Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Jim Chirico, CEO of Avaya.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has moved into every corner of the world and the greatest priority is to reduce the spread and ensure the safety of all global citizens.
Beyond this, there is an additional need to keep the global economic engine running, and to do so without contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
Recently, experts have pointed out the global economy is much more intertwined than it was when SARS emerged nearly 20 years ago, suggesting this could contribute to a more rapid spread of COVID-19.
However, the world is now armed with a much more mature set of remote collaboration tools than our counterparts in 2002, when SARS first emerged. After all, VOIP pioneer Skype only emerged in 2003.
Our new arsenal of workplace collaboration technology faces what might be its first, true, major test of resilience.
Today, the virtual collaboration space has matured to a point that has made the knowledge economy much more flexible and resilient than in the past, which could change the outcome of not only potential viral outbreaks like COVID-19 but also change 'work-from-home' expectations in today's increasingly globalized economy.
In 2002, asking all employees to work from home would have been extremely disruptive – and near impossible. Today, with the right tools, may become more of the norm.
Stanford professors Walter Powell and Kaisa Snellman define the knowledge economy as the production and services based on knowledge-intensive activities that contribute to an accelerated pace of technical and scientific advance.
The key component of a knowledge economy is a greater reliance on intellectual capabilities than on physical inputs or natural resources. With the rise of unified communications and collaboration technologies, the knowledge economy is stronger and more democratized than ever.
The goal now is to ensure that the new economy can function and continue to flourish in times of uncertainty, where employees globally are preparing to potentially work from home for long periods or until the outbreak is contained.
Since the COVID-19 virus first emerged, there has been a shutdown of global factories, a stock market selloff, school closures at the local and national level, and much more. Organizers canceled Mobile World Congress and Enterprise Connect, Facebook canceled its internal and developer events, NVIDIA moved its event to a virtual one, and SXSW was canceled after weeks of speculation.
Companies are restricting travel globally including Amazon, GSK, Nestle, Google, LG and countless more.
Nevertheless, with the rise of remote collaboration technologies, the show can go on. Leaders of companies in the knowledge economy should recognize how far technology has come in the last 20 years. This technology has made working from home an inconvenience, not a crisis. The technology allows business leaders to err on the side of caution.
Beyond requiring employees to work remotely, the way businesses operate specific functions may also need to change.
Take marketing and sales trade shows, for instance. Will they ever be the same again or is COVID-19 going to spur times of change – times where 300,000 people need not hop on a plane to spend 3 days in a crowded conference arena? Will businesses explore tools of the future and drive the rise of the virtual event? Will HR departments continue to require candidates to fly to the site of a job interview just to ensure they are the perfect fit, or will collaboration technologies rise to the occasion?
We don't expect in-person work environments or business events to disappear, but current events may be a catalyst for a noticeable shift.
The world is in a place where it can finally leverage technology to keep the global economic engine running without forcing face-to-face human interaction As the virus increasingly affects the U.S. daily, it is up to us to ensure that engine does not break down.
As resistant as we are to change, this is a test to ensure that when the way businesses traditionally operate is no longer, or less possible, technology can step in to become the bridge between the knowledge economy and the broader global economy.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to add clarity to the author's perspective.