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Business Technology used at home Covid-19 Uncategorised Working from Home Working in a Pandemic

A Portrait of the Potential Effects of Covid 19

(Will technology allow us to continue working from home and not the office

Introduction

I am writing this in week 9 of the ‘lockdown’ in the United Kingdom –  being advised by the government to social distance, and limit the time we spend outside the house.

So what has this to do with Technological Unemployment you may ask?  Well to answer that question let me tell you the question I asked myself, (and one I know other people are asking).

Will, what is happening now, the way we are using technology to work and socialise during the lockdown, possibly change the ways we will work and socialise in the future?

In effect, a reflection on painting a possible portrait of how we may do things in the future

For those of you outside the UK, I am sure the British stereotype of the stiff upper lip and not talking to anyone, this may appear to be easy and just normal everyday life.

But it is not.

What will ‘normality’ look like after lockdown and how will we get there?

As I write this Italy have re-open parks and recreational spaces in the next few days, the US Government are planning to allow some retail establishments to re-open, although actual times will be decided by the individual states, the UK Government are investigating the relaxing of the restrictions, and the Spanish Government are allowing some industries to return with social distancing rules being applied.

Are organisations using technology differently?  Will organisations continue to allow or want people to work from home or an alternative location? Do employees feel that the use of technology is making there lives simpler and easier and safer – or not? Do they feel threatened by it? Do their jobs still feel safe?

There are, and will be, many articles on the changes and impacts that Covid 19 will or could have on economies, people, business, health and health care, and Governments over the next few months and years.

let us explore some of these ideas.

Discussion

Many speculations are being voiced about the impacts of the virus on the world economy, how will it recover, when will it recover, and what the long term impacts will be?

Let’s have a glance at pandemics historically. There was the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic (Spanish Flu), SAARS in 2003 and between 2003 -2019 H5N1 Avian Flu (Bird Flu).

All had various severities and various humanitarian and economic impacts. Those impacts varied, in part, due to the variety of responses, both local and global.

The Spanish Flu killed up to 50 Million people lowering global productivity by 6ppt, and lower global consumption by 8 ppt.  SAARS killed 774 resulting in 0.1% global lower GDP growth.   H51N Avian Flu killed 455, resulting in 0.1% global lower GDP growth. 

Globally, countries have devised and implemented individual responses to Covid 19. These will no doubt be researched, analysed, and understood, in time. Countries will measure whether the impacts of the spread of Covid-19 could have mitigated more effectively, or with less economic impact.

Some of these responses have included a ‘lockdown’; China, UK, USA (dependent on the state), Germany, France have all imposed lockdown to differing levels. Spain for example not allowing children to leave the house. Sweden has left facilities open but has urged citizens to act responsibly and socially distance (the herd immunity).

These responses protect the individual, but Governments have also tried to insulate their own economies. For example, the USA government issue $1,200 per adult across the country, and the UK government are looking to pay organisations for the furloughed (temporarily laid-off employees), to name just a couple of the measures employed across the globe.

All of these measures have not stopped the markets from reacting. This is hardly surprising.

The ILO (International Labour Organisation) at the time of writing – beginning May 2020) has estimated that 6.7% of working hours globally will be removed, during the second Quarter of 2020. That’s approximately equivalent to 195 million jobs.

There are obvious global economics of this situation, numbers of people that may lose their jobs, and we are aware of the protective measures that are, and were, in place.

But has anyone investigated the fact that the technology that we are now readily using and accepting into our everyday working and social lives is something that before would have taken time and management to achieve such acceptance….

It is companies themselves that have looked towards this technology. Businesses have had two goals: to continue trading, and simultaneously to safeguard every human interface, whether workers, customers or suppliers.

So how is that technology being used now that is different from before the Covid 19 pandemic?

How will this use of technology change the way things are done in the future? Will there be an ongoing seismic shift and re-evaluation of business models, or will we all drone back to the office the Monday morning after lockdown finishes?

This will be the case for some – reopened retail outlets will need staff within the shop. However, does the call centre, or customer services centre, require staff to return to the office?

In a recent article, the Economist investigated some of the impacts of Coivid-19 on businesses, investigating the economic possibilities, but the article also touched on the technological solutions that businesses are using to maintain operations.

According to Tim Steiner, Ocado CEO,  soon after the British Primister broadcast to the UK that lockdown would be imposed,  Ocado (British online grocer) saw an unprecedented increase in traffic trying to register or order groceries to be delivered, and initially believed they were being hacked (DOS – Denial Of Service).

Could this be seen as a failure by the retailer to understand the current and breaking situation and adapt? Or that the organisation has built an infrastructure they use to accommodate the current normal situation with a percentage tolerance of new customers.

In reality, Ocardo built the infrastructure to enable current and some new customers to join and use the grocer – new customers in the 1,000s, not the millions, and not simultaneously. So I think that most people can forgive Ocardo their teething issues.

However, the Economist article implies through this example that the British public responded positively to the Governmental advice and looked to technology for assistance.

The article then goes on to discuss some of the other tools that businesses and individuals can now utilise. For example, – Zoom. which in January this year supported 10 million calls/meetings a day. By the end of March Zoom was supporting 200 million meetings, notwithstanding the potential privacy issues highlighted by the British press.

