Corona Digitalization Innovation

How the coronavirus will stimulate digitalization and innovation in the long term

Epidemics and diseases have always been a driving force for innovation in humanity. The coronavirus will possibly lead to a significant boost in digitalization and digital transformation. There is a historical example of this.

The plague in the European Middle Ages was initially seen mainly as an obstacle to trade. In the long term, however, devastating epidemics like the plague often have social consequences: For example, after the plague, large landowners and entrepreneurs were forced to pay higher wages due to the shortage of labor. In the long term, the plague has thus become a significant factor paving the path to modern times

Corona, too, is currently producing side effects that point to a fundamental change in society: The economy is moving at high speed into the digital future.

Bad times for sceptics

For years, there has been a debate in many companies as to whether employees should be allowed to do home office work. But there were many concerns:

  • Management, who could not imagine anyone being productive at home.

  • The workers’ council, the data protection officers, and those responsible for IT security raised objections.

  • And finally, work safety was also an obstacle: a risk assessment first had to be carried out for each home workstation.

Corona is now forcing many enterprises and institutions to drive organizational innovation. Working in a home office is becoming compulsory, even in places where it was prohibited just a short time ago.

Skeptics, who until recently were still doubtful about this, suddenly realize that they can continue working from home without any problems.

Paradigm shift in record-breaking time

At congresses and events, there was regular criticism of the fact that companies and institutions are falling far behind the international competition in terms of digitalization—transformation at a snail’s pace. In many regions of the world, concerns have slowed down progress for years.

  • Conduct meetings as web conferences? Not possible because IT security is concerned, and many rural locations do not have fast Internet access.

  • The introduction of collaboration software? Is was a lengthy process because it required a rethinking throughout the entire company.

  • Customer service online? It can’t work at all!

A small virus has now achieved what countless change management programs have not: Corona enables what was previously unthinkable within a few days. Suddenly the discussions turn to entirely different questions:

  • Which videoconferencing tool can we use to arrange online conferences best?

  • How quickly can we activate tools that allow our employees to work from home?

  • And do employees still have to come to the office in person? Of course not, they can now do their work online.

The work environment has not seen such a paradigm shift for a long time. A psychotherapist would probably describe what companies and public authorities are currently experiencing as a confrontation therapy: a confrontation with fear-inducing stimuli, in this case, with innovation and digitalization.

Corona indeed also leads to progress

Here is the surprising discovery: Everything that opponents have labeled as “Not possible” until a few weeks ago is suddenly possible.

  • Employees don’t need months of change programs to become familiar with collaboration tools.

  • Productivity does not collapse because people work from home.

  • And some business trips, which yesterday were extremely important, today turn out to be unnecessary.

You could call what we are experiencing right now, “Corona-driven innovation“: A colossal experiment that will show how digital transformation can work.

  • Not every one will work from home afterward.
  • And, of course, there will be business trips again at some point.
  • Offices and authorities will not wholly abandon their paper files and visitor badges.
  • And even the occupational safety specialist will rightfully be allowed to raise concerns again at some point.

Nevertheless, millions of employees and hundreds of thousands of companies are currently experiencing what the jump into the digital future feels like. And it won’t be easy to turn this back again.