The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything about the way we work, play and even how (and when) we sleep. In this unprecedented time, we’ve had to pivot quickly from our familiar daily routines and develop new ways to function. This includes changing how we communicate and connect with our family and friends, as well as how we complete many of our essential tasks.
One thing that has become apparent during quarantine is that we could not have made many of these changes without the proper technology in place. And, even though the technology already existed before the pandemic began, it wasn’t being utilized in the same widespread way that we see today.
March 2020 onward has made it abundantly clear that these technologies that once seemed optional are now essential to our everyday lives. Let’s look at seven of the biggest tech trends that have emerged during the pandemic to help us continue life not-quite-as-usual.
Before the pandemic began, only about 21 percent of employees reported being able to work from home more than once a week. But this year quickly turned into what Time called “the world’s largest work from home experiment,” with companies eager to keep operations running as smoothly as possible while complying with stay-at-home mandates.
Technology, of course, played the starring role in making this happen. Virtual conferences and meetings, online collaboration through tools like G-Suite and Microsoft Teams as well as communication channels like Slack became critical to keeping workers connected and able to continue working on projects together — even while they were apart.
Cashless, Contactless Payments
The rise of cashless transactions had already started before the pandemic began but concerns that currency and plastic cards could transmit coronavirus sent many looking for a hands-off option. Payments by mobile phone apps — like Apple, Google and Samsung Pay — and contactless debit or credit cards saw an increase in popularity after the pandemic started.
Online payments, also already enjoying popularity, became even more commonplace. The technology that drives online payments allows such things as online shopping, transfer of funds, paying bills and receiving cash to happen at a much faster rate.
As people were encouraged to stay home, delivery services had their moment. From food delivery services like Grubhub and Uber Eats to local restaurants providing food and cocktail deliveries, the pandemic changed the way we dined. Grocery stores, which lagged behind the rest of the world in online shopping before COVID-19, suddenly caught up. While only about 3 to 4 percent of grocery purchases were made online in the U.S. pre-pandemic, that number has increased by nearly five times, with 10 to 15 percent of grocery purchases taking place online.
And, now that shoppers have downloaded apps and become accustomed to the online grocery shopping and delivery experience, experts expect online grocery sales will remain high even in a post-pandemic world.
Groceries aren’t the only thing we were shopping for online during the lockdown. In addition to a significant amount of panic-buying of essentials like toilet paper and face masks, digital retailers got a huge revenue boost thanks to the mass purchase of health and safety products, shelf-stable foods and fitness equipment.
The ease of buying online had already altered the way we shop and consume goods, but in the age of COVID, it has made staying home to shop an appealing alternative to physically visiting retail outlets. Even brick-and-mortar retailers like Target and Walmart now offer customers the option to shop online and enjoy curbside pickup instead of entering the store.
As concerns about contracting and spreading the virus grew, many doctor appointments moved from face-to-face to FaceTime. Telehealth allows care providers to see patients safely and monitor nonlife-threatening conditions and provide necessary care while eliminating the risk of transmitting the virus.
Before the pandemic, telehealth had gained traction as a way for healthcare professionals to treat patients who do not rely on in-person services. But with the onset of COVID-19, the use of telehealth expanded, and it was endorsed as a way to deliver many more types of care, including acute, chronic, primary and specialty care.
Now, experts such as the Centers for Disease Control are looking at telehealth as a way to improve access to healthcare services for patients who do not have ready access to providers they need and to reach more medically or socially vulnerable patients.
Adding to the effectiveness of telehealth are the many digital health tracking devices that let patients monitor their own health and, in some cases, share that information automatically with their doctors.
Distance Learning and Virtual Events
While the face-to-face world shut down, some things needed to go on — such as education and certain events. Once again, technology provided platforms for users to connect and continue their lives, albeit in a much different way.
From grade schools to postgraduate courses, education went online. This included teaching classes via interactive video, offering virtual seminars, and holding online discussions. Tools that were mobilized to make this happen included Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and more.
But education wasn’t the only institution affected; organizations and associations that rely on conferences and events found themselves scrambling as venues shut down. For many, creating virtual conferences was the only reasonable alternative. For attendees, the virtual nature of the event provided some financial benefits, such as the money saved on airline travel and hotels, and the need to spend time away from family. And while attending an event in your living room may not be as exciting as, say, attending an event in London, it still provides the education and even some of the networking benefits of the in-person event.
It speaks volumes that paid subscriptions for streaming video and television jumped 32 percent the third week of March — about the time most people were being told to shelter in place. But streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video weren’t the only players in the online entertainment game.
Music artists began offering virtual streams of their concerts, ranging from solo indie artists playing concerts in their living rooms to Nashville’s historic Grand Ole Opry live streaming concerts played in an empty venue.
Even museums and zoos were able to allow virtual visitors; the Cincinnati Zoo was among those that offered daily “safaris” live on Facebook, and institutions like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the British Museum in London welcomed visitors virtually.
Where Will Tech Trends Take Us?
The events of 2020 have reshaped the way we approach technology, and technology is continuing to adapt to meet even more of our needs. Where it takes us in the future remains to be seen, but 2020 is the year that its influence became undeniable and our dependence on it became apparent.