Mivy JamesCoronavirus has turned our lives upside down but that’s not all, says Mivy James. It’s also highlighted the plight of the digitally excluded, as well the systemic changes which should be made permanent, not temporary.

The last time I wrote a blog I was in the (relative) peace and quiet of our open plan office. Today, I’m writing this at home on my kitchen table, grabbing a few precious moments of peace and quiet while my five year old is busying himself with Lego. Quite the contrast but I’m hardly alone in adapting to a new reality.

There’s no doubt that the Covid-19 global health emergency is uprooting how we all used to live and work. From our daily routines to our shopping habits, our socialising to our travel plans, life – as we knew it – has changed, and almost certainly for some time to come.

But while we’re all going to be living with the consequences of the virus for the foreseeable future, one immediate outcome is how it’s shone a light on the fundamental societal importance of technology. We’ve been talking about digital transformation for a while but, as a result of the virus, it’s taken on a whole new meaning and urgency – along with associated cultural implications.

Rising to the corporate challenge

Firstly, there’s the obvious immediate increase in remote working and finding new ways to collaborate without relying on face to face interactions. Many corporate IT networks are on their knees trying to cope with the additional demands and have reduced or blocked network hungry streaming services. Although this had led to enterprising ways of working around corporate IT, the perennial issue of cyber security is never far away.

The crisis has also tested our ability to rapidly disseminate urgent information, such as how the British government sent SMS messages to every citizen via mobile network providers. And there are also abundant (and uplifting) examples of corporate agility around the world. Luxury goods conglomerate LVMH is producing hand sanitiser at its Dior and Givenchy perfume plants, while Spanish-owned Zara has pledged to produce surgical masks and Sweden’s H&M Group said it would be rearranging its supply chain to produce protective equipment. And closer to home I was proud to see that BAE Systems is part of the consortium, Ventilator Challenge UK, which is working on an order of 10,000 ventilators from the UK Government.

While saluting the ability of these firms to rapidly retrain employees and switch production lines – I wonder whether they had designed this flexibility in from the outset – data scientists are also making remarkable strides. Thanks to their efforts, data science is being redirected into predictive analytics, modelling of contagion and immunity scenarios – all of which are helping inform decision making.

It’s a team game

But it’s not just about the ability of machines and technology to change direction. The crisis has also made crystal clear the importance of highly responsive decision making across all levels of leadership. With the situation evolving so rapidly, organisations simply cannot afford to wait for the board to filter decisions through many hierarchical layers.

We’re also seeing examples of organisations displaying previously unseen levels of empathy and support for their employees and suppliers. Unfortunately, there have been examples of less impressive social responsibility. Those organisations seen to be *not* behaving well will be remembered after the crisis has passed – by consumers and prospective employees alike.

We’re all now highly conscious of the wellbeing and personal circumstances of others. Up until now most of us leave our home and personal lives behind when we step through the door of the office. Now we don’t have that separation. I can’t help feeling I’m connecting with my colleagues in a different way to before – even if it’s just a glimpse into their family lives and homes.

Here at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, we’re proud of how quickly we moved to keep our employees safe and the level of trust we have in our teams whilst they work from home. Certainly their working hours are changing, taking into account things like home-schooling and the need to support friends and relations. Personally, I now tend to start work at lunchtime and work late – it’s not like I’ve got any social events or fitness classes on in the evening!

So, what’s next?

Firstly, my hope is that these cultural changes aren’t just temporary and have a longer term benefit to society – a potential silver lining to the current crisis, along with the potential healing that our precious planet is undergoing whilst we all live quieter lives with reduced consumerism and travel.

And secondly, we need to take urgent heed of those who don’t have access to the technology many of us are so reliant on. I can’t imagine how hard this experience would be without the internet but as of last March, more than 5 million Britons were in this position.

Let us hope that when we emerge from the pandemic, along with elevating doctors and health care workers to their rightful pantheon in society, we can redouble our efforts towards making digital technology available to *everyone*.

This is no time to leave anyone behind.