Musings on technology, Covid-19 and the long term impact

The ongoing health crisis caused by the spread of Covid-19 has transformed almost overnight the way most of us engage with our company, colleagues, clients, friends or even our family. Country governments and corporate leaders are tackling the current events in the short term while considering the mid to longer term strategic changes required to handle a post Covid-19 society.

In most developed countries, including Japan, this pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of a working culture that provides greater flexibility to employees. These days, basically, most of us are working from home and many of us have changed our working hours, eliminating commute time while setting aside time during the “working day” to do things like chat with our family, take our pet out for a walk or have a virtual drink with friends.

Almost overnight, many companies increased massively their use of digital engagement solutions, accelerating by years their digital transformation journeys. Current solutions like WebEx, Zoom, TEAMS, Yammer or email have seen a dramatic increase of use. While it has created odd or funny situations (strange home decorations, children running in the background, too casual dress attire, etc.) for the most part, people have shown the ability to adapt and learn quickly. One important challenge for many of us, though, has been to learn how to mentally compartmentalize our living and working space, meaning, how to switch on and off from work while at home, since home is the new “office”.

The longer-term implications that this “new way” of working will have are yet to be seen. For example, how will Japan, a nation that is technologically advanced in some areas, like robotics, but which also does considerable amount of business over informal interactions, like dinner, drinks or Karaoke, look like once the pandemic is over? Will most people go back to work 9 to 5 in their offices as before or will the current way with flexible and remote working, be understood and widely accepted instead of frowned upon?

Furthermore, in a future potential society where the current level of digital engagement becomes the normal, what’s the future for retailers? Will they all close their physical shops except for a few flagship stores, move online and reduce massively their workforces? In hospitality, will restaurants become mostly an Uber-eats kitchen? In other industries with large human sales forces, what role will physical sales representatives have in an era where customers and stakeholders prefer to get information or place their orders online? Or, when it comes to health, will we finally embrace fully digital health services, therefore changing the role and priorities of the health care workers, such as doctors or nurses?

Many are the questions and few are the answers thus far. What are your thoughts on what will the future look like?

Javier Asenjo
Head of IT & Digital for Japan Business, Takeda Pharmaceuticals