I had my first virtual board meeting 2 weeks ago. We had always preferred meeting in person because we felt we were more productive together but mostly because we are human beings who like to meet and greet. This virtual board meeting worked pretty well. We used Google Meet. We could study the presentation simultaneously on our respective screens, we could see the person who was talking on the mosaic of video streams and interact effectively. Although time is harsh for businesses and we were apart, there was space for “small talk”: we joked a little bit about our quarantine outfits.
During quarantine, the adoption of digital tools has accelerated. Is this a brief moment within a continuity plan or a new normal?
Shift in business model
The board meeting was for Magic Makers, a start-up teaching kids to code. From its inception, the company had used a suite of online collaboration tools to organize the operations of its teams scattered in different sites. Its digital processes and digital savvy team proved to be key assets to secure and reinvent the business: after a few days of intense work, the “magic team” as we like to call them, managed to pivot the business from 300 onsite workshops to distance learning and online social interactions.
It is striking to see how in a matter of weeks, most companies have managed to reorganize their production, maintain communications or even pivot their business online. Digital tools have played a crucial role in their resilience.
Shift in workplace communication
In 2011, Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos Origin, set an ambitious goal for his troops: no more internal emails within 3 years. For him, other solutions existed, more suited to collaborative practices, in particular enterprise social networks.
Organizations have tried to generalize the use of collaboration tools, visio conference and e-learning: reduction in travel costs and improvement of their workforce productivity being their top priorities. Despite investment in training and internal communication initiatives, adoption was slow and business travels remained the norm.
This is now something of the past. Online collaboration mastery is today a prerequisite for the mass of locked down work-from-homers. These tools ensure teams are supported and engaged, that documents are shared, that decisions are taken and customers served.
Collaboration solutions from American tech giants are popular: to name a few, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet, Google Hangout, Zoom and Slack. However, solutions from European start-ups have also found a market sweet spot over business and education institution concerns on data localization and confidentiality (see for example recent alleged security issues with Zoom).
Among them, the European start-up Glowbl offers virtual classroom and video conferencing services. In the past weeks, usage grew 120 fold, the number of accounts created was multiplied by 30 and nearly 400 structures contacted them to find almost immediate solutions.
As shared by Laurent Souloumiac, its CEO, its customers value that their data are localized in Europe, that the video interface is lean and easy to use and that they can share applications swiftly with less bandwidth usage than full screen sharing. Application sharing is a much sober use of telecom network bandwidth. It is good for the overall quality of service.
Shift in learning
More time at home comes with good resolutions, “I will read”, “I will attend this online training”, “I will get ready for the next day”. E-learning platforms have seen increased audience and acceleration of registrations for their services over the past weeks first in China then in Europe as Covid-19 spreads. The graph below shows that “elearning” searches on Google have doubled in March 2020 as more and more people search of e-learning services online.
Worldwide “elearning” search popularity on Google over the 12 last months (source: Google Trends)
Aside consumer facing services such as Coursera, Edulib or Fun, European edtech company, Coorpacademy provides a learning experience platform for corporations. It serves corporations worldwide with over 1000 tailored courses covering digital transformation, cultural transformation and soft skills.
Coorpacademy co-founder, Jean-Marc Tassetto shared: “We are preparing the competence for the future. Key assets of companies are their employees who they need to “up-skill” and “re-skill” in a world that will be very different after the crisis”. A curriculum on sustainability, a subject of concern for leaders, is being put together with a focus on assisting organizations to grasp shifts in the behaviors of their employees, their customers and society as a whole.
Open question: reinventing conferences and professional fairs
Twenty years ago, we did not imagine studies and professional trainings other than in a classroom with fellow learners. Since then, innovative technologies and novel instructional strategies have emerged: blended learning, online education, flipped classroom, gamification, personalization, on the fly testing…
Few innovations though have occurred in the professional fair, conference and scientific seminar domain. They all still heavily rely on travels: mostly tiring, costly and environmentally detrimental flights. Many of these events got simply canceled during confinement for lack of alternatives. There is definitely room for innovation to imagine new and more sober ways of selling, brainstorming and networking and reduce dependance on travelling.
China enforces a 14 day quarantine to all international travelers. As other countries gradually start to release the lockdown constraint, quarantine for travelers may be enforced too. Hence we may have to wait a few months more before we can freely travel and cross borders.
Change for good
There are real reasons to think that things will not revert exactly as they were before. Big disruptions change things for good. These weeks have been an accelerated global proof of concept for online everything: work, study, entertain. Organizations now know it is possible to do things differently with less travel, work from home, online selling and buying. Online fatigue is a reality though, hence it will need to be used with moderation.
Next week, I will follow up on digital shift in the workplace with a blog post on the impact of digital on the environment. Until then, support healthcare workers, stay home.