3 technologies impacting our lives during COVID-19

Appreciating technology’s progress amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

There is no doubt that this global pandemic is putting a massive strain on healthcare systems, businesses, economies, and governments all over the world. The world’s economy is expected to diminish by 3% this year. 36.5 million Americans have applied for unemployment since mid-March, nearing levels not seen since the Great Depression. At the time of publishing, over 8 million people have been infected, and 436,322 have lost their lives. In response, the global population is collectively adjusting to a new way of living as the COVID-19 situation progresses. Amidst the extreme stress and uncertainty that we are all facing, it’s important to take a moment to appreciate some of the technologies that are helping us cope during this difficult time.

Connective technologies like video conferencing, social media, gaming, and more are quickly becoming essentials as we are less able to collaborate, socialize, and interact physically. Working from home, something that would have been practically impossible for many people less than two decades ago, is now supported by these technologies, allowing people to connect via video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx etc. Zoom, one of the most popular video conferencing apps of this time, saw a staggering increase in meeting participants, up from 10 million in December to 300 million in April.

Virtual events and educators are utilizing video conferencing as well, in an attempt to continue life as normally as possible. Similar apps like HouseParty and FaceTime are helping friends and families stay connected from afar. Some have noted this reconnection to be ironic in the age of social distancing, as it’s prompting many friends, families, and neighbors to rekindle and deepen their relationships.

Mobile applications and delivery services are enabling people throughout the world to support their favorite local restaurants and vendors by ordering delivery while things remain closed. Throughout the world, apps like Postmates and DoorDash are allowing restaurants to continue business through deliveries, with options to have deliveries left at the door in order to limit person-to-person contact. Some delivery services, like Zomato, are waiving restaurant fees in an effort to bolster the now-struggling industry. In Uganda, the Market Garden app is now connecting women vendors to customers seeking fresh fruits and vegetables that they would normally find in the bustling markets of Kampala but are missing while social distancing rules are in place. In the U.S., 49% of consumers turned to online grocery delivery because of the coronavirus, a practice that may continue even after stay-at-home orders are lifted. Even drones are getting involved in deliveries, with startups like Manna Aero using drones to deliver much-needed medicine to vulnerable people on lock-down.

Social media and entertainment platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Quibi are providing a welcome distraction from the many stressors of day-to-day life under quarantine. Over 80% of U.S. and UK consumers admit to consuming more content during the lock-down, especially online videos and broadcast TV. In response, Netflix released a way to watch TV shows and movies simultaneously with your friends, virtually. Video games have always been a great way to connect and play with others, and now more people are embracing them. According to Verizon, gaming data usage increased by 75% in mid-March, and several streaming gaming services experienced server issues, likely due to a significant increase of inactive users. Among the affected were Blizzard Activision and Riot Games.

Thanks to these existing technologies, people all over the world are finding ways to stay entertained and sustained during this difficult time, and 9 out of 10 surveyed Americans claim to have a better appreciation for technology due to how it has impacted their lives during this crisis.

How have emerging technologies affected the world’s response to COVID-19?

Artificial intelligence

While artificial intelligence (AI) is still in a relatively nascent stage, researchers have been using it to track the coronavirus and predict potential spread. In the very early days of the virus, Toronto-startup BlueDot’s AI platform spotted a heightened amount of “unusual pneumonia” cases occurring in Wuhan, China. Kamran Khan, BlueDot’s founder and CEO, served as an epidemiologist and physician during the 2003 SARS outbreak, which inspired him to develop a technology that could cull through massive amounts of data in order to detect potentially dangerous diseases. In the past, AI has also successfully predicted the outcomes of the 2016 Zika virus and the 2014 Ebola outbreak. AI machines, like the CS-1 computer from startup Cerebras Systems, are being used to speed up the discovery of a potential vaccine for the coronavirus. Originally intended for cancer research, the CS-1 computer is hard at work at Argonne National Library, running learning models with the intention of finding compounds that may be effective against the virus.

Robots

In Singapore, semi-autonomous robots are being utilized to disinfect large public surfaces, such as outdoor seating. One robot, called the eXtreme Disinfection robot (or XDBot), was created in only six weeks by a team at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). In China, robots are helping out in several ways, from taking temperatures to sanitizing surfaces to producing and delivering food. To limit the amount of contact between healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients, robots are also serving as portable telehealth operators. One such example is Boston Dynamics’ Spot, a dog-like robot with a tablet attached for video conferencing purposes. Boston Dynamics also says that they are working on upgrading Spot with technology that would allow the robot to test for fevers and monitor respiratory rates.

