Coronavirus and Remote Collaboration

In early February, Azeem Azhar asked a provocative question in his blog, Exponential View:

How might the new coronavirus change our world?

The post lists six significant changes the outbreak might usher. Among these, one stood out to me:

Remote everything – we’ll travel less.

This point has aged well. Just in the last week, several major conferences and industry gatherings have been either cancelled or postponed. Large organizations like Amazon and Facebook have banned nonessential travel for employees. Some companies, like Twitter, are encouraging employees to work from home.

Near-term, these measures will negatively impact the travel and hospitality industries and local economies that rely on event-based tourism. That said, other industries might see a surge in demand. Businesses that provide remote collaboration systems and services are sure to experience higher usage. (In a subsequent post, Mr. Azhar noted that Zoom “has added 2.22 million monthly active users in 2020, compared to 1.99 million in all of 2019.”)

It’s still too soon to tell what will happen with the coronavirus. That said, one undeniable immediate effect is an increase in remote collaboration over digital systems. While some conferences have been cancelled outright, others, like Google’s Cloud Next conference have already been refashioned into digital-first events. In Living in Information, I highlighted several ways in which we’re moving towards working in information environments. A significant outbreak of a contagious disease would accelerate this trend, by unfortunate necessity.

I hope for quick and effective containment of the coronavirus and relief to people who are suffering. I also can’t help but wonder: will these new work modalities stick as we discover better ways of collaborating remotely? Will the relaxation of remote-work policies outlast the crisis? What will be the effects of the virus on how we work in the mid- and long-term?

Six ways coronavirus will change our world – Exponential View