The Future of Work: How Industries Are Adapting to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the face of work across industries. As the world begins to look toward the future, the focus should be less about returning to old norms and more about adapting anew.

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the world, from the ongoing economic repercussions to the hundreds of thousands of lives lost. It has disrupted almost every aspect of life — including many aspects that people once thought would never change. The same is true when it comes to business operations, as leaders across industries rush to figure out what the future looks like in the wake of COVID-19. However, when it comes to the future of work, perhaps there is more reason to develop an optimistic perspective.

For business leaders looking to do more than simply return to the past, the COVID-19 pandemic offers opportunities for innovation that could prove to be transformative. Instead of thinking about the current circumstances in terms of the now-tired phrase “the new normal,” is it possible that COVID-19 is simply an accelerant towards a normal that was waiting for us all along? 

Disruptions as Opportunity

The problem with the idea of the heavily discussed “new normal” is that it implies that organizations are eager to skip ahead to a reality in which they can resume operations that are as similar to the “old normal” as possible. This is the wrong way to think about our current circumstances. If anything, the pandemic has demonstrated that the old normal was not necessarily the best way of conducting business.

The organizations that will come out on top once the dust has settled are those that don’t view the disruptions of COVID-19 as a hurdle they need to get over, but rather as a valuable lesson in how businesses can adapt digitally resilient processes, discover potential new efficiencies, and challenge the norm in the face of great uncertainty. As the world discovers which realities of COVID-19 are here to stay, businesses must learn how to apply the lessons of the pandemic to design new ways of working.

For example, one of the most widespread changes to business-as-usual operations was the sudden forced switch to remote work. While organizations in non-essential industries had to rapidly pivot to roll out work from home policies and negotiate remote work challenges, many businesses have now seen a largely successful adoption of remote practices. In fact, 77% of CEOs across the globe plan to continue building on their current use of digital collaboration and communication tools into the future. This digital shift has also created new opportunities for global connection, with 73% of CEOs saying they believe remote work has widened their available talent pool. 

With the aid of technology and digital solutions, there’s no limit to the potential innovations that industries can come up with in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This can mean anything from reducing the amount of face-to-face interactions in favor of digital communication platforms to restructuring the very idea of a workspace. It also likely means making targeted investments in technologies that support these new approaches, like cybersecurity and advanced wireless or wired network solutions. 

Of course, this does not mean that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t also had serious negative repercussions in a wide range of industries. A large number of companies were forced to lay off significant portions of their workforce, with unemployment rates at the height of the pandemic sitting at around 15%. Although current unemployment rates have decreased to just under 8%, we have still been unable to restore pre-pandemic rates of roughly 3.5%. As another example, the global supply chain was disrupted in a huge way, with 67% of CEOs across industries reporting a need to rethink their approach as a result of the pandemic. 

Overall, it’s clear that teams and companies will have to be rebuilt as a result of COVID-19. However, if they strive to do so strategically and intentionally, there is a chance they can transform supply chains, career paths, and industries for the better. As business leaders adapt their procedures and approaches to best fit today’s world, the future of work will look different in every industry. The only thing that is certain is that the organizations that emerge the strongest post-pandemic will be those that have been able to use the current circumstances as a catalyst for innovation and progress. 

In particular, the healthcare, education, and enterprise spaces are presented with opportunities for transformation in the wake of the pandemic. This digital story will explore how COVID-19 impacted these three key industries, how business leaders adapted, and how IT solutions can help them make the most of the current situation. 

The Healthcare Industry

Without question, the pandemic has naturally had the most direct and immediate impact on the healthcare industry. While healthcare has always played a critical role in the success of our society, the industry was suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the first coronavirus cases began appearing in the United States. As hospitals and emergency medical institutions around the country worked tirelessly to navigate the influx of patients and slow the spread of the virus, the rest of the industry found itself having to adjust some of the most basic elements of healthcare to meet less urgent consumer needs. 

The height of the coronavirus pandemic brought a temporary end to all but the most critical in-person medical appointments. Instead, telehealth and virtual care suddenly became the primary methods to consult medical professionals, rapidly accelerating industry and consumer adoption of these new technologies. In 2019, that number was only 11%. Even when the nation begins to move out of the shadow of COVID-19, there is an opportunity here to expand the use of telehealth and transform accessibility in healthcare. 

According to McKinsey, the total annual revenue for US telehealth players pre-COVID was $3 billion, with the biggest players focused in the “virtual urgent care” segment where consumers could get instant telehealth visits with physicians. However, if consumer and provider adoption of telehealth continues to accelerate and move beyond urgent care, up to $250 billion of current US healthcare spending could potentially be virtualized. By embracing the possibilities of an increasingly digital future, healthcare companies can offer powerful consumer experiences like more intuitive customer portals for prescription refills or test results, the ability for doctors to remotely consult with specialists around the world, and improved support and resources for patients to self-manage their health. 

Of course, with the increased adoption of telehealth comes the need for stronger cybersecurity to keep patient data secure. Opportunistic hackers across industries have been taking advantage of the pandemic, with attacks against hospitals rapidly increasing during a time of potential vulnerability. As hospitals became overloaded and more sensitive information was stored virtually, cybercriminals knew they would be more likely to pay high ransoms — making them ideal victims. As a result, more than 66 healthcare providers across the country had faced successful cyberattacks by early July. 

