Skip to main content

In the past when employees would approach their bosses to work from home, the request would often be met with some scepticism. But who would have thought that within a very short space of time almost the entire world would be in lockdown over a contagious pandemic, and with the need for social distancing to #flattenthecurve, that a remote workspace would become a much-needed norm?

The proverbial “business as usual” has been forced to consider new ways of working and this has forced the implementation of technology to be fast-tracked in order to digitize the workforce. As tech analyst, Arthur Goldstuck stated, the coronavirus is an “unavoidable case study of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in action”.

Embracing technology

Even those who thought 4IR wasn’t for them, thinking in terms of artificial intelligence and their jobs being replaced by robots, will emerge from this crisis realising the difference technology has made for the benefit of humanity.

During social distancing and lockdown, the value of e-commerce truly emerged. It was possible to fill our fridges and cupboards, as well as medicine cabinets, without leaving our homes. Many of these e-commerce platforms will continue to flourish long after lockdown, now that people have experienced their value and the convenience of online shopping. On the other hand, the analogue world – hotels, restaurants, airlines, billboards, shopping malls – have been hardest hit during this pandemic. It’s also been an unusual time for religious institutions, with traditional services being completely disrupted.

Author Andrew Keen was quoted as saying: “We are surviving through this pandemic because of technology. Everyone is sitting at home, and their window to the world is through their smartphone.”

New ways of working

Meetings, training sessions, even conferences and product launches can continue without anyone having to leave the comfort of their home. Platforms and apps like Slack, Trello and Basecamp have been a common language, enabling teams to stay connected without being in the same office. The pandemic is also changing employees’ daily habits in terms saving many people a considerable amount of time travelling. It will be interesting to see how people adjust to the daily commute after the pandemic is over.

Schools and universities may also be forced to investigate digital or remote learning solutions. The challenge with this however is to bridge the digital divide to ensure equal opportunities for everyone.

The creative economy should also flourish during these unprecedented times, as people will be forced to find innovative solutions to disruptive problems.

4IR and healthcare

Although South Africa may not be on the same level as China, with robots sanitising hospitals, airports and roads, not to mention taking people’s temperatures, we’re also utilising technology in other ways to make headway in combatting this deadly virus. Home-testing kits for other some other diseases or conditions already exist, alleviating some pressure on the already overburdened health sector. Technology is being used to trace those carrying the coronavirus and 3D printing is being used to manufacture protective gear for healthcare workers.

Researchers worldwide are using every tool at their disposal, such as supercomputers, software apps, virtual reality, big data and algorithms to try and bring this virus to its knees.

Digitisation is disruptive and is changing healthcare from a reactive model to a system that focuses on predictive, preventative, personalised and participatory care. Traditionally, healthcare systems functioned in silos and non-communicable diseases were managed in much the same way. An integrated approach and collaborative efforts are needed to ensure empowered patient care.

A post-pandemic world

So what will the future look like? It’s hard to imagine that we’ll go back to doing things in the same old way after the pandemic is over. This is perhaps just what the 4IR needed to kick start into gear. Whichever way you look at it – things will never be the same again.

A piece by:
Paul Miller
Executive Vice President
Chief Executive Officer SA & MD SAGA