How Technology Helps the World Work During COVID-19

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

January 14, 2022

The onslaught of COVID-19 was a bolt out of the blue. Most were caught unaware by the sheer speed and intensity at which it impacted lives and livelihoods.

Although new technologies were being invented, patented, and invested in consistently in the years prior, COVID-19 presented a field test. The pandemic became the primary accelerator for emerging technologies such as telemedicine, telehealth, fintech, e-commerce, and communication platforms.

From the science behind innovative therapies, through maintaining health and education, to welfare payments, technology enabled governments to keep delivering for citizens during the pandemic. Is this expedited digital transformation here to stay? And how can the momentum for modernization be turned into meaningful and just public value creation?

Horasis is organizing the Horasis USA Meeting on 4 March 2022 to examine and evaluate such issues. The one-day virtual event will see participation from a diverse range of people, spanning members of governments, businesses, academia, and the media. The goal is to deliberate on pressing issues and arrive at actionable solutions that can ensure shared prosperity.

Technology Has Underpinned Healthcare Advancements

Investments, research, and innovations in biotechnology were already at their highest levels even before the pandemic. With COVID-19’s onset, formulating and development of drugs for certain diseases became faster and more precise.

These advancements in medicine proved a major boon for the healthcare sector worldwide. Researchers and scientists began developing a vaccine within days of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). In decades prior, an effort of this scale would have taken considerably longer. In an estimated 12 months since the first cases were reported, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to receive validation from the WHO on 31 December 2020.

There are currently 10 COVID-19 vaccines that are approved for use by the WHO globally. Thanks to advancements in biotechnology, more than half (59.2%) of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Across several economies, booster doses of the vaccine have also been administered. Using technology platforms, governments were able to coordinate the swift administering of vaccines to their citizens.

Technology led healthcare advancements, in general, enabled the quick rollout of vaccines. These have been a core factor in enabling a semblance of normal work regimens to resume across many spheres, although the predicament of the Great Resignation looms large. With time, it is becoming increasingly clear that health tech advancements will become a key facet in policymaking; it will be accorded the same importance as defense spending in national budgets.

Tech Enabled Government Assistance Measures

The US administration has had several assistance programs in place. A major one is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This federal nutritional program was earlier termed food stamps and thousands of low-income households have been its beneficiaries.

SNAP eligibility is determined by reviewing an in-person or online application. Similar assistance programs also include the Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families of TANF Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It is on account of technology platforms that more families were able to apply for and avail these programs amid the socio-economic setbacks that the pandemic ushered in. 

An Acceleration in E-commerce

An already burgeoning e-commerce sector witnessed explosive growth following the pandemic’s onset. Online consumption increased on account of both the ability to maintain pandemic protocols and to avail the many conveniences that e-commerce allows. Almost all economies globally—that boast high internet penetration levels—witnessed an uptake in online purchases, facilitated both by the private sector and government published apps. 

SMEs, in particular, were hard but in cases where an online presence was established, they were able to offset losses and boost sales. In several economies, government assistance measures for SMEs were efficiently delivered thanks to technology platforms. A complementary segment that saw wide uptake was digital wallets. Even in emerging economies now, it is common practice for small businesses to offer contactless payment options.

Will the Changes Stick?

Several shifts in working, learning, and other daily activities were the result of a knee-jerk reaction to the unfolding crisis. With the pandemic continuing to rage on in waves, several changes will become the norm. Many organizations worldwide have already announced work profiles that will, or have already become, permanently remote. Workers in these positions will likely never have to return to a physical workplace.

Additionally, the unusual phenomenon that US employers have witnessed—of workers’ reluctance to resume working from company offices—implies hybrid work models must be embraced. Amid the Great Resignation witnessed in the US, the administration and businesses must collaborate to deliberate on the way forward. Without doubt, a large share of pandemic led changes will continue to stick long after COVID-19 has run its course.

Photo Caption: Technology allowed us to continue functioning despite the pandemic.