3D printing

The 3D printing community has been incredibly active in finding ways to contribute during this difficult time. Many in the industry have been producing essential gear and helpful devices for healthcare workers, including HP. HP’s 3D research and development centers located in San Diego, Corvallis, Vancouver, Washington, and Barcelona are actively creating mask adjusters, face shields, and hands-free door openers, as well as testing potential new devices that may help patients. HP has made these designs public and available to any who are able to 3D print and contribute to the cause.

We are not alone in our efforts. Digital manufacturing companies from all over the world are coming together to create necessary supplies, such as test swabs. Lamborghini is using HP Multi-Jet Fusion technology to make lung simulators used to test ventilators used by coronavirus patients. Individual 3D-printing enthusiasts are also working tirelessly to give back to healthcare workers, using smaller, at-home 3D printers to craft personal protective equipment and other helpful gear.

During this time of uncertainty and overwhelm, it is perhaps comforting to appreciate how far technology has come. Existing technologies are enabling people to cope in a variety of ways during isolation, and emerging technologies are proving themselves to be essential to the future of our world. While the current pandemic has brought us great challenges, we are better prepared today than we have ever been in history, and perhaps our continued progress will enable humanity to survive future challenges with more confidence and awareness.

Trends Uncategorized

How to lead a remote team during COVID-19

Our “new normal” requires leaders to rethink how they lead. These tips will help you lead a team that’s working from home.

Internet access has also become congested because more people are online during the day performing their jobs and attending school virtually. Carriers have reported their customers are using more voice calls and many of them are using Wi-Fi rather than cellular. In addition, Facebook has seen a 70% weekly increase in the number of people using Facebook Messenger for group video calls.

As the pandemic continues to alter our everyday lives, we’ve become reliant on services that allow us to work from home. Meetings are happening on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts. In fact, Zoom reported daily users spiked to 200 million in March, up from 10 million in December.

Creating a culture of a high-performing team can be challenging under normal circumstances, but what does it look like during a global pandemic? As a leader how can you adapt your leadership style and processes to meet your employees’ new expectations? Here are the top tips I have learned through my own experience leading a global, remote team.

  1. Communication is crucial.
    Implement tools that allow you to communicate easily. We use Skype and Microsoft Teams, and find it great to stay in touch with quick messages and updates on projects without cluttering our email inboxes.

    You can use a messaging tool to encourage socializing, too. Create a group in Whatsapp or whichever messaging platform you use that is not specific to work. Keep the “water cooler conversations” going and allow your team a space to share their non-work related content.

    For updates that require more than an email or chat message, hold daily or weekly stand-ups. We use Zoom for video meetings and find it a great tool to hold virtual meetings. Your team can share what they are working on, any challenges they may have, and ask questions. If you plan on having your stand-up as a video call, make sure your team knows that ahead of time and that everyone joins using video.  It not only makes the meetings more engaging, but it also discourages multitasking. 😃

  2. Manage expectations.
    Does your company require your team to be online during certain hours of the day? Communicate that with your employees, don’t assume they will follow the same hours as when they were in the office.

    If you don’t already use a project management tool, consider implementing one so that your team can keep track of upcoming deadlines, project statuses, and the items on their plate.

  3. Be flexible.
    Work isn’t the only thing in our lives that has been disrupted by COVID-19. For those who are at home with their children, caring for a loved one, or experiencing another life event that is disrupting their normal, flexibility is paramount.

    One important aspect of emotional intelligence I’ve discussed in the past is empathy. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they might feel in a certain situation. As leaders, the more we’re able to relate to others, the better we help them feel understood and inspired.

    Check-in with your team on a regular basis and be fully present in your conversations, so you can make genuine connections and better understand their point of view. Once you have checked in, be flexible in creating a schedule and culture that considers their needs and current demands they’re facing.

  4. Cut yourself some slack.
    Remember, you and your team are going through massive changes in a quick time frame, so don’t expect things to be perfect from the start. Focus on small changes to start, and you will build a stronger and more supportive work culture.

    Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. We’re all in this together.

Are you leading a remote team? I’d love to hear about your experience and any tips you’ve learned along the way. Please share them in the comments below.

Blog Innovation Leadership