How COVID-19 is changing the way we work: Technology


In previous posts I discussed People and Processes, and now a few thoughts about how the workplace is changing in the current climate from the perspective of technology.

Could you imagine how this pandemic would have affected us had it happened prior to the age of mobile computing, or before we all had cameras on our home computers and laptops, or were even able to send text messages? Today's technology is able to connect family, friends and co-workers using video, audio, and via collaboration tools like Teams, Slack Dropbox, etc., and keep us connected in our personal and business lives.

Nevertheless, companies are now realizing what else they need to do in order to become more fully digital workplaces.

Do your staff all rely on physical devices that you have had to procure and configure? Why? Can their functions be performed instead on virtual desktops? There will definitely be compelling needs for some physical control over devices, but surely the majority of ‘office jobs’ should be running on thin clients with cloud-based desktops and platforms, that much is clear.

Leadership — and not just IT leaders - will be driving future conversations about traditional technology footprints (i.e., a data center) vs. private cloud hybrids vs. public cloud adoption. This is more important than just running your technology in the most cost-efficient way - it is now critical in many cases for your workforce to be able to function since your office location is ‘out-of-bounds'.

Collaboration tools will become more widely and fully adopted - your teams can no longer shout over a cube wall to their neighbor, but are relying on text-based communications using tools like Teams or Slack. How are you (a) facilitating this and (b) changing your working practices to get more out of that new approach?

What about your existing telecom and other technology contracts, for apps, support etc? How do they need to be changed to reflect the fact that your workforce is no longer connecting or accessing your applications from your main building? And are those changes that you’d prefer to keep, even after this situation has been resolved? And how will these technology changes affect your position on your office leases? Will you still need that size of space in three years time? Why? Why not re-purpose the idea of “the office” to be more of a destination for specific events and adjust how you see the space?

It’s been informative to watch the chaos in the stock market and see what companies institutional investors think are positioned to ride this out or perhaps even benefit. Amazon are well-placed to thrive of course given their massive logistical expertise and available cloud architecture. Zoom was a multi-billion company prior to the Covid-19 explosion, but possibly wasn’t particularly well known - it certainly is now as the world has embraced it’s ease of use and multi-user functionality. As is often the case with tech answers, when "needs must" the best tool wins even if it feels like shadow IT.

Zoom is an interesting case, as their security posture has come under intense scrutiny. What I’ve found most illuminating is how quickly they have responded to address these concerns. Since clarifying the confusion over whether they provide end-to-end encryption (they don’t really, since they manage and store all data encryption keys in their own cloud architecture and so in theory could decrypt data traffic) they have rolled out many security-related changes. In addition to defaulting meetings to require a passcode and other changes as part of a 90-day “feature-freeze” in order to focus on privacy and security issues, on April 18 the app will allow paying customers to select which data centers (i.e., countries) their calls are routed through. Opting in or out of a specific data center region and implementing geo-fencing best practices will go a long way to maintaining their recent dominance in this space.

In a world where “data is the new oil”, more new functionality is springing up too. In China, delivery services now show the body temperature of your delivery person. In Shanghai restaurants and hotels are requiring patrons to get SuiShenCode, a color card showing health status as part of the Alipay app; Shanghai food delivery receipts also include the body temperatures of the people involved in preparing your food. It’s unlikely that Western nations would want to adopt some of the more authoritarian policies that allow these developments but it’s still useful to observe the impacts and look for ways for technology to help in our own societies.

The changes to our working lives have been so through, and so fast - what other changes will we see in the days or weeks ahead?

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash