10 technology trends to watch in the COVID-19 pandemic
10
May

5 technology trends to watch for during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated 10 key technology trends, including digital payments, telehealth and robotics.
  • These technologies can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus while helping businesses stay open.
  • Technology can help make society more resilient in the face of pandemic and other threats.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, technologies are playing a crucial role in keeping our society functional in a time of lockdowns and quarantines. And these technologies may have a long-lasting impact beyond COVID-19.

Here are 10 technology trends that can help build a resilient society, as well as considerations about their effects on how we do business, how we trade, how we work, how we produce goods, how we learn, how we seek medical services and how we entertain ourselves.

1. Online Shopping and Robot Deliveries

In late 2002, the SARS outbreak led to a tremendous growth of both business-to-business and business-to-consumer online marketplace platforms in China.

Similarly, COVID-19 has transformed online shopping from a nice-to-have to a must-have around the world. Some bars in Beijing have even continued to offer happy hours through online orders and delivery.

Online shopping needs to be supported by a robust logistics system. In-person delivery is not virus-proof. Many delivery companies and restaurants in the US and China are launching contactless delivery services where goods are picked up and dropped off at a designated location instead of from or into the hands of a person. Chinese e-commerce giants are also ramping up their development of robot deliveries. However, before robot delivery services become prevalent, delivery companies need to establish clear protocols to safeguard the sanitary condition of delivered goods.

Rappi delivery woman wearing a face mask walks in front of a delivery robot from the Colombian company Rappi amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Medellin, Colombia April 17, 2020. REUTERS/David Estrada - RC2L6G975RNZ
Robots can deliver food and goods without any human contact. | Image: REUTERS/David Estrada

2. Digital and Contactless Payments

Cash might carry the virus, so central banks in China, US and South Korea have implemented various measures to ensure banknotes are clean before they go into circulation. Now, contactless digital payments, either in the form of cards or e-wallets, are the recommended payment method to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Digital payments enable people to make online purchases and payments of goods, services and even utility payments, as well as to receive stimulus funds faster.

A sign asking customers to only use contactless payment methods is seen in a pub in Liverpool, Britain March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble - RC2QLF92NYGX
Contactless digital payments can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep business flowing. | Image: REUTERS/Phil Noble

However, according to the World Bank, there are more than 1.7 billion unbanked people, who may not have easy access to digital payments. The availability of digital payments also relies on internet availability, devices and a network to convert cash into a digitalized format.

3. Remote Work

Many companies have asked employees to work from home. Remote work is enabled by technologies including virtual private networks (VPNs), voice over internet protocols (VoIPs), virtual meetings, cloud technology, work collaboration tools and even facial recognition technologies that enable a person to appear before a virtual background to preserve the privacy of the home. In addition to preventing the spread of viruses, remote work also saves commute time and provides more flexibility.

Veda Hrudya Nadendla, a marketing and branding specialist, works from her home after her office was closed due to a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi, India, April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RC221G9EFVYY
Will COVID-19 make working from home the norm? | Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Yet remote work also imposes challenges to employers and employees. Information security, privacy and timely tech support can be big issues, as revealed by recent class actions filed against Zoom. Remote work can also complicate labour law issues, such as those associated with providing a safe work environment and income tax issues. Employees may experience loneliness and lack of work-life balance. If remote work becomes more common after the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may decide to reduce lease costs and hire people from regions with cheaper labour costs.

Laws and regulations must be updated to accommodate remote work – and further psychological studies need to be conducted to understand the effect of remote work on people.

What's your biggest struggle with working remotely?
Employees rank collaboration and communication, loneliness and not being able to unplug their top struggles when working from home. | Image: Buffer State of Remote Report 2020

Further, not all jobs can be done from home, which creates disparity. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 25% of wage and salary workers worked from home at least occasionally from 2017 to 2018. Workers with college educations are at least five times more likely to have jobs that allow them to work from home compared with people with high school diplomas. Some professions, such as medical services and manufacturing, may not have the option at all. Policies with respect to data flows and taxation would need to be adjusted should the volume of cross-border digital services rise significantly.

4. Distance Learning

As of mid-April, 191 countries announced or implemented school or university closures, impacting 1.57 billion students. Many educational institutions started offering courses online to ensure education was not disrupted by quarantine measures. Technologies involved in distant learning are similar to those for remote work and also include virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing and artificial-intelligence-enabled robot teachers.

Joy Malone's daughter speaks to her kindergarten classmates on a Zoom call for the first time since schools were closed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New Rochelle, New York, U.S., April 15, 2020. Picture taken April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Joy Malone - RC217G95J4A0
Even kindergarteners are learning from home – but will this trend create wider divides and increased pressure on parents? | Image: REUTERS/Joy Malone

Concerns about distance learning include the possibility the technologies could create a wider divide in terms of digital readiness and income level. Distance learning could also create economic pressure on parents – more often women – who need to stay home to watch their children and may face decreased productivity at work.

5. 5G and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

All the aforementioned technology trends rely on a stable, high-speed and affordable internet. While 5G has demonstrated its importance in remote monitoring and healthcare consultation, the rollout of 5G is delayed in Europe at the time when the technology may be needed the most. The adoption of 5G will increase the cost of compatible devices and the cost of data plans. Addressing these issues to ensure inclusive access to internet will continue to be a challenge as the 5G network expands globally.

Pedestrians walk past an advertisement promoting the 5G data network at a mobile phone store in London, Britain, January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville - RC26PE9MIDQS
COVID-19 shows that as the 5G network expands globally, we need to ensure inclusive access. | Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

The importance of digital readiness

COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of digital readiness, which allows business and life to continue as usual – as much as possible – during pandemics. Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitized world and stay current in the latest technology will be essential for any business or country to remain competitive in a post-COVID-19 world, as well as take a human-centred and inclusive approach to technology governance.

As the BBC points out, an estimated 200 million people will lose their jobs due to COVID-19. And the financial burden often falls on the most vulnerable in society. Digitization and pandemics have accelerated changes to jobs available to humans. How to mitigate the impact on the larger workforce and the most vulnerable is the issue across all industries and countries that deserves not only attention but also a timely and human-centred solution.

Source: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/10-technology-trends-coronavirus-covid19-pandemic-robotics-telehealth/