In addition to investing in cybersecurity, the increased adoption of digital solutions in healthcare also requires more powerful networks than ever before. To ensure that medical professionals are able to remotely meet with patients, consult with other physicians, engage in regular email communications, and utilize standard hospital technology all at once, hospitals will inevitably have to invest in their IT infrastructure. Providing caregivers with the ability to remotely access healthcare networks—without exposing the network to additional security risks—can help guarantee that healthcare workers are able to offer the same quality of care virtually as they do in person.

The Education Industry

Education was completely transformed when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, leaving everyone from second grade teachers to graduate school professors scrambling to develop previously unimaginable remote teaching methods. In the months since initial school closures, it has become clear that it will take some time for classrooms to reestablish themselves as sites of carefree exploration and discovery. Until then, schools need to ensure they have the infrastructure, contact tracing, and cybersecurity measures in place to help their students receive the best education experience possible. 

At the moment, remote lessons and hybrid learning environments continue to be popular, with many teachers offering virtual lessons right from the school building. In some cases, students in various grade levels take turns learning in-person or remotely on alternating days of the week. In other cases, college students have been forced to resume remote lessons from home due to a coronavirus outbreak on campus. No matter how educators are currently engaging in virtual learning, it is imperative that they have strong, reliable network connections to eliminate interruptions. 

As some schools gradually return to an in-person classroom environment, new challenges are emerging as well. In particular, schools need to find ways to enforce social distancing and engage in contact tracing to prevent the spread of the virus among students and staff. To do this, they’ll need to invest in technological solutions designed specifically for that purpose. Smart cameras with Face Search capabilities can help with accurate contact tracing, while thermal cameras, crowd notifications, and access point detection can help identify and alert administrators about students not abiding by social distancing rules. These advanced technologies can also help schools identify high-traffic areas that need more frequent cleaning to prevent the spread of infection. 

Like hospitals, schools also need to invest in powerful cybersecurity solutions to protect students’ data. As schools focus on creating virtual learning opportunities for their students, it’s easy for cybersecurity to fall by the wayside, leaving them vulnerable to enterprising cybercriminals. The heightened reliance on technology in the education sector has made schools — much like healthcare facilities — another major target for hackers during the pandemic. The recent hack of a school district in Nevada that resulted in the release of students’ and staff members’ sensitive information (including social security numbers, grades, and more) serves as a reminder of how important it is for schools to invest in robust cybersecurity solutions. 

Despite a number of challenges in their path, school leaders and educators have a chance to take advantage of this momentum to do more than just heighten their security and incorporate social distancing solutions. COVID-19 has fast-forwarded the trajectory of many schools’ digital curriculum through the switch to remote learning. Schools looking to make the most of the pandemic can build on this progress to integrate 1:1 device initiatives or bring your own device (BYOD) policies. They can also take this time to shore up their 5-year tech plans, to upgrade to WiFi 6, and even try to maximize E-rate funding for future opportunities. 

Enterprises

As we mentioned previously, the sudden switch to remote work left many enterprises feeling panicked and underprepared. Companies were forced to adopt new approaches to work in order to remain productive from a distance. However, as both employees and enterprise leaders discovered the efficacy of many of the approaches adopted in response to the COVID-19 crisis, something surprising has happened. For some enterprises, the adjustment to remote work was relatively seamless. This has made it even more important for businesses to consider the value of in-person work and only reopen offices when they have the right solutions in place to do so safely and effectively.

While this revelation offers exciting opportunities for innovation in everything from physical spaces to workflows, remote work has also presented some concrete challenges. To operate entirely remotely, businesses have had to incorporate more powerful communication channels and cybersecurity solutions. These solutions need to let employees access the sensitive information necessary for performing their jobs, while also preventing unauthorized figures from accessing confidential data. From centralized IT management to password encryption, technological solutions have been critical in helping enterprises adapt to the current face of work.

Once enterprises begin to return to their physical workspaces, they will also need to adopt new solutions that help ensure a productive and healthy return to in-person work for their employees. One of the most important jobs for enterprise leaders will be determining what that return will look like and how the lessons of the pandemic will be incorporated into their business.

One of the major changes that many enterprises will likely face as employees return to the office is a shift in the basic physical office structure. Some of these changes are necessary to better enforce social distancing, but some will also be motivated by employee desires for greater flexibility in their workspaces. After all, following months of being able to work wherever they wanted, it is unlikely that employees will want to return to the single set desks of old. In fact, research shows that 85% of workers expect to see more mobility in the workplace going forward, with open spaces for collaboration as well as more focused solo work. 

With all these changes to how employees work in a space, enterprises will need to ensure they have a network infrastructure that supports these layouts. For many, that will involve redesigning their IT infrastructure, access points, and cabling to make sure their space supports employee productivity from anywhere in the building.

Finally, enterprises will also need to invest in some of the same contact tracing and social distancing solutions mentioned in the context of education. One option is to invest in robust security cameras that have added capabilities to support post-COVID necessities, including People Heatmaps and occupancy tracking features to enforce social distancing. Enterprises can also choose to make use of access points that include location analytics for detailed, accurate contact tracing that connects right to user devices.

Make the Most of the Future of Work

No matter what industry you’re in, it’s likely that the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the way you work. Despite the many challenges this year has posed, the experts at Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI) can help you navigate these changes and take advantage of the opportunities the shift to digital has presented. To make the most of the future of work and embrace progress, organizations should consider turning to a partner or managed service provider that can find the right solutions to fit your varied needs. 

With an experienced partner like TTI on your side, organizations in healthcare, education, enterprise, and other industries can better understand the silver lining that today’s circumstances hold and emerge from the pandemic more digitally resilient than ever. Contact us to learn more about how the experts at TTI can help you thrive.

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