How has technology changed our lives during the pandemic? And will it last?
Technology has played a big part in our pandemic lives, from the way we work to keeping in touch with friends to tracking the spread of the virus. It’s been integral to helping us through the last 12 months.
This week the government initiated the next phase of their end of lockdown roadmap, with pubs and restaurants (outdoor seated only) and non-essential businesses able to re-open. It’s another welcome step towards the world we once knew, with the great hope that by the end of June we will finally be completely out of lockdown.
Once we get there, will working from home become a thing of the past? Will ‘Zooming’ for a catch-up with friends end and global travel return? Or will there be a profound and permanent change to the way we live?
The truth is whilst the term ‘lockdown’ may become redundant in months to come, scientists suggest that Covid is here to stay and that management rather than eradication is our likely future.
Even if the virus did disappear completely, the last 12 months has helped many of us realise there might be better ways of living. We’re now presented with a choice between the old and new way of doing things and therefore have a chance to redesign our lives for good.
In particular tech, big and small, may have left a lasting impact on 3 areas that have seen dramatic change over the last 12 months: Healthcare, leisure and work.
It’s been over 12 months since I sat in the same room as the rest of the team. In the early days, it was a frustrating experience – getting connected, the call quality and starting meetings with ‘Can you hear me OK?’. But very quickly, everybody got used to it and now the idea of being in the same room as my colleagues is almost an alien concept.
Bye bye office?
27% of the American workforce will be remote in 2021, according to a report by Upwork. With those figures, you could easily think offices will become a thing of the past.
But will they? R/GA’s recent internal survey, conducted during lockdown, suggested that while staff don’t want a full time return they are keen to have a space to gather physically and collaborate. For many businesses, employees’ attitudes have shifted, requiring a change in thinking about office locations and scale.
One UK based start-up Space 3:2 is trying to solve the problem by creating an office-space sharing marketplace, allowing companies to become part-time tenants, perhaps ending the days of sole occupancy for many businesses. Hybrid office ideas have been a recurring theme throughout lockdown, such as one Harvard professor’s prediction of a ‘3 days office – 2 days remote – 2 days off‘ or ‘3-2-2’ working week; a model which could suit many employees as we move on from the pandemic.
Collaboration for everything
The immediate shift when our team became remote, aside from the lack of office, were the tools we used. Zoom, Google Meets, Miro and Figma all helped us adapt quickly to the new work environment.
It’s no surprise that B2B SaaS has seen huge growth during the last 12 months with companies having to adapt almost overnight to remote working. Cloud computing has been a huge beneficiary. Microsoft Teams and Google Suite, along with communication tools like Slack and Zoom, have boomed sending their share prices skyward, whilst traditional industries suffered.
Research carried out by Gartner suggests that 70% of cloud computing-using organisations plan to increase their adoption of the technology in direct response to the pandemic.
Aside from the computing behemoths new ideas, designed to tackle specific problems, that have also caught the eye such as Riff, a voice collaboration tool that creates the experience of being in the same room, but remotely. Sounds awful doesn’t it? I haven’t tried it but having become a regular user of Clubhouse, I am certainly intrigued.
What about when we go back to the office? At a time when businesses are in uncharted waters yet seeking to establish a new working strategy and organisational culture, platforms like Eviday could offer a new perspective on office environment design and employee wellbeing. Eviday assesses both employee needs and the work environment and, using AI founded on academic research, designs workplaces that maximise productivity and employees’ work experiences.
Probably more important than the way we work is our physical health. It’s no coincidence that I haven’t seen a doctor in over 12 months. That’s not because I’ve been advised by the NHS not to go (in fact they have strongly suggested I do go) but the thought of being in a waiting room with patients suffering from potential Covid symptoms has been enough to put me off visiting a GP.
I’m clearly not alone. A report by Deloitte predicts 5% of visits to the doctor will take place via video globally this year which, according to their calculations, equates to 400 million visits at a cost of $25 billion. Like so many areas, Covid-19 has accelerated the shift in habits; the time has most definitely come for Telemedicine.
Of course, the technology to facilitate this has been around for years but the pandemic has changed the landscape making virtual consultations, wherever possible, preferable to an in-person visit.
Healthtech and the rise in wearables has seen worldwide shipments of devices grow 28.4% year on year in 2020 (source: IDC data) and as the proliferation of technology in health and fitness accelerates, there must be so much we can learn from the resulting data. Even before Covid, we were comfortable wearing, and in some cases having surgically embedded devices that can monitor and measure our vital signs.
It’s not just wearables but ‘ingestibles’ that could shape our post pandemic treatments.The world’s first ‘smart pill’ was approved in 2017 by the FDA; the pill contains a sensor that transmits data after ingestion to a patch on the patient’s arm which can in turn be interpreted by an app. The ‘Internet of Medical Things’ was already a thing before the pandemic, but according to many in healthcare, the pandemic has driven many of the changes in thinking and practice necessary to enable truly personalised digital healthcare.
After 12 months of disruption, it’s surely time for some fun? We binged on streaming services, with Netflix, Amazon and Apple amongst the biggest winners – sound familiar? I thought we had more film and TV than we needed but suddenly, with all the time in the world, we couldn’t get enough!
It was some of the more creative output that caught my attention though. Swamp Motel, who have built a reputation for unusual but highly acclaimed immersive theatre experiences, took the plunge into online theatre with stunning results.Their combination of escape room, quiz and online theatre in their production Plymouth Point allows up to 6 people to participate in the story through Zoom. It engages you in a way that passive film or TV viewing never could and was probably the best online entertainment I experienced during lockdown.
I ran every other day during the first lockdown not just to stay physically fit but, with the foreboding and uncertainty caused by doom-laden news feeds, it provided a welcome mental escape as well.
Unsurprisingly, home fitness tech like Peloton flew off the shelves, and social fitness apps like Strava saw record usage. A recent report from Grandview Research has valued the fitness app market at $4.4billion dollars and projected annual growth of over 20% year on year (with a significant spike in 2020) driven by the increase in health awareness during lockdown.
For smaller businesses in the sector, a really useful SaaS product I came across was Sutra, a ‘build your own fitness studio’ platform for fitness instructors. Sutra gives the thousands of fitness instructors who may have seen their businesses decline through the closure of gyms and wellness centres to create a virtual space to run sessions.
What future life to do we want?
As we make choices about how we will live our lives, the technology to enable physically remote living and working is now readily available. The key infrastructure such as cloud computing storage and internet bandwidth – while it creaked a little at the start of lockdown – is now in place along with a whole host of digital product ideas to meet the challenges. For the services sector especially, there are no real technical barriers to us working remotely forever if that’s what we wish.
In our leisure time, we’ve seen the huge increase in screen time; some may say those increases were inevitable but few would have predicted that the entire nation’s evenings would have been spent sitting on sofas, devices in hand, binge watching every series we can find.
The big question remains: How much do we want to sacrifice real human contact? Although I’ve learnt to work and collaborate remotely, voice call my friends and exercise on my own, I yearn to be able to speak to clients, colleagues, friends and family face to face. There is a balance to be struck between those interactions that foster creativity, productivity and are good for mental health and allowing people to retain some of the benefits they have discovered while living a remote existence and, with the prospect of Covid being with us for good, the very real health benefits of keeping us apart.