge in the development of fitness apps and classes. Whilst some people took to running outdoors or cycling, others embraced the likes of Daily Yoga, Les Mills on Demand, or workouts provided by their own gym’s app.
But it’s not all physical. The increased social isolation caused by COVID-19 has seen people struggle with their mental wellbeing, too. That’s why apps such as Calm, Headspace, and other meditation or wellness helpers have been so important to peoples’ mental health and have seen a huge spike in downloads since the outbreak.
Working from home
Without access to the right tools, project management can be super tough in the environment of remote work. So project applications like Slack, Trello, and Monday.com have enabled continued communication and allowed teams to collaborate on tasks, set goals, track progress, and facilitate project management seamlessly. And for some, this new working environment has had such a positive impact that it’s being implemented for the foreseeable future.
In an effort to contain, mitigate, monitor, or adapt to the effects of the coronavirus, accurately strategizing and thinking outside the box has been imperative. This means that for fundamental strategies to be effective, people have relied on digital technology and integrating it into the likes of healthcare, policy, and daily life:
In some areas, drones are being used to allow for contactless deliveries, to spray disinfectant, and to monitor traffic. Drone software is even being rewritten to acquire new functions that aim to aid epidemic prevention.
Rapid increase and diversified 3D printing
Whilst 3D printing is not a new concept, many designers, engineers, students, manufacturers, and more, have been using 3D printing to produce a variety of PPE equipment as the likes of face masks, face shields, ventilator components, etc., have been in short supply since the outbreak.
The frequent, and often mandatory, use of face masks has meant that facial recognition technology is rapidly adapting. Companies and developers are accommodating these new and important changes by building fresh datasets and facial ID and recognition algorithms to advance this technology. The likes of GitHub is seeing researchers post image datasets that have been taken from Instagram to support COVID-affected facial recognition issues.
Of course, there is controversy around this topic in terms of companies selling personal data and using the virus as a means to capitalize and control.
“[...] Necessity is the mother of our invention.” This saying first appears in the dialogue Republic by Plato, and this still reigns true centuries on. As we’ve mentioned previously, the likes of gyms, business meetings, health centers, social practices, etc., have had to adapt, and that means delving into digital transformation:
Sadly for many, festivals and events have had to be canceled, postponed, or go digital. Festival giant’s Coachella initially postponed their event until October, but later canceled it entirely on the orders of local public health officials. Whilst Glastonbury opted for a virtual line-up and encouraged people to celebrate at home.
Closure of education facilities, working from home, and self-development. These factors have meant that digital learning and productivity has become a necessary solution.
Social distancing dictated that individuals were only allowed to socialize with the people with which they shared a house. This curbed the ability to have dinner parties with family, meet friends in a bar, or socialize in the homes of others, etc.
That’s where the emergence of the likes of Zoom parties, online quizzes, and ‘face-to-face’ social network apps like Houseparty have been the saviors of many.
Digital transformation has been imperative to maintaining relationships and also to the survival of many businesses during this global pandemic.
Companies that resided exclusively in the physical world, or who had both online and offline (brick-and-mortar stores), found themselves mapping out a solely digital strategy for both the short term and the long term (just to be safe).
In this unique moment, as society becomes vulnerable and unsure, great changes, both positive and negative are overtaking our world. There’s no denying that the COVID-19 crisis has altered the way that we act, think, and work, and the changes we've talked about could potentially be a reflection of what our future world looks like. Technology has become a central aspect of our lives, impacting the way that we function as human beings.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has required global innovation and confirmed our ability to think, act, and problem-solve at a rapid rate. Companies, customers, markets, and regulators have changed and experimented with behaviors, which has provided great insights into productivity and responsibility. It has offered an opportunity to reassess digital initiatives and the ways in which we’ve utilized technology to live, work, experience, and connect.
It’s important that we learn from the outbreak; learn what we need to survive, who’s truly important in our lives, and how we impact (and can therefore help) the wider ecological environment which is undoubtedly in danger.
Overall, the hardships of the global pandemic have been quelled, aided, and overcome by technology, which suggests that the tech sector could ultimately grow out of necessity. Digital disruption calls for a way to meet and exceed the growing needs of a rapidly evolving world and unpredictable, changing situations, and this, in itself, requires digital adoption and transformation.