Digital development accelerated over the last couple of months due to the Covid-19 pandemic that made adjustments inevitable. How have organisations changed around the globe? What are the strategies to cope with changing needs of a more digitalised society?
A Comment by Christoph M. Abels and Nicole Stein
This year is different: The coronavirus outbreak took the entire world by surprise and changed our everyday lives within days. From wearing masks to full lockdowns – while socio-economic long-term effects of the crisis are yet to be observed, individuals as well as organisations face a lot of changes and regulations during this pandemic.
Various organisation worldwide – no matter the industry – hastened to find digital solutions and advancement when their revenues crashed due to Corona. Their actions and successes varied largely, depending on the industry, degree of intra-organisational acceptance and quick adjustment capabilities as well as the infrastructural status quo. As individuals had to adapt to new circumstances, so had organisations.
What seems doable on an individual level becomes far more complicated on the aggregate. For instance, when an organisation has to implement remote work arrangements on short-notice, new problems emerge everywhere. Security at employees’ homes might be insufficient, technologies hastily implemented might not be accepted and therefore reluctantly used, and it might show that an organisations efficacy is very much based on the employees’ interaction over coffee.
How we are addressing these issues will eventually determine whether everything that changed stays with us or goes away as Corona hopefully will. Some companies like Twitter and Facebook have already announced to allow employees to work from home indefinitely. Needless to say, there are many jobs that cannot be fulfilled remotely (e.g. most healthcare work, cashiers, logistics, etc.), making them a crucial aspect of an organisation’s crisis response. Especially since employment is a sensitive issues, given that almost 15 percent of individuals in Germany employed in January 2020, have either been furloughed or unemployed by this summer.
Successfully ushering employees to work from home is hardly the only issue. Since public gatherings had been prohibited, bars and restaurants closed, and most of public life stopped, some organisations had to entirely overturn their business models. If you are an organiser of events like exhibitions, concerts, and fashion shows, you likely had some problems finding sleep.
Although many organisations found creative ways to overcome social distancing measures: from digital fashion shows, to online conferences, and live streamed concerts. Yet, these alternatives would not work without the necessary broadband infrastructure.
Empty roads, crowded fibre optic cables
The sudden shift from office-based to remote work and digital events only moved traffic from the streets to the internet. Taking Germany as an example here. In an analysis conducted by the Wuppertal Institute and EY, researchers found an increased acceptance of digital work, an increase of data usage of up to 20 percent and an increase of online sales up to 60 percent as compared to last year.
Instead of crowded streets and public transportation, employees in Germany went fully online and spent their time video conferencing, online-shopping, and gaming from home. The DE-CIX Internet Exchange in Frankfurt registered an average traffic of 9.1 terabyte per second on 10 March – a new world record. Although this certainly is impressive, broadband infrastructure in many areas is not prepared for this increased traffic.
In March, Thierry Breton (the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner) has asked streaming services like Netflix and YouTube to change the default setting for streaming to standard instead of high definition, as a measure to avoid network congestion. Because most networks were designed for traffic surges in the evening only.
They didn’t necessarily collapse, but the mere chance of a large-scale internet breakdown is certainly not the most pleasant experience while being in lockdown. Luckily, surveys reveal that thanks to the Corona crisis, digitisation has been recognised as a relevant driver for sustainable economic and societal well-being. Given the circumstances, we might eventually see the rise of the Gigabit-Society by 2025, as planned by the Commission.
The weeks ahead
In this new blog series, we will present examples that show how a diverse range of organisations have adapted to a new environment and which challenges they faced. As described above, these challenges are often more than mere technological issues, but an interconnection of social, economic and environmental factors that have to be addressed simultaneously.
With the Coronavirus penetrating all aspects of life, businesses are confronted with challenges that oftentimes impact their core principles – from the inability to uphold organisational processes, to economic threats, and the need to change their business models or missions.
Until December, bi-weekly blog posts will feature cases of organisations and how they digitally adapted to the crisis. From digitised fashion weeks to the rise of remote work, we dive into examples that illustrate how technology can make organisations more resilient to external shocks and how these insights can be utilised for organisational development across Europe.
The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s & OpenTTN’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.
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Christoph is a PhD candidate at the Hertie School in Berlin, where he studies the reach and impact of disinformation and misinformation. Christoph co-heads the programme Digital Transformation & Cyber Security at Polis180. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Hagen and a master’s in public policy from the Hertie School.
Nicole is an entrepreneur and research fellow at Wuppertal-Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy and research associate at IE Applied – Tel Aviv University. Her work focuses on the interplay of sustainability and digitisation, especially focusing on new business models and AI-supported activities. She is part of the Digital Transformation and Cyber Security programme at Polis180.