The start of this decade didn’t go as planned – starting with the coronavirus outbreak, then massive layoffs, economic uncertainty, social unrest, mental health crises, and a divisive election. Layer that with the fact that our personal lives have been turned upside down – from the way we work to the way we socialize to even the way we run our daily errands – and it is easy to dismiss this year as a total catastrophe.
Yet, if there is one beacon of hope, it’s that technology, in so many ways, has been a saving grace in navigating these unprecedented times. Just think: we’d be much worse off if it weren’t for what we’ve been able to accomplish with modern technology, including transitioning to remote work overnight, ordering PPE essentials to our doorsteps, using our voices for social change with far more reach and amplification than ever before, and much more. Just twenty years ago, none of this would have been possible – leaving us in a more isolated, ignorant, and hopeless world than we live in today.
2020 has proven that, when used correctly, the right technology can provide the hope we need for improving the way we work, learn, and live.
The right technology is a catalyst for hope
Prior to the pandemic, technology was already emerging as a potential antidote for many of our personal and professional travails. Yet the pandemic has fast-tracked technology in ways we never thought imaginable. Video conferencing technology is uniting distributed employees and students; biotechnology is powering the race to find a cure for COVID-19; and 5G is providing a new pathway to global connectivity.
While racism plagued our country long before modern technology, the smartphone captured the death of George Floyd, and social media sent the horrifying video across the nation. As a result, shock waves were felt across executive leadership teams – and in some industries and companies, positive change began to come for the first time. In fact, according to a recent study by Fortune and Refinitiv, 96% of CEOs say that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is now one of their top strategic priorities, with 81% saying their companies’ DEI efforts have been accelerated in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Technology has brought a new responsibility for us to listen, see, and enact real change.
Technology is a change-agent, across industries and communities
Tech has been particularly useful in helping businesses adapt and improve how they work. In today’s uncertain and highly unpredictable world, digital transformation is happening in days versus months – and executive goals and priorities are shifting dramatically. This includes an enhanced focus on health and safety at companies, along with a hyper-focus on enterprise agility and customer satisfaction. In fact, according to a recent IBM study, nearly 40% percent of C-level executives currently say digitization is a core business priority (up more than 20% in 2018). That number is predicted to jump to more than 60% in the next two years.
Technology helps industries adjust to the radical social changes of this year and in the process become more competitive and agile for decades to come. For example, in construction 3D printing and IoT technology will help meet the rising demands of people moving from cities to suburbs and rural areas. In entertainment, enterprise tech and collaboration tools keep production moving, even though creative teams are in disparate locations. And in healthcare, remote telehealth visits are skyrocketing and data analytics is tracking new cases and pinpointing (and predicting) upcoming hotspots, while AI is facilitating the rapid diagnosis and risk prediction of COVID-19.
2020 has been, in part, about coming together to share resources and best practices. It has been about entrepreneurs innovating and devising tools to save lives and maintain a sense of normalcy in today’s newly uncertain world. It has been about using tech to see one another wherever we may be. We can see that we are not alone, largely because of technology.
Technology is spotlighting our mental health and wellbeing
COVID-19 and the transition to remote working have forced us to rethink how we use technology in ways never been considered before. With that has come the need to solve new problems and address new challenges, such as upskilling for the future, improving virtual collaboration and productivity, and finding ways to improve our mental health and wellbeing.
With more than 3 in 4 executives expecting customer behavior to remain altered after COVID-19, one thing is certain – the tech of the future must be more “human”. We can no longer pursue tech for tech’s sake. It’s time for industry leaders to focus on the ways technology can improve workplace operations, with employee’s mental health and productivity at the forefront. This could include everything from taking advantage of group chats and recurring 1:1 check-ins to creating an environment that encourages collaboration through remote working tools. Technology is constantly evolving, and it’s up to business leaders to prioritize the right technology without losing the human touch we all still crave.
We’ve heard endlessly about all the ways 2020 has gone wrong. There’s no question that the past 12 months have impacted our world in unimaginable and devastating ways. But as we think towards the future, it is time to take a step back and contemplate how far technology has come. That can help us understand that the right technology can and will be our friend, not our foe, in the decade ahead.
Peter Jackson is the CEO of Bluescape and a serial entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley who has founded and led several start-up tech companies to acquisition and IPO exits.