by Clare Brown

COVID-19’s impact on the enterprise and remote work

Mar 16, 2020
Business ContinuityCollaboration SoftwareIT Leadership

With the COVID-19 virus forcing people to stay at home, many enterprises suddenly have to support an entirely remote workforce. IDG influencers shared advice about how IT leaders can handle this new dynamic and the technology required during a recent #IDGTECHtalk Twitter chat.

Remote worker  >  A woman works from home
Credit: Valentin Russanov / Getty Images

COVID-19 is officially a pandemic. Even if you are not sick from the virus, you are feeling the impact of it. As the coronavirus spreads across the U.S., the CDC has made drastic and wise recommendations to quell the virus’ spread, including limiting the number of people who can gather and telling people to avoid public places. Suddenly, workers across the globe are being asked to “self-quarantine” and use “social distancing.” This means staying at home and working remotely when possible. These mandates have put unique pressure on IT departments and IT decision makers.

At the #IDGTECHtalk Twitter chat on March 12, 2020, we discussed whether the enterprise is ready for COVID-19, the steps IT departments can take to support remote workers and ensure their online security, and how this virus might reshape healthcare tech forever.

Organizations might not be as ready for a fully remote workforce as they think

Many organizations think they have the tools needed to allow employees to work from home seamlessly. But now that work from home has become a mandate for many, cracks in the foundation are showing. From a lack of collaboration tools to a lack of interpersonal training on how employees should navigate remote work situations, organizations are scrambling to meet the demands of remote workers.

“Too many organizations are concentrating on finding a collaboration tool when the bigger issue is training people how to work with others in remote work situations,” said Jack Gold, founder of J. Gold Associates. “It’s as much (or more) about the ‘how to’ than ‘what tech I have to do it, and many don’t know how.’”

However, there is a silver lining to these troubles. Organizations can now tackle their remote work policy head-on, get the right tools in place, and avoid a similar situation in the future. As Wayne Sadin, chief digital officer at Affinitas Life stated, even if you don’t have everything in place for a fully functioning, work-from-home plan right now, it is a good time to test what you do have and make optimizations.

“Whatever your tech stack, if it’s not ‘in place’ today, it’s likely not of help. Start by testing what you have, updating your user and IT documentation, getting everyone to TRY using the tools from home,” he said.

Don’t panic

A pandemic is serious. Thoughtful and sometimes extreme measures must be taken to keep yourself and your teams safe and healthy. However, taking extreme measures does not mean causing panic, participants in the chat said. IT decision makers and key leadership have an obligation to help everyone remain calm in the face of this global crisis.

“I feel it. You feel it. It’s coming from everywhere. PANIC!” said Siobhan Climer, tech writer and blogger. “Don’t. Don’t panic. Take it slow. Identify what matters (people, data, critical operations), and start by facilitating those and protecting them in the short term.”

Organizations must also ensure remote employees have the tools they need, such as collaboration tools, videoconferencing solutions, and VPNs, and access to critical documents, said Kris Lahiri, co-founder and CISO of Egnyte.

“Pandemics and natural disasters put corporations behind the eight ball, but organizations that can maintain access to critical business content and collaboration processes, even when internet access may be limited or non-existent are in good position to deal with these,” he said.

Perhaps most important is keeping all lines of communication wide open – between you and your employees, as well as between the company and customers – and enact weekly check-ins with staff to ensure no one feels isolated.

“With any unusual situation, communication is key. Business should have a plan for how communication will occur: Who owns what messaging? The timing of messaging. Messaging tools to be used. Organize to ensure success,” said Mark Thiele, CEO of Edgevana. “Lesson #1: The customer assumes the worst when they don’t hear anything.”

Healthcare tech could get a boost

Medical advancements such as telemedicine and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose and treat illnesses could see a spike in use and effectiveness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It could have a long-term impact in the way we identify and treat diseases.

Cybersecurity expert Brent Kirkpatrick also said healthcare start-ups could begin to test their state-of-the-art technologies to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“AI and statistics already play a role in diagnosing and treating patients. We have a number of strong biotech start-ups that are deploying state-of-the-art technologies to help with this epidemic,” he said.

Other influencers, however, cautioned against putting too much weight on AI right now. While it is a great tool, it should still be considered secondary to other diagnostic tools. As Wayne Anderson, security and compliance architect with Microsoft’s M365 CoE, said, AI can assist with data and even identify misdiagnosis, but it can’t be seen as a primary tool.

“In the near term, AI helps with confirmation and suggestion. It is not a diagnostic primary tool,” he said. “It can also help with meta-analysis for retrospective identification of probable cases that were misdiagnosed in real time.”

While the impact of COVID-19 is yet to be seen, our #IDGTECHtalk influencers are in agreement that the virus will be a defining moment for healthcare technology. It may not transform the niche entirely, but it has highlighted the need for the enterprise to function remotely, deliver care remotely, and process and disseminate data quickly.

Please join us on March 26, 2020, for the next #IDGTECHtalk Twitter chat.