COVID did something good

If COVID did us any good it’s that it forced us to live and work the digital life.

Increasingly more people are working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

The office is no longer the only place to deliver a full day’s work.

Flexible work suddenly became a reality six years after legislation allowed for employers to engage with their employees on virtual working arrangements.

Companies now support working from home with support for the installation of high-speed Internet along with hardware and software relevant to their production.

A prime example is that of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry with its thousands of on-premises staffers. That all changed with the spread of the virus in their close quarters. Now hundreds of these employees no longer have to journey to headquarters, thus lessening the possible virus spread.

Business process outsourcing industries across the region were forced to adopt work from home measures amid the spread of COVID-19.

Reservations about homeschooling had to be set aside with the Ministry of Education ramped up online teaching. Those teachers who were hesitant about the use of technology soon found themselves driven to prepare lesson plans and monitor the work of their classrooms remotely. Several private schools also rolled out expanded programmes to keep students up to date with their timetables.

The entertainment industry, barred from live concerts, soon embraced an audience of possible millions on the Internet. The Verzuz clash of Beenie Man and Bounty Killer drew a worldwide audience of nearly half-million in a dramatic demonstration of the power of Instagram.

Restaurants, which looked forward to welcoming patrons for sitdown lunch and dinners, soon pivoted to a full menu of takeaway and delivery options. The restaurant industry recognised that it needed to get to customers and retain much of the workforce.

COVID-19 forced a rethink of many areas of public life and set in place several measures which are sure to be retained as standard practices. The extensive use of digital technology has pointed out the gaps in our daily lives and the need to accept and live the digital experience.

The entertainment industry was forced closed as the thread of COVID-19 spread, forcing many to seek online outlets. (Photo by Kevin Kane/WireImage)

Those gaps are starkest in the requirements of our educational system, where several children could not benefit from online teaching because they were Internet-starved.

Though the technology exists to reach across the country, the economics did not merit the initial investment by the telecommunications companies. Now, all that has changed in a new investment partnership between Government and the private sector operators.

The same is true of many businesses which found themselves rushing to implement digital services to ensure that their customers could transact business without the need to visit their premises.

Small to medium enterprises which had failed to invest in online services soon discovered that survival depended on offering their customer new means of communicating their wishes.

Banks increased their online services to reduce foot traffic in-branch.

Several banks which had for a long time been encouraging the use of their online services stepped up their campaigns to reduce visits to their premises. In some cases, branches were closed to reduce the number of their staffers on-site.

The insurance industry is another, laying out a suite of online services for premiums payments and general inquiries fielded by many of their staffers who were working from home.

Government agencies also moved to maintain contact with the public by introducing upgraded online services via the most significant customer service programme seen in years. Not only are you able to pay your taxes but also secure critical documents.

Even the prime minister’s office rolled out virtual news conferences using a facility which had been years in the making and which now became a necessary tool of communicating with the public.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, addresses the nation at a digital press conference at Jamaica House, on Monday (April 27).

These developments have the potential to change many things in our lives by making it easier to do business, increase productivity, and reduce the strain on our infrastructure. One only has to look at the impact on our peak traffic hours to realise the value of the changes.

Even our environment benefited from the reduction in congestion and the relief brought on by the lessening of activities.

One commentator in 2018 said then “that addressing the digital divide can lead to economic growth and wage increases, alongside easier access to medical care, lower-cost online education, and job opportunities. The Internet contains a wealth of information, and the digital world is becoming increasingly important in today’s society”.

Two years later, reality has come home to us, forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. We should welcome these changes in our lives, allowing for positive changes in our work environment and the opportunity for greater enjoyment of the experiences which technology affords.