The year of SARS-CoV-2 has seen something of a revolution in terms of the way we use and rely on technology. Though we were already making constant technological breakthroughs pre-covid, lockdown has required us to step up our game and evolve our existing tech tools. As such, UK businesses have had to search for innovative measures to keep their employees working and in touch with one another. In April, it was reported that around half of the British workforce was operating from home when lockdown restrictions were in place during the peak of the pandemic, on the advice of PM Boris Johnson in mid-March. With our unprecedented need to go remote came an ever greater reliance on technology and make-shift office setups at home. But home is not the only sphere in which we’ve witnessed an increased demand for better tech; every realm of life has had to reinvent itself and undergo a technological renovation to make room for COVID-19, from working tools, to transport.
In the months and years that will follow the COVID-19 chapter, there are multiple ways that we predict that the world, and specifically the business world, will be transformed and enhanced by revolutionary tech.
Perhaps the most prominent and commonplace use of technology during the pandemic was that of video calling platforms. We quickly realised that such platforms were a necessity if we were to continue with meetings and conferences with our fellow team members in a manner as close to real-life interaction as possible. If Zoom or any of its video calling counterparts was not a staple for businesses before lockdown, it has almost certainly taken its place amongst the leading means of communication through the pandemic. In business and in regular life, Zoom rapidly became a crucial app on our desktops and smartphones as a principal means of keeping in touch with each other during lockdown. Indeed, in April, Zoom peaked at over 300 million daily meeting participants – an increase from ten million in December 2019.
We all have one colleague who would take full advantage of the colourful array of backgrounds that Zoom provides during a video call. As part of the aftermath of COVID-19, we can expect to see the enhancement of such features, as Zoom and its fellow video calling platforms continue to evolve their services to be as seamless and smooth as possible.
E-bikes have become a wildly popular, contact-free mode of transport for many during this pandemic. People have adopted e-bikes and conventional bikes alike to transport themselves around, as a way of keeping a distance from the sardine-like conditions on trains and buses. Thanks to their battery-powered assistance via pedalling, E-bikes are fast becoming recognised and earning the credit they deserve as health-enhancing, environment-saving, interaction-free modes of transport. If you aren't already familiar with how these bikes function, the pedals on an e-bike are equipped with pedal-assist technology, which, when pushed, activate a small motor, enabling you to plough onwards with ease, no matter the gradient of the terrain. Electric bikes now represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the transport market; since 2012, China has been manufacturing some 36 million e-bikes per year.
Recent developments in lithium-ion battery technology mean that e-bikes are also expected to be sold in even greater numbers between 2020 and 2023; over 130 million, to be precise. This huge increase of e-bike sales will undoubtedly mean less congestion on public transport, with employees opting to cycle to work or other local destinations, thus lessening their chances of picking up an illness on public transport.
Real or not real? The explosion of VR
First appearing in the 1990s, Virtual Reality has come a long way since the pioneering headsets used for gaming.
During the pandemic, some companies have even gone a step further than the usual Zoom or Microsoft Teams calls and have been trialling VR platforms for activities such as collaborating on projects, training employees and holding meetings, all for that extra personal and life-like touch. VR has also proved useful for putting infected Covid patients in touch with doctors without having to be in close physical proximity. It is even being investigated as a potential aid to scientists in the hope of finding potential remedies for the coronavirus; it could be advantageous for exploring telemedicine, planning, treatment, and controlling of the infections by providing proper awareness to the people about the virus.
VR is likely to experience an even greater boom in the post-Covid era, as it takes over not only the medical world but the business world as well. It will be increasingly used to facilitate business operations while reducing face to face interaction.
The integration of AI and robotics tech into “regular” life
Life will be far from what we knew it to be prior to this pandemic. Another development that will also be impacting our day-to-day life is the increasing visibility of Artificial Intelligence in daily life.
