Businesses React to Covid-19 With Remote Work and Automation

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Regardless of where you are sat in the world, and what your business needs to do to achieve its goals, Covid-19 creates new and alarming challenges. Rapid reaction to these challenges is helped by IT, automation and bot services to limit the risk to your staff, customers and bottom line.

The unfortunate historical phrase, “if Wall Street sneezes, we call catch a cold” has taken on a menacing 21st-century update recently, “if China gets an easily-contractable virus, the world goes to heck.” The high-profile aviation and tourism sectors are first in line to take a battering when they can’t operate, but the impact hits many other markets and businesses.

Business is interrupted, while commuter and public transport systems become a point of alarm. Global events take a battering, from major car shows, religious festivals, trade events and sporting showcases. Already cancelled are MotoGP races in Asia and the Chinese Formula One race, with Australia also likely to follow suit as the Italian outbreak affects the high and mighty Ferrari marque. And this is only the beginning, global and local supply chains expect to see huge impacts, which will ripple and affect all types of organisation.

Worse, world governments, while putting out their usual “keep calm and carry on” messages are clearly not prepared for such an event, with evidence from the ground indicating that major supply and treatment problems loom, and health-insurance focused countries are about to enter into chaos as care is denied and people on no-sick-day contracts are likely to spread the disease.

So, what do we do?

Everyone can help, by understanding the virus and its global spread (this page is being used by most of the world’s media to gauge the size, scale and growth). While growth is flattening, the international outbreaks from travellers are yet to kick in. It can help everyone learn correct information about the virus and its impact, avoiding the inevitable fake news, scams and disaster politics/economics that springs up around any such event.

If you don’t know what’s good practice, local government and health agencies are your best source of information. There are already chatbots springing into action (this one from Singapore’s Trade and Industry Ministry) to provide key facts.

In some industries, there is no getting around the need to meet and work with customers and interact with goods, pass through populated areas and so on. Here, the basic advice of washing hands properly, avoiding contact where possible and using protection methods in high-risk areas is key. Extra cleaning efforts, especially in public areas can help while educating staff and customers will be a key part of the battle.

For everyone else, the move to automate, robotize and eliminate physical processes can help reduce the strain on the business. Helping in these efforts are tools like cloud-based, codeless, chatbot development systems that can allow a company to build a chatbot quickly and efficiently, using AI features to provide a service that can help replace or limit personal interactions.

A chatbot can be developed in just a few days and be promoted as a way to avoid personal meetings or interactions. It can keep staff up to date across global businesses or provide advice for customers. As long as it is updated regularly with advice and changes to business operations, contact information, how to work around the virus and advice to continue business activities.

Problems with existing chatbots and AI

There’s been a big rise in the number of health chatbots in recent years, and when it comes to Covid-19, there is a risk that some that are not up to date might start giving out bad advice. The same goes for AI-based analysis tools (WSJ article, subscription required) that create a risk of misdiagnosis. 

That’s why any chatbot represents a long-term commitment for health businesses, with valid information needing updating on an almost daily basis. Bots need to provide a current and practical fact base (such as the right advice over masks and gloves that are effective). Any health business that isn’t updating its bots risks providing misinformation or risking the health of patients.

The rise of automation and using the crisis as a call to action

Business leaders, CIOs and startups should already be well aware of the rise in automation from robots to perform repetitive tasks and software automation to link business information for faster, more efficient operation.

Covid-19 will act as the trigger for more businesses to look toward automation, to improve how they function now, and to better position themselves for future operations long after the current alarm is over.

There are plenty of pieces on how businesses can benefit from AI, from chatbots to analytics tools across insurers, consumer, FMCG and other markets. They can also help within the business for training, efficiency improvements and so on.

The reality of the situation is that any business must take practical steps to protect its workforce and business. In Asia, that might involve lay-offs and shutdowns, that will also impact the western world. But for many businesses, ongoing operations require fast-moving tactical changes to address the current situation, while building a strategy that takes into account a changing landscape, with different costs and expenses.

On the plus side, beyond the human and business cost, there will be leaner businesses, a greater sense of personal and public health within offices and spaces, and overall global business will seek new ways to work around future outbreaks or similar events.

Finally, the outbreak should help push recalcitrant leaders toward adopting remote work and work from home efforts as standard among knowledge, IT and design businesses. Entire generations of industries are scaling up using remote or deskless operations, creating a future workforce that can work anywhere, anytime with reduced overheads. This practical and pragmatic approach may be one of the better results once the crisis is over.

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