There has been a seismic change in the way we work, and the repercussions will echo long into the future.
The economic shock of the Covid-19 crisis has shaken established structures and norms. Organisations have been forced to rethink their approach from top to bottom – the way they organise their workforce; the way they prioritise workloads; the way they serve the public.
Some of these changes are emergency measures, others will form part of long-term reset: a transformation sparked by necessity and sustained by an ambition to do things differently.
Huge amounts of media discussion have been dedicated to digital transformation in recent years. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated transformation. Digital solutions are being deployed at pace to bridge the gaps created by social distancing, adjust models of working and speed up response times in extraordinary circumstances.
In the UK, there has been an unprecedented surge in internet traffic, with Vodafone reporting a 30% increase in activity on its networks.
The NHS has adapted at pace by ramping up its digital provision. This has, for example, enabled record numbers of patients to engage with websites or speak to doctors via online consultations.
In a survey of the healthcare community, 87% of respondents expected the Covid-19 crisis to speed up the adoption of digital tools across the NHS.
Sarah Wilkinson, CEO of NHS Digital, has predicted that “it’s going to be a really different NHS when we come out”. In an interview with Computer Weekly, she said: “Stuff that we would probably have prevaricated over for days, weeks or months, we have been forced to make a decision on pretty quickly, and that’s been really powerful and helpful. We’ve reached a new plateau. That’s the key thing for me. We’ve reached a new plateau where there’s a new level of understanding of the extent to which these tools can be used, and where they can be deployed.”
Elsewhere, video conferencing apps received a record 62 million downloads between 14 and 21st March.
In different parts of the world, blockchain is being used to speed up healthcare claims, drones are being deployed to deliver supplies and AI is being harnessed to track the infection spread.
Many of these initiatives will gain long-term traction, teaching us what’s possible.
At some point – and we all hope it’s sooner rather than later – organisations will emerge from the extreme conditions we’re experiencing now into some form of normality. But perhaps they will do so with a new perspective and a sense of urgency in adapting.
The economic reverberations of the Covid-19 crisis will cut so deep that organisations will very quickly need to restore their productivity. Innovative thinking will be vital.
Analysts at McKinsey, in a report entitled Beyond Coronavirus: The Path to the Next Normal, observed the following: “Opportunities to push the envelope of technology adoption will be accelerated by rapid learning about what it takes to drive productivity when labour is unavailable. The result: a stronger sense of what makes business more resilient to shocks, more productive, and better able to deliver to customers.”
Crucially, we have to hope that technology will be harnessed in the service of human connection – the need for which has been powerfully underlined in recent times.