During the peak of the pandemic, there were notable cases of AI and robotics technology assisting frontline workers in hospitals. In China, where Covid-19 was thought to originate, remote-controlled robots were adopted to help ease the load faced by medical staff in overwhelmed hospitals. These robots could be seen taking mouth swabs to test for the virus, performing ultrasound scans and listening to organs with a stethoscope. Meanwhile, in Italian hospitals, robots have been employed to deliver food to patients’ bedsides, amongst performing other, medical-related duties. These helpful robots have been critical in reducing human interaction, thus lowering the risk of further circulation of Covid-19 in hospitals, where to date, 151 doctors and more than 40 nurses have died from coronavirus.
There have also already been numerous contributions from tech brands with their own AI products to pave the way for post-Covid life and business. Namely, Philips and Bosch have respectively presented their own gadgets for safer social distancing. Using Philips displays and Bosch’s intelligent cameras, retail stores will be able to track the number of customers entering and leaving a store, meaning a live feed of capacity data can be displayed on the screens. The nature of this device may also prove vital for offices belonging to big companies, enabling them to track how many employees are in the building at a given time. China has also been using AI-powered surveillance cameras, drone-borne cameras and portable digital recorders to regulate and restrict the gathering of people in public. Similar devices are sure to make it to the UK as part of the continued efforts to keep the public safe and virus-free.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has unfolded, it has become plain that the virus does not affect us all in the same way. On the contrary; whilst many who have contracted the virus have been afflicted with textbook coughs and soaring fevers, conflicting studies declare that anywhere between 25 and 80 per cent of people with Covid-19 are actually unaware they even have the virus and are asymptomatic.
In another revolutionary tech development, Tauri has created its temperature-checking tablets, which offer no-contact temperature scans. These devices are simply held up to a person’s forehead, which can be done from a safe distance. Contactless temperature screening at workplace entrances can help give employers and colleagues peace of mind that safety measures are in place. These devices are also adaptable to multiple types of workplace, be it restaurants, cafes or other public spaces, all of which are increasingly manned by employees with these machines. If a person has a higher-than-normal body temperature, these devices sound an alert and thus render an individual ineligible to enter a space.
As mentioned earlier, body temperature can be misleading if an individual has the virus but is asymptomatic. For this reason, a team in Liechtenstein has been working on a more complex device: the biometric bracelet. They are trialling the use of these bracelets on their citizens to track potential cases of COVID-19 in real-time. These pieces of “jewelry”, which have long been on the market to help women keep track of their menstrual cycles, are being modified to collect data on more metrics than merely body temperature. They will respond to other bodily patterns like skin temperature, breathing and heart rate, gathering data which will then be digitally delivered to a laboratory in Switzerland for probing. This data will hopefully help health authorities develop algorithms that can detect the exact pattern of subtle changes in individuals’ physiology that render them infected with Covid-19 — even amongst those who are asymptomatic. This piece of transformative tech, whilst admittedly raising some debate about privacy, could certainly help businesses in post-Covid times. If every employee donned one of these bracelets, we would have greater insights into who can come into the office and when.
Contactless payment: Parting ways with PIN pads
Despite the UK ranking as the third most cashless country in the world, we’ve still some way to go before we relinquish cash altogether. Indeed, some sources estimate that this will not take place until 2035. On 23rd March of this year, however, shops and banks took another step forward in the path to becoming a completely contactless country, when they agreed to raise the limit for contactless payments from £30 to £45.
It is likely that as society begins to normalise, there will be far lower use of PINs and cash in order to avoid contact with other people as much as possible. This will inevitably prompt a change in consumer buying behaviour; we will likely make smaller purchases more frequently. In addition, businesses will be able to reduce the contents of their cash machines, which could also prove a great way to prevent robberies.
