COVID-19 and its impact on technology

Efma feature

18 March 2020

Lincoln Teo, Efma’s Head of Asia Pacific & Senior Advisor, writes about the way Asian companies and citizens are innovating in the face of their new realities amidst a global pandemic.

Since the beginning of March when Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte put his entire country on lockdown to combat the corona virus and forced all 60 million Italians to stay home, each day has seen more countries follow in his footsteps. In most cases, the only travel allowed will be for proven work reasons, for health conditions, or other cases of necessity.  Tensions have risen between countries too with a diplomatic spat between Germany and neighbors Switzerland and Austria over a decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to ban most exports of protective medical equipment – including stock originally bound for the two countries which was stored in Germany.

Whether the isolation of towns and cities around the world will do much to curb the outbreak remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain, the normal way of life has changed, perhaps putting societies on the cusp of a new normal. The pandemic is driving millions to rely more on technology – particularly through mobile and cloud-based productivity and messaging tools so that co-workers can stay connected remotely. In providing the infrastructure and support for large-scale teleworking, organizations are also seeing the need to prepare for shifts in human resource management practices as daily life starts to take shape in a different way.

In an interesting move, South Korea’s central bank, The Bank of Korea (BOK), said it was quarantining bank notes for two weeks to remove any traces of covid-19 coronavirus and even burning some as part of efforts to stem the outbreak.  Besides “laundering” its currency notes before releasing them for circulation, the South Korean National Assembly recently passed new legislation that will provide a framework for the regulation and legalization of cryptocurrencies and crypto exchanges. But let’s look at the changing workplace first.

As organizations and businesses start to agree that professionals and workers need to work from home, it is still important for their well-being to be ensured. What can they do about hard-nosed employees who insist on going to work even though he or she is unwell? This issue this has pushed a company from Taiwan to research on a Smart Temperature Measuring and Monitoring Platform:

This will be an upgrade from the usual temperature reporting system that could allow employees the ability to have twice-daily logins and include facial recognition technology so that the identity of the individual could be accurately ascertained. The solution, according to the developers, "integrates body detection, face detection and dual sensing via infrared cameras and visible light" to swiftly identify people who have elevated body temperatures and have the temperature readings reported via existing human resource management systems which would in turn trigger the attention of their supervisors.

Such hawk-eye methods of tracking mirrors what the Chinese government has arguably set up - one of the most expansive and sophisticated surveillance 'social credit' systems in the world. Citizens and residents in China, in addition to the real-name system, requires people to use government-issued ID cards to buy mobile sims, obtain social media accounts, take a train, board a plane, or even buy groceries. While authorities deploy internet-of-things (IoT) technological devices such as security cameras to keep tabs on everyone, companies may find themselves having to do the same – just to be sure that their employees are really at work!

Bosses are not the only ones monitoring activities, teachers are doing the same with schools following the trend of holding classes online as students are being encouraged to staying home amid the outbreak. For some in the affected areas, there have been no school bells, bustling corridors, busy canteens, or uniforms. Instead of physically traveling to school daily, school-going children find themselves sitting at their laptops from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. still in their pyjamas, watching live-streamed class after live-streamed class.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that video conferencing software company Zoom’s stock price is climbing while most are plummeting in the face of the mayhem roiling the stock market.  Zoom has brought in more active users so far this year than it did in 2019. The usage spike, which can be attributed to many new corporate users, illustrates one company thriving while face-to-face activities are being curtailed. In an attempt to slow the spread of corona virus, classes in schools are switching to online instruction and when that happens, teachers look to tools like Zoom to bring the classroom into a new dimension.

Closer to home, Malaysia has also developed a similar application but perhaps a little differently. Known as the CliteHD Open Source Project, it is an open source platform that provides free video and web conferencing infrastructure solutions. The source code for both – back-end infrastructure and front-end - are free and this new start-up is focused on creating and delivering the next generation video conferencing platform to the Open Source communities.

While online conferencing is allowing employees to keep up with their yearlong objectives, there are problems to be addressed. For some, the issues are minor -- shaky internet connections due to bandwidth limitations and the relative ease of truancy. For others, the remote working experiment could come at a cost to their mental health -- or even their career future.

There is a silver lining though: when exposed to a novel learning style, innovation breeds rapidly. For example, it was documented that an employee made a video to explain a proposal that was to be pitched to a client and a teacher made a video from a beach to help with a geology lesson. We are sure to see many more examples of innovation as people adapt to the new realities all over the globe.

Needless to say, many innovations are now going viral!

Keywords : Workforce management , Technology , Covid-19

Geography : Asia