How tech is helping to provide a boost during the new normal

Rosemary Gallagher discovers how tech use in lockdown has seen people and firms lose their fear of change.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 8:12 am
Updated Monday, 28th September 2020, 7:18 pm
Technology, such as the driverless buses, that have been tested on the Forth Road Bridge, is likely to accelerate due to the pandemic.
Technology, such as the driverless buses, that have been tested on the Forth Road Bridge, is likely to accelerate due to the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly having a significant impact on technology, with its adoption being accelerated as people work from home and such activities as online shopping become more prevalent.

Commentators say the transformation in how people and businesses work that has taken place in a matter of weeks and months would normally

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have been part of a gradual change seen over a period of years. Video platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have largely replaced face-to-face meetings, and trips to the gym have been exchanged for online fitness classes.

Now that Scotland is emerging from lockdown, a level of normality is returning with some employees slowly starting to go back to their places of work – albeit in fewer numbers than before, and with social distancing measures firmly in place – and people are socialising in small groups.

But experts believe that some of the changes forced upon society and businesses by Covid-19 are likely to remain as part of the “new normal”.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum listed the ten technology trends to watch in the Covid-19 pandemic, including digital payments, telehealth and robotics. It said such technologies are playing a crucial role in keeping society functional in a time of lockdowns and quarantines and may have a long-lasting impact beyond coronavirus.

And a report from Blue Fountain Media, a brand strategy firm in the US, stated: “It’s unlikely that people will return to life as it was before the outbreak. Instead, there will likely be a new normal … These changes … will underpin the future of tech and human interaction with it.”

Such changes will affect various sectors differently. For example, firms in the technology space are likely to benefit from the desire of people to continue working remotely at least some of the time, while commercial property firms will be worried about reduced demand for office space.

Brian McMurray, partner and head of technology at Anderson Anderson & Brown (AAB), points to a number of technological trends in business that have been accelerated by the pandemic.

He says: “Businesses have been forced to adapt very quickly to a new way of working and in particular using technology to communicate. Video calling is not new technology, but while most preferred to communicate face-to-face pre-Covid, Zoom or Teams calls have become the new norm and will likely remain a popular communication tool for business meetings in the future.”

McMurray adds that as a result of more remote communication, non-essential business travel is expected to reduce and this will have a lasting impact on the wider travel and hospitality industries.

One of the sectors that has done well because of changes in behaviour as a result of the pandemic and lockdown is e-commerce.

McMurray says: “Online retail has seen massive growth and, in particular, those businesses supplying directly to consumers. Businesses with an existing e-commerce platform, or those that have been able to adapt, have been some of the few to thrive during Covid.

“However, more traditional businesses which rely on a physical

presence to supply their goods or services are finding it difficult to compete, and they should be looking at innovative ways to attract

customers back.”

And Martin Sloan, a partner working in intellectual property, technology and data with law firm Brodies, says that Covid-19 has arguably been a bigger driver of technological change in organisations than any push from chief executives or chief technology officers.

Sloan says: “A lot of organisations have achieved more in the last six months than they would have done in a couple of years. This is because they have just had to do it – in terms of enabling remote working, automating the way they do things and simplifying processes.

“I think Covid-19 will be the impetus for a huge amount of technology transformation, as people look at what they are doing and how they are doing it. The pandemic has challenged the way people work and in a lot of organisations the workforce has been receptive to this and engaged with it.

“What this has shown is that some of the fear around transformation is unfounded and people are remarkably adaptive.”

He believes that over the coming years more technological change will occur as people continue to change how they behave, which could lead to big issues for the bricks- and-mortar retailers and the high street in general.

“We have seen a lot of change in terms of shopping habits, and that will impact other areas,” Sloan says. “Take financial services, I don’t know how many people will still go into a physical branch now that so many are happy to do their banking remotely.

“Such trends raise some very big questions in terms of demand for office and shop space, and transport infrastructure and things like whether we still need or want face-to-face meetings. We have several things as a society to look at to consider where we are going and what that means for the way we live and work and digital inclusion.

“It will be interesting to see what the changes might be in the longer

term as people are already on a steep curve in terms of technological change.”

He points to advances that were already happening before Covid-19 which are likely to receive more focus now. This includes automation of transport, including tests in Scotland of driverless buses on the Forth Road Bridge which received public funding.

Sloan concludes: “Changes will have positives and negatives for the economy. If you are in the real estate sector, you will be trying to work out what this means in terms of demand for new offices or the assets you already own.

“Each area will have slightly different challenges, including the public sector. We will perhaps see more digitisation of services that can be done online.

“Social distancing measures have made people think, ‘If we have had a virtual economy for five months, why can’t some of that become ­permanent?’”