Increased Cyber Security
A cashless society may mean less robberies in person, but it doesn’t prevent them from happening altogether. Rather, robberies will merely be displaced to the cyber world. Hacking and other types of cybercrime are sure to increase in light of the increased flow of data and money online. With businesses and their employees going remote, important data is constantly being shared across the ether. Consequently, a demand for better network security is on the rise. It is probable that as we move into a new age of increased remote working, where vulnerable data is being shared back and forth and hacking is an omnipresent threat, there will be better programmes that keep important data more secure. Viruses may well become a thing of the past as we will have the Malware Protection to barricade them from the devices on which we rely so heavily.
During the pandemic, the 3D printer took centre stage with its widespread deployment for producing face masks and other forms of PPE. In March, it was discovered that any type of 3D printer, with the use of basic materials, could succeed in converting snorkelling masks into ventilation masks or producing face masks. 3D printers also found their way into businesses trying to find solutions to the traffic amongst their suppliers caused by Covid-19.
Looking to a post-Covid future, 3D printers may come in handy for businesses acquiring new supplies. Instead of making bulk orders and awaiting their shipment, businesses are increasingly using 3D printers to produce their own supplies. This not only saves unnecessary shipping costs and waiting times for businesses, but it also allows companies to do their bit for the environment and reduce waste.
The end of lectures as we know them?
Every kind of business will be impacted by technology as the world slowly moves away from this pandemic - and universities are no exception. Programmes to allow truant students to catch up with university lectures long predate the outbreak of Covid-19. However, it is likely that in a post-pandemic world, online lectures could become an exclusive form of delivering university curricula, with universities largely operating like many of their fellow big businesses in this climate and moving online for a contact-free experience.
Distance learning will need to become much more cutting-edge, an occasion to which many companies are now rising by offering advanced video, audio and AI-driven analytics with lecture capture and webcasting technology.
A new age of business loans
The Covid-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst for the digitalisation of the money-lending sphere. Obtaining a bank loan was once a lengthy and tedious process, accompanied by mountains of paperwork and endless waiting. In some cases, several months would elapse before businesses were finally granted that financial lifeline. However, given the state of financial urgency in which many businesses now find themselves, a fast solution has been critical. As a result, banks are increasingly operating online when it comes to approving business loans. Credit and eligibility checks have surged in speed, with many businesses now only waiting a matter of hours before they can proclaim themselves financially stable. The newfound need for speed in the money-lending world will require banks to operate faster than they ever have done, a task they could not possibly rise to without the helping hand of technology. In this way, the digitisation of loans will save more than just businesses, it could be vital in saving the banks themselves, too.
An uncertain future
By now, it is a widely known fact that the post-Covid world will usher in a brand new normal, which will force us to adjust to new ways of doing things. Now that we have awakened to the doability of working from home, we will undoubtedly continue this trend into this new post-pandemic era. That said, many will progressively return to their offices, and it will be transformative tech that allows us to do so. With the help of technology, we will be able to work faster, smarter and more flexibly, which will, in turn, boost productivity for businesses. Businesses will be safer and more efficient with the assisting hand of technology. Outside of business, technology advancements will make things like social distancing, which is forecasted to continue for years, easier and more achievable. The evolution of technology could also prompt a healthier environment; if the use of e-bikes continues to grow the way it is estimated to, we could reduce CO2 emissions to a significant degree. Moreover, thanks to the limitless ways of speaking to our colleagues and holding larger scale conferences that are already available, and those that are inevitably in the pipeline, there will be far less need to hold such events abroad. Now that we know it is entirely possible to conduct a seamless transferral online, jetting off on long-haul flights will undoubtedly become a trend of the past, which will, in turn, have a positive impact on the environment.
A survey of around 1,500 American adults found that when they were presented with a list of 88 different items and had to rank their fears on a scale of one to four, technology averaged at second place in the list of most feared items, after natural disasters. Understandably, given that fear usually derives from that which we rely on but cannot control, we are a world of technophobes. The post-Covid era may exacerbate such fears, or it could alternatively be opportune to put such fears to bed. Either way, we can expect that businesses will be employing greater use of tech in the aftermath of Covid-19 whether or not we like the idea, so it may be time to get on board!