Changes resulting from COVID-19 won’t disappear when a vaccine emerges.
In Simon Dudley’s “IoT” column last month, he discussed and explained the history of working and the office, as well as how those concepts will likely change forever. When thinking about that “next normal,” it’s pretty easy to speculate that the technology we use today will have to evolve into technology that supports many new models.
Initially, our tendency to use “touch” user interfaces (UIs) will likely be diminished quite severely. This isn’t just an AV-touchpanel thing, either; this is across the board. No one wants to press buttons on an elevator, on a wayfinding kiosk or on a vending machine anymore. We will clearly see more systems emerge that use voice control, gesture control (floating, holographic buttons we can touch) or systems that interact with our personal devices for control. Yes, each of those options poses some security concerns, but one thing that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taught us is that health concerns clearly override security concerns. (The FaceTime appointment I had with my family doctor proves that one pretty clearly.)
We can assume that, as soon as a vaccine for COVID-19 (or an effective treatment for it) becomes readily available, the reluctance to touch will diminish. However, until that happens, we will likely see technology emerge that adapts to this “next normal” and works its way into our daily routines. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I can assure you that engineers/programmers/manufacturers are heads-down right now, working on new solutions.
Another area that has clearly pivoted is remote working. When all knowledge workers were forced to work from home, many people—employees and employers alike—newly discovered that the model is very useful. It increases productivity; removes an often-annoying daily commute; benefits the environment; lowers office costs; allows the best employees to be recruited, regardless of their geographic location; and helps in a few dozen other ways. Granted, there are situations in which it’s not the ideal model; however, these days, those situations represent the minority of circumstances. Given that reality, what will become of managed services when the systems being managed are in people’s homes? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that new models of supporting remote workers will have to emerge as we enter this “next normal.”
Savvy enterprises will have to have a method to ensure that home workstations and collaboration systems are secure, updated and available for service when needed. I believe we will soon see a plethora of collaboration devices that are custom designed for the remote worker; surely, then, new methods of managing and supporting those devices will follow right behind. The scale and variability of these remote stations will be massively larger than those that managed services have supported in the past, so the changes might be seismic in nature. Rest assured, though—they’re coming.
Finally, if most of us are working from home, most of the time, in the “next normal,” what will make us leave our homes and travel for business? Surely, client site visits and jobsite inspections will sneak back into our culture as soon as it’s safe for them to; so, too, will outings and celebrations meant specifically to get us together. The question remains, however, as to whether we’ll travel to as many industry conferences as we have in the past.
In-person conferences allow us to network with peers we don’t already know in a far more effective way than a remote webinar could accomplish, but they don’t necessarily improve upon the educational process of a webinar or an online seminar. And the bigger point is this: In-person events aren’t necessarily cost-effective for manufacturers. After what will clearly be at least a full year of not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to exhibit at trade shows, and in the context of an economy that will take a long time to recover, potential exhibitors might have doubts about spending as much money—or any at all—on these events when they return.
This is another situation in which technology might emerge to support a new way of working. I can envision how augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) might step in here, but I can’t yet envision the platform that would support the casual meeting or networking situation with someone I don’t know. Just because I can’t envision it, however, doesn’t mean someone isn’t already stealthily working on it as you read these words.
The “next normal” will be here before you know it. Take this column as your advance notice and warning to search for, and pivot to, something that will be in high demand well into the next-normal future.
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