Many similar companies offering these sorts of tools have also seen dramatic increases, as suggested by Geekwire. Microsoft Teams has seen an increase from 32 million users to 44 million, and Monday.com is also showing an increase in the number of users utilising the tools they offer.

I have a feeling that workers who are now doing their jobs remotely, from home or another location, are/have quickly become more accustomed to these tools, and many others like them. It is entirely possible that many workers might not wish to return to the office full time.

Finally, the Economist goes on to make a very interesting comment, that being “distance working will never be the same again”.  This I am sure will be the case, but I look forward to your comments.

I will add to that and say that I believe that the big, small and start-up tech firms will move their priorities and innovation into remote working more quickly than some of the larger tech firms and therefore be able to go to market faster.

Amidst this global pandemic – SaaStr2020 was due to take place and was consequently moved to a virtual forum. It was due to be attended by the journalist Dee Reddy.

Although Dee was unable to attend the conference, she reported that some of the interviews arranged were later completed over video conference.

I am extracting from these interviews some of the points most relevant to this blog – they investigate how businesses are using technology to mitigate the lockdown

Kristin Habacht, Head of EDR Sales at Atlassian, discussed how technology is assisting her in her current role and is cited in saying that the use of tools enabled continued communications within Atlassian, but these tools also enable Kristin to work around the family commitments she has at this unprecedented time.

Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO at Stack Overflow states that he expects this way of working from home, or alternative locations, will continue and that it will become more accepted within an organisations culture and recruiting strategies.

Loren Padelford, General Manager, Shopify Plus, suggests that we as human beings like to physically interact with one another, and the current situation with Covid-19 will and has changed the way that some people shop, but the brick and mortar shops will remain, even if it is in a diminished capacity.

Loren also says that Shopify Plus and the supporting services they provide to their customers are covered by their associated teams by the use of technological tools that enable greater collaboration and that allows them to manage their commitments.

Josh Nielson, CEO at Zencastr, cited that Zencaster have a fully distributed team, but they have seen a change in the clients they are acquiring and the way the clients are using the services they offer.

These comments are confirmed by many other organisations, which are looking less at the physical presence of a worker in the office but rather at the work that is accomplished, regardless of location.

The Guardian UK newspaper recently ran an article investigating the technological tools that are being used to support the home worker, and also found that several organisations (including Slack and Microsoft) are offering 6 months access free of charge.

The article also cited Cloudflare CEO Mr Matthew Price, and when discussing the effects on the internet infrastructure, suggested that with the population primarily working from home it has only increased the internet usage by 10% above the average in the impacted areas. Mr Price also suggested that traffic occurs earlier in the day in impacted regions.

Wired produced a promotional article which opined that some managers could have an issue with presenteeism – ‘We know someone is working because they are sitting in the office and looking at that computer screen’. Some options available to counter this, as some organisations have done, are breakfast team meetings, or a coffee break catch-up, with mandatory attendance.

In a blog, Matt Mullenweg, chief executive of WordPress and Tumblr stated,  “This is not how I envisioned the distributed work revolution taking hold”. Mullenweg’s company is already ‘distributed’, and he predicts the changes “might also offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility”.

He went on to say, “Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick… This might be a chance for a great reset in terms of how we work”.

And on an interesting note, the BBC reported that the current pandemic has had some interesting side effects; including that of pollution levels being seen to drop across Europe (fewer commuters, fewer business flights).

The images below clearly show how a strong reduction in emissions is now in place over major cities across Europe – in particular Paris, Milan and Madrid.

Satellite images of the European skies, showing the levels of Nitrogen Dioxide in March-April 2019 and March-April 2020

In Conclusion

Many of the published business articles, from many esteemed organisations including some of the Europes largest consultancies, have all addressed the Covid 19 pandemic – at an economic scale,  and what the pandemic will mean in regards staff, resources, jobs, finances, and possible opportunities.

However, apart from some of the blogs and the more technically focused publishers, none have investigated the technology in this unprecedented time, the software tools, how they are utilised and who is using them and why.

The economist gave a sidelong glance to technologies being utilised by organisations by discussing Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Yet it is the technology we are all utilising (and relying on), both in business and socially, in this strange time.

The news media have reported the pharmaceutical organisations are researching the virus and using many different technological tools to assist in creating a vaccine.

But how are the pharmaceutical scientists communicating, sharing the knowledge they gain and getting their peers to review the information they discover.

Twitter has become one such channel but is it the only one? With scientists publishing their research findings and getting peer reviews back, is Twitter being used to enable the research and the reviews to occur faster, or for another reason?

Why have these consulting behemoths of information, knowledge and experience missed the one specific cog that will enable organisations to continue to exist? 

So how is this appropriate for this blog concerning technical unemployment?

To answer that question I ask you to look at what is happening for you in this interesting time, the tools you use, the location you are using them from.

Do you/we actually need to go back into the office, or can you do your job just as well from your front room?

Will this change the way we use technologies and give businesses more confidence to look at tools that could replace humans? Or implement tools that will support us and enable us to continue working remotely.

Time will tell, but I will be reviewing these fascinating changes in about Six months time. I am sure the ‘new normality’ of how we work and function will have evolved further, and more industrious research will have been carried out as to how this pandemic has changed the way we work.

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