Things around the world have changed dramatically over the past 4 weeks and I can’t help but think that in a few months when the world starts to recover, the baseline of what we consider “normal” will change as we ease into the “new normal”. COVID-19 will disrupt the industries and the way of working in ways that we didn’t think of before and businesses will have to accept that to go back to the old ways may cost them more money than adapting to the new trends. I am a big believer in looking for a silver lining in every crisis and with all the destruction and lives that will be lost due to the pandemic, I think this crisis will force us to change our ways and accelerate innovation to handle the future pandemics and emergencies better. (Of course, better air quality due to reduced pollution is another silver lining in the short term).
Below are a few trends in the technology world that we may potentially see in the post coronavirus world:
Increase in Remote Work: With the exception of the heroes working to tackle coronavirus head-on, almost everyone in the world is working from home for the past 3 or more weeks. At the current pace, I see this continuing for the next several weeks until the governments around the world are sure that they can contain the virus. While certain jobs and organizations allowed their employees to work from home whenever they wanted, organizations that had strict policies on working from home were forced to have work from home arrangements due to the pandemic and a lot of them were not ready. Several companies had to ask their employees to take the desktop computer, CPU, and the whole work set up home. It takes 21 days to get into a habit and I think it is pretty safe to assume that these corporations as well as the employees have gotten used to WFH and perform at the productivity levels that they had working in the office. If not, they will be in the next few weeks.
One big reason companies have been able to accommodate this tremendous increase in virtual employees is due to collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, etc. Microsoft Teams has added millions of daily active users with a stat released last month indicating an eight-fold increase in daily active users and a 1000% increase in video calls in the last month. There is no doubt in my mind that organizations like Microsoft and Zoom will infuse millions of dollars in their collaboration tools to stimulate innovation, increase adoption and improve consumption and make it easier to work virtually. In fact, Microsoft has already added several new features to Teams over the past few weeks with some new features to be rolled out soon.
Furthermore, corporations and small businesses spend billions of dollars on the real estate each year and if the employees can perform at their normal productivity levels from home, these corporations can save a lot of money by having a proportion of their employees working from home or coming to the office for fewer days. Employees will benefit from the time and hundreds of dollars saved during their commute time and of course, this will reduce the traffic and burden on public transports. I expect a lot of organizations to relax their remote work policies and allowing flexible hours for employees in the future which will be a win-win for both the employees and corporations.
Hunt for Talent (Startups vs the Big-tech): In recent years, big-tech firms have had to compete for talent with fast-growing startups with their “Bean Bag” culture and it has been quite difficult especially because of the scandals and unethical business practices allegations tainting the reputations of big firms. But, with several well-run startups laying off the majority of their employees during the pandemic, I think the tech workers who once preferred the dynamic surroundings of smaller companies will gravitate towards a safer bet and start to work for larger enterprises. Also, with a lot of VC firms putting a hold on their funding, it is inevitable that a lot of startups will, unfortunately, cease to exist which will hamper innovations at least in the near future.
Security will Trump Privacy: I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about how the government and the big tech are going at it over privacy and encryption. However, with Facebook and other tech companies sharing location-based data with the government during this time, I think that the government will have a solid argument in the future, especially because the monitoring of people during this time may cause a change in the general public’s perception. There have been a few reported cases where the authorities had to aggressively track people who were potentially infectious and were on the run. Such scenarios showcase the importance of tracking through the smartphones and location-based data and also make a great case of why it may make sense for the government to have access to private data during emergencies such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. I see a lot of innovation in facial recognition and location-tracking technologies, especially with an increase in the adoption of wearable technologies in the upcoming years. I expect governments to fund some of these researches in partnership with the tech companies and for the governments to reopen the security over privacy debates.
Cloud Computing: It is needless to see that with their seemingly unlimited scalability cloud technologies have been a boon to the business continuity of every business during these tough times. With the virtual workforce larger than ever, remote desktop technologies are essential, and the pandemic will accelerate the native born-in-the-cloud applications that can run the core business functions. Several organizations that previously prohibited remote access due to security concerns and regulatory reasons were forced to adopt remote work. I believe when the threat of COVID-19 passes, cloud providers will put a lot more focus on how they can improve the already strict security compliances to cater to the needs of these organizations. I also think that organizations and industries that have previously been slow to adopt cloud technologies will accelerate their goals of migrating legacy applications to the cloud. The cloud providers will have to incorporate the changes to the IT security and business continuities that businesses will incorporate to better prepare themselves for future disasters.
The virus has provided a new beginning to the digital infrastructure development especially in the healthcare sector. I can see the governments around the world partnering with private players to invest in innovations, especially related to AI, that will enable us to tackle the future pandemics or disaster events and alleviate the financial distresses during such phases. We are already seeing a rapid rise in telemedicine, an industry enabled by secure cloud technologies.
Bandwidth Preservation: With a large proportion of the population confined to their homes having to consume the internet bandwidth for work, streaming videos and more. There are restrictions in place now in certain geographic locations to limit the quality of the video content streaming to a lower resolution to make the bandwidth available for essential news providers, and the government. While Content Delivery Networks (CDN) tackle the bandwidth issues to a certain extent but they were never built and tested to incorporate such a massive surge in the daily usages. I think that the networks should be built for usage peaks and not averages — just like highways are built for peak traffic and not traffic at midnight.
Some people have raised concerns about whether the increase in bandwidth usage would break the internet, but the bigger problem is that not everyone has access to the internet in the first place. An estimated 21–42 million people in the United States don’t have physical access to broadband and an even larger amount of people can’t afford it over phones.
Finland declared broadband a legal right in 2010 and I anticipate a lot of other countries to follow suit after the pandemic. I think the government will have to work with the network providers on strategies of how to provide affordable internet to people who currently don’t have quality internet access, especially when it is so critical to create awareness and to maintain social distancing.
I believe that the data that will emerge from the current period of high bandwidth utilization will be crucial to begin designing the new feature and may cause significant changes to how the bandwidth was utilized in a pre-coronavirus world. COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to explore what can be achieved with our current capabilities and it would be a waste not to re-examine how our economy and society can be improved by better utilizing the abundant bandwidth we have. I expect the shift to the next-generation 5G networks in the cities to be delayed because the network operators are dealing with the disruption in the supply chain of telecom gears, which is largely based out of China.
It is too early to say how long the current novel coronavirus crisis will last but I have no doubt that like always we will find a way to get over it. Jobs lost will be reclaimed and the economy will recover as we will adapt to the new ways of our society. While nothing can replace the lives lost of our loved ones, we can just hope that humanity will come out wiser and stronger to make the world a better place for future generations.