The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented.
No public-health crisis in human history has resulted in the worldwide social and economic upheaval that marked the year 2020 and beyond. Never have so many resources around the world acted so quickly to develop medical technology to detect and prevent the spread of a pathogen and the illness associated with it, or to treat those afflicted with it. Of particular interest to AndPlus and our clients is how the COVID-19 response impacted the way we use digital technologies in our daily lives.
Here are some of the ways the pandemic has changed user experiences:
For people fortunate enough to remain employed, the daily commute has shortened to the few steps needed to get to whatever area serves as the home-based office. This has resulted in some fundamental changes in the way work is done and the tools that are used.
For example, many face-to-face meetings have been replaced by online equivalents like Microsoft Teams, Webex, and Zoom.The impacts of this shift are numerous:
Home-office environments for many people is less than ideal, and some users are not comfortable letting their coworkers into their homes, even virtually. As a result, the developers of these tools have enabled users to change their video backgrounds with a few clicks. Users can choose from stock background images or upload their own. The tools automatically detect what part of the video is the user and what part is a background to be replaced.
Virtual meetings have many advantages over their face-to-face counterparts:
- Documents can be modified by multiple authors at the same time.
- Participants can use instant messaging for side conversations without interrupting the meeting.
- Slide decks, documents, notes, and other artifacts can be attached to the meeting record for future reference.
- Virtual meetings can be recorded with audio, video, and virtual whiteboards.
Meeting participants have had to learn new habits. Users have had to learn to mute themselves to reduce background noise and unmute when speaking. Participants have learned to deal with annoying but unavoidable delays in the audio, the resulting awkward silences, and people talking over one another. And having the group sing “Happy Birthday” in unison? Forget it.
Perhaps best of all, if you’re stuck in a boring virtual meeting, you can multitask with no one being the wiser.
At one time, many large companies were reluctant to allow their employees to spend most or all their working time at home. Stay-at-home orders have turned this attitude around, and companies now encourage the practice and provide employees with tools to make them more productive and connected.
The response to COVID-19 has changed the face of education at all levels, from kindergarten all the way to graduate school. Many courses and some entire college degree programs are now conducted online. The technology sector has risen to the challenge by providing tools to administer and grade assignments, test students’ knowledge, and provide interactive virtual classrooms.
There are some shortcomings to the online education paradigm:
- Early childhood education is not just where children learn their ABCs; it’s where they learn to interact in groups and “play well with others.”
- Science education and vocational trainig necessarily involve hands-on learning.
- The social aspect of college campus life, once a major component of the college experience, has been reduced or eliminated at many universities.
No amount of technology can overcome these issues, and their long-term impacts are unclear. For these reasons, educators are hopeful their industry can return to a “safe normal” sooner rather than later.
Buying and selling goods and services has seen a major impact from the COVID-19 response. Those brick-and-mortar businesses that have been able to remain operating have done it with reduced capacity, smaller staff, and an ever-changing environment of government restrictions and support programs.
Some businesses have survived by turning to e-commerce. E-commerce platforms can make it easy to set up a basic site and provide users with standard e-commerce features, such as catalog search, promo codes, and secure payment functions.
Mobile and e-commerce apps have changed the shopping experience. It’s common now to place a grocery order on the grocer’s website, drive to the store, use the grocer’s mobile app to announce your presence in the parking lot, and wait a few minutes for an employee to bring your order to your car. But this model has its problems, too:
- Not entering the store means not browsing through the aisles; no impulse purchases.
- Retailers need additional staff to pick orders and prepare them for delivery.
- There’s almost no way to meet and greet people at the store.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its response have been highly disruptive and often devastating for businesses, their employees, and customers. But technology developers have done their best to ease the impact by providing usable, intuitive tools. Regardless of the pandemic’s outcome or the timeline for returning to some semblance of normal life, these tools will remain an important part of our lives as employers, employees, and consumers.