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Covid-19 Revisited General Working from Home Working in a Pandemic

A portrait of the potential Effects of Covid-19 on business

An update 10 months later

Introduction

I had envisaged writing this follow-up article in December 2020, but as the situation with lockdowns had not altered, and that no return to normality had been published, and the British Government was still promoting working from home, shielding ourselves and protecting the NHS, but the year anniversary of the first lockdown, I thought now would be an appropriate time.

I first examined this subject of the potential effects of Covid-19 on businesses and the way we work and socialise in March 2019, however, the literature available at that time was limited, not only because WHO (World Health Authority), had only recently recognised the Covid-19 virus as a pandemic event, but Governments, businesses and research foundations were still trying to understand the possible impacts of the virus biologically, socially and economically.

Link to that article Portrait of the Potential Effects of Covid 19

In my March 2020 article, I first examined the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the figures they published for the estimated working hours lost, presented the economic impacts to the stock markets, discussed this current pandemic in light of other historical pandemics, including the Influenza Pandemic (Spanish flu) and SAARs (Bird flu), looking at their impacts on society and the global economies, then discussed the uptake of technological communication solutions like teams and Zoom.

Through this article, I will re-examine some of the points raised within the original article 10 months ago, and investigate some new literature that has been published that investigates the use of technologies and how they have changed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, since that article, society has had to adapt to multiple lockdowns, social distancing, the use of face masks, international travel embargos, national travel restrictions, the introduction of social bubbles, new ways and means of shopping, and the ongoing debate about vaccinations and their effectiveness against the virus.

Discussion

Boris Johnson the British Prime Minister on 22/02/2021, (BBC, 2021), updated the British public and businesses alike regarding the ongoing Governmental response to the covid-19 pandemic, reporting the deaths, infections, and the number of vaccinations that have been carried out, however, in this press conference the roadmap to the relaxation of the social restrictions that the UK  has been operating under was presented.

The UK Government, like many others around the world, have implemented multiple strategies to impede the transmission of the covid-19 virus, whilst at the same time implementing research into understanding the impacts to the body, inoculations and how they could protect society, and the UK economy in the future.

These strategies have included the wearing of face masks, the introduction of social distancing, closing public and private buildings, businesses and shops, restricting the number of people that can meet in an outside space, and relying on business with office space to regulate the number of employees that enter and work within their premises at any one time, or introduce technologies that workers can use to work from home where ever possible, all to reduce the impact on the economy, the healthcare services, and reducing the transmission rate (R-Rate) to as close to zero as possible.  Economically implementing Kensyen strategies have included the introduction and later the extension of the furlough scheme, loans and grants that business could access, therefore enabling businesses to remain operational.

The UK has had 3 countrywide lockdowns, the first being implemented in March 2020 and being eased during May and June 2020.  The UK government introducing a regional tiering system in October followed by another national lockdown which eased during December 2020, this was supported by the introduction of a more restrictive tiering system, which is then replaced by another national lockdown that started on the 1st January 2021, which will come to an end in June 2021 according to the plans as communicated by the British Prime Minister.

In May 2020, ILO estimated that 6.7% of working hours could be removed globally by the second quarter, equating to approximately 195 million jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this was revised in January 2021 at 8.8% equivalent to approximately 255 Million FTE jobs.

In my March 2020 blog, I indicated that there were already economic impacts from this drop in the working hours, and although we now have multiple vaccines, and social strategies in place to mitigate the spread of this virus, those economic impacts are still being felt, although as we can see the stock exchanges are recovering.

The question asked, in March 2020, was “Has the technology we are now using in our everyday lives, been accepted quicker and more readily, because of the pandemic?”

At the time that question was posed, the research into the subject was still in its infancy, however, many of the technological solutions were established and being utilised by some individuals to socially interact and by many businesses, who utilised the technologies to enable virtual meetings and information share.

Zoom and Teams, two of the many communication solutions available received a great amount of press coverage because of their functionality.  Zoom, and as I indicated in March 2020 was supporting 10 Million calls per day in January, growing to 200 Million calls per day in March 2020, that increase continued, and by December 2020, 350 Million calls per day were being supported, despite the multiple privacy issues that were raised, including encryption, meeting attendee tracking, and data being sent to Facebook.

Microsoft is more elusive about the numbers of calls they support, however, Teams has seen a growth of 53% since April 2020, moving from 40 Million users per day to 115 Million users per day by December 2020.

Globally Covid-19 is being seen by some researchers as a tipping point for the use and acceptance of technological solutions. First at a social level, allowing people to maintain contact with friends and loved ones, and at a second level for businesses who have had to investigate alternative methods of maintaining customer interaction, create and maintain sales channels, and enabling employees to continue working and sharing information.

McKinsey & Company published a report in October 2020, that examined through a survey of 899 managers and senior managers, the acceptance of technologies that could add strategic value to an organisation, the rate that new technologies were implemented before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the barriers that could prevent or slow down technological implementation within the workplace.

The report suggests that nearly all the respondents, within the survey indicated that the acceptance of technologies has changed, with solutions like remote working being adopted 40 times quicker than would have been thought possible, on average 11 days for participant organisations to make remote working available to all employees that needed it.   However, it should be taken into account that many organisations would have had policies and the technological capability for some staff to work at home, and this average although fantastic does not mean that the organisation would have had to implement a completely new technological solution where one did not exist before.

This accelerated adoption of technological solutions has not been limited to the customer-facing front-office capabilities but has included back-office functions as well, including Operations, Research and Development processes and production or manufacturing functions

The McKinsey & Company survey also suggests there has been a shift in the attitudes executives have had towards technology, with just under 50% indicating that technological strategies have migrated away from a simple cost-saving policy to a more centralised approach that will enable businesses to maintain continued growth where customers are not always being met in person. This migration in strategic thinking is supported when you compare research completed by McKinsey & Company in 2017, where nearly 50% of the executives questioned ranked costs-savings as one of the priorities within any technological strategy, versus the 10% in the latest survey.

McKinsey & Company supported by (Vargo et al., 2021) who studied 29 published articles that investigated the relationship between humans and technology, both studies indicate that there has been a shift in organisational strategic thinking, due to the pandemic, and this has resulted in Healthcare, Pharmaceutical, Financial and Professional services being observed as the largest adopters of new technologies, with Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), automotive and assembly reporting the lowest levels of new technological adoption.

However, we should consider these observed adoption rates from a more holistic viewpoint.  Many CPG, Manufacturing and assembly technologies require greater adoption lead times, along with increased capital investment, where Financial and professional services, technological adoption could be seen as requiring less capital investment, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical both of which are industries that historically have invested heavily in technologies, and therefore the move to adopt technologies that protect their clients and workers alike would not require great amounts of capital investment, versus a new production or assembly lines.

(Vargo et al., 2021) add to this by concluding that Artificial Intelligence and communications solutions have had the greatest impact, across all of the sectors they researched (Healthcare, Daily Use, Teleworking and Education), but call for these results, and the continued use of technologies, to be monitored.  For example, will schools, universities and other educational organisations continue to use online, a hybrid of online and face-to-face, or will they change back to the old operating model of face-to-face only lectures?  

Will medical practitioners continue to use online technologies and AI solutions to meet and talk with patients, or move to a more hybrid use of online and face-to-face?  Will society or us as individuals continue to use online communications suites like Zoom or Teams as much.  Or will society change to a hybrid model that where for example the family meets in person once a month, maintaining that physical contact, but adds an online meeting in the middle of the month.  

Significantly many of the McKinsey & Company survey respondents expected some of the changes to remain long term, including remote working (Working from home) and safe customer interactions. 

In Conclusion

I am sure that for many years to come, economists will examine the impacts on the individual industries, countries and the global economy, technologists will investigate how the technologies can be improved and simplified, sociologists will continue to investigate the social changes, and technological acceptance by individuals and businesses, and Medical scientists, practitioners and epidemiologists will be continuing the research into the virus, how it affects the body long term, how it is transmitted and continue to improve the inoculations.

The McKinsey & Company study concludes that this pandemic has become a tipping point for the use of technology.  This can be observed as businesses have adopted or enabled greater numbers of employees where possible to work from home, with some organisations learning that some technological changes can be completed quicker than expected, this observation is supported by the (Vargo et al., 2021) review of 29 articles that investigated technologies within industrial sectors.

However, we should not forget, that although as humans we do not always like change, we can accept it when we need to, so I think we can say that managers and individuals alike may have had to accept technology faster.  Businesses have had to accept changes and implement technologies that have enabled them to maintain operations, customer contact, and create new sales channels, all where workers would have been in an office.

And as individuals, where we have not been able to meet friends and loved ones in person the use of technologies, have enabled that contact to be maintained, and this has required learning and accepting the technological suites that have facilitated those communications.

So to answer the question posed in March 2020, “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?”   

The Covid-19 pandemic will become less of a life-threatening situation, but we must also remember that where some businesses have implemented technologies that have enabled their continued operation, many of these technological solutions were in place before the pandemic, and just required making available to a greater number of employees, with many more having been investigated or considered, and therefore just required implementation.

The Covid-19 pandemic, like the Influenza (Spanish flu), and to a lesser extent SAARS (Bird flu) is a global event, that has had wide reaching economic and social impacts, and as such we as humans, both as individuals and as employees or leaders have had to adapt.

My answer is yes, technology has been accepted faster both by some businesses and as individuals as a general rule, however, this is an unprecedented situation, and as such should be remembered as that.   

Bibliography

BBC. ‘Lockdown: Boris Johnson Unveils Plan to End England Restrictions by 21 June’. BBC News, 2021, sec. UK. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-56158405.

‘Zoom Boss Apologises for Security Issues and Promises Fixes’. BBC News, 2020, sec. Technology. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-52133349.

‘Coronavirus: How the Pandemic Has Changed the World Economy’. BBC News, 2021, sec. Business. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51706225.

Molla, Rani. ‘The Pandemic Was Great for Zoom. What Happens When There’s a Vaccine?’, 2020. https://www.vox.com/recode/21726260/zoom-microsoft-teams-video-conferencing-post-pandemic-coronavirus.

October 28, Owen Hughes in Software on, 2020, and 5:56 Am Pst. ‘Watch out Zoom: Microsoft Teams Now Has More than 115 Million Daily Users’. Accessed 27 February 2021. https://www.techrepublic.com/article/watch-out-zoom-microsoft-teams-now-has-more-than-115-million-daily-users/.

Unknown. ‘• Zoom Daily Active Users UK 2020 | Statista’. Statistica, 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1118860/zoom-daily-active-users-uk/.

Vargo, Deedra, Lin Zhu, Briana Benwell, and Zheng Yan. ‘Digital Technology Use during COVID‐19 Pandemic: A Rapid Review’. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies 3, no. 1 (2021): 13–24. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbe2.242.