Stranded by Covid-19? Let’s Talk
Will the latest pandemic spur mass change in communications?
Global events sometimes become the catalyst for widespread change. In the world of technology, Covid-19, also known as the coronavirus, may be such an event.

Over the decades our industry has been an integral part of developing, refining and establishing many cost-effective and reliable technologies, perhaps best illustrated by improvements in communications. These improvements have not just been about broadcasting voice with higher fidelity in smaller packages, or integrating photography into word processing software, with easier user interfaces. Thanks to technology, the world of communications has been developing into much more: real-time, interactive, and transportable.

The combination of higher capacity data storage in smaller and far less expensive packages and fast and reliable wireless bandwidth, available virtually anywhere, matched with camera and microphone technology that makes the smallest device sound crystal clear and picks up the smallest sound or sight from incredibly long distances, is just part of the dramatic evolution of communications technologies.

Apps have proven equally amazing, in some ways perhaps a bigger game-changer. The ability to type a short message, add a picture and reach literally millions of “followers” has enabled real-time reporting, sharing of the most personal trivia, and widespread influence, all for virtually free. The combination of compact and high-resolution video feed via the internet and apps that take that video feed and put it on a handheld device has transformed communication. This transformation has evolved. Not long ago, we experienced either “live,” a person on location or listening/viewing as an event occurs, or “recorded,” when a listener hears/sees an event that has already taken place hours or days before. Today, an individual anywhere in the world can be a part of a live event via their smart device or computer, regardless of where it takes place.

And that’s just what countless people now do: harness the copious communications technologies to get their message out 24/7 on everything from political musings to updates on the trip to the mall. Interestingly, business has been far slower to harness the latest communications technologies for internal purposes. Yes, they mine their customer base and lure tech-savvy folk to tell their product or service story, but for the majority of internal intra-company and customer-to-vendor or vendor-to-customer communications, the default remains tried-and-true: person-to-person via meetings, email or telephone communication.

Then a pandemic emerges and some of the tried-and-true communication methods aren’t cutting it.

The coronavirus has made many rethink how best to communicate. Companies are asking employees to work from home. While this might not work in a manufacturing environment, for many other job functions and industries it does. In fact, working from home in many ways can be far more productive, eliminating distractions such as the proverbial water cooler chats or cubicle caucuses that can suck time out of a productive day.

Schools of all kinds are in position to rethink their educational processes in response to the coronavirus. Many are finding ways to teach remotely via online platforms so students can enjoy the academic curriculum and teacher-student interaction as if they were physically in the classroom. The technology is in place. Most have the hardware: a tablet, smartphone or computer.

Likewise, the medical profession is leveraging technology in ways that may have not seemed potentially mainstream just a short time back. The virtual doctor appointment, where a doctor communicates via the internet with patients, has to date primarily enabled those in remote locations to seek advice and treatment. The technology is now being harnessed so those with symptoms of coronavirus need not go out in public to be diagnosed and treated.

And finally, the road warrior – the person who feels they must see their customer in person to make the pitch and close the sale – is forced to rethink their tactics. When travel is deemed riskier, possibly a different interaction needs to be employed toward the same goal: communication when and as needed.

These situations may not have surfaced had a pandemic such as coronavirus not gripped the world. We have been slow to fully harness available technology to reduce personal risk. With fear of exposure to rampant viruses, even the most interactive activities – teaching, medicine, sales – are embracing the latest communications technologies as never before to reduce that risk.

Which brings me back to how sometimes events occur that are the catalyst for change. Forced to stop and rethink how we do something because of an unforeseeable event can make us realize a more efficient, better option is available. For businesses and institutions that may have avoided investment in the technology, the alternative may suddenly seem far costlier. For those reluctant to break from their comfort zone and try something new, the challenge of doing so becomes far less risky than continuing along the same path. The urgency is there to embrace and try the new.

These virtual communications options may not permanently replace all conventional methods, but their adoption will most certainly accelerate. Time will reveal whether changes in how we communicate are a temporary reaction to an immediate pressing need, or if the technology proves an opportunity for all.

Peter Bigelow
Peter Bigelow
is president and CEO of IMI Inc.; His column appears monthly.