COVID-19 manifested itself as a three-pronged challenge: economic, societal and, at its base, human. Some of its impacts will be long-lasting, perhaps even permanent. Yet, despite all the misery the pandemic has strewn, there have been rays of inspiration all around. Governments stepped up to protect economies, businesses innovated and leveraged digital to keep vital services running, and people looked out for each other – as well as the planet – in infinite large and small ways.
2020 has been challenging to say the least, but I believe there’s reason for optimism next year. Here are three positive trends I’m already seeing take root:
1. Remote working will spur a local and technological revolution rooted on trust
It’s no secret that COVID-19 rapidly accelerated digital transformation across businesses and society. To enable people to keep working away from their offices, and the need to transfer data far and wide, triggered unprecedented growth in cloud adoption. Gartner predicts investment in public cloud will grow by 19% even while IT spending declines. With the genie now out of the bottle, the pace of technological innovation will increase five-fold.
This revolution in connectivity will have major local consequences and neighborhood effects. We’ve discovered we can be productive and get work done from home without travelling. In some form or other, remote working is here to stay, driven by enhanced connectivity. This will allow people to become more invested and active in their local communities. We will produce and consume more locally, creating new jobs and supply chain opportunities along the way. As prosperity and opportunities were being concentrated around urbanization in recent years, this shift can only be positive.
No matter what business you are in, its new foundation will be trust. Business resilience will be anchored in technology and mutual trust. People will trust the power of technology as face-to-face interactions give way to screen-to-screen exchanges. Technology will make lives better and help us reduce our impact on the planet, while new innovations will emerge from a new generation of local tech partnerships, all founded on trust.
2. 5G will change everything
5G is hardly a new technology, and it’s going to hit critical mass and transform how we access and use IP networks. One of the key aspects about this technology is how it enables masses of data to be generated, processed and analysed at the edge of the network. This will allow data-intensive applications to be rolled out and used at the local level, further away from corporate networks or data centers. 5G private networks will enable more reliable and resilient systems, opening doors to more local execution, bringing supply chains closer to the customer, for example.
In the same way that 3G gave us instant messaging apps, and 4G enabled on-demand HD streaming, 5G will enable future services that we can’t yet imagine today. The question is, what will be the new Netflix? Only time can tell.
3. Sustainability will get serious
Early lockdowns – when regular life was put on pause – provided an important point of self-reflection. For the first time in many years, communities experienced the benefits of cleaner air and were delighted at the return of animals and the recovery of their natural ecosystems. During the most stringent period of shutdown, CO2 emissions even fell by 17%. The last few months provided a lesson in what could be achieved when we forced ourselves to live and work more sustainably, healthily, and pollute the planet less.
Contrary to the pessimism surrounding climate change, it was shown that a real difference can be made by people on a local level. Going forward, people will seek to double down on these efforts as the threats of climate change continue to loom.
As remote working and self-isolation persist, the epicentre of these efforts will be the home and the process heavily aided by technology. Our homes will become more connected and smarter than ever. 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and fast, stable broadband will be in high demand and one of the positives will be their potential to boost energy efficiency in the home. More and more houses are also being built with solar generation and electric vehicle (EV) charging as standard. Homes are becoming more resilient as well as self-sufficient on energy.
Software will play a crucial role in making our homes smarter and improving our energy habits. Inevitably, we won’t always remember to charge our car each night or to do it during the lowest tariff. Software will do that for us. Furthermore, there’s currently a six to seven year payback period for solar panels – with smart technology that could be optimised further. Coupled with the rise of prosumerism – where households generate their own energy – we face the very real prospect of our homes achieving net zero within our lifetime.
The pandemic certainly took a toll on humanity, but we are discovering that the resilience and trust of the human race, coupled with technology, have sprouted green shoots of optimism in all these positive outcomes that we never imagined would materialize. This is proof that it is our reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how our future unfolds.