As the world comes to terms with the havoc being wreaked by COVID-19, UK businesses and organisations are looking to tech innovations to keep teams connected and keep the work flowing.
Tech companies are stepping up to the challenge, with tangible solutions to the real-time challenges of these rather strange days. While it’s not the answer to the entire puzzle, these innovative ideas are changing the response in dramatic ways.
The disruption of vital services
“Close the schools now.”
That was the message a few days ago to Prime Minister Boris Johnson from former Cabinet Minister Rory Stewart. The London mayoral hopeful says if it were up to him, schools and big events would be shutting down now.
Whether or not PM Johnson takes Stewart’s advice, some UK-based non-profits are gearing up to provide hot meals to the estimated 3 million children at risk of hunger if the school programs shut down on a large scale. For organisations like Feeding Britain, their work becomes more critical in the face of public emergencies.
“For so many families now, schools are the first line of defence against hunger,” said Andrew Forsey, the national director of Feeding Britain, as reported in The Guardian. “In many cases it is breakfast as well as lunch, so if the schools close it’s two meals we have to find. There is early-stage planning going on around ensuring supplies of food and the extent of voluntary support that could be drawn upon if some schools do need to close.”
With “social distancing” austerity measures being implemented in many sectors, scores of SMEs are being forced to work remotely for the first time ever.
“These are uncharted times, with so many companies and organizations transitioning to remote work to keep their teams safe,” said ClickMeeting managing director Dominika Paciorkowska. “At the same time, there is absolutely critical work that must go on, in emergency planning, healthcare, education and overall business continuity.”
Platforms like ClickMeeting enable SMEs and organisations to host online meetings, organise response plans, continue teaching via virtual classrooms, run live or automated training webinars, and host virtual events with up to 1,000 attendees. The company recently announced they are offering their services free for 90 days to any organisation that needs their help due to the coronavirus situation.
Several other companies with solutions for video conferencing, cloud connectivity, document collaboration, project management and internal communication are also stepping up and offering free or discounted subscriptions.
“Here at ClickMeeting, we’ve been working with NGOs, governmental agencies and educational organisations for over nine years now,” Paciorkowska added. “We know our platform works for them, and we are committed to helping any company or organisation with video conferencing, online training and other vital communications during this challenging time.”
Classes move online
So far there have been no large-scale school closures in the UK, but some local schools have made individual decisions to shutter their classrooms out of precaution.
“In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, speaking in Commons last Wednesday. Meanwhile, many schools and universities in the US and in other countries are closing their campuses and moving their classes online.
“Our goal is to complete this academic quarter with as little disruption to our students and their educational progress as possible,” said Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington.
The university reported last week that one of its employees had tested positive for the coronavirus but said the decision to close classrooms had been made before that, according to the New York Times.
Schools and universities in the UAE are at an advantage in this regard; they’ve been at the forefront of digital educational technology for years now, reports the Gulf News.
“We’ve been using distance and e-learning tools for at least seven years at the secondary level, and about four years at the primary level,” said Richard Ballard, head of technology and innovation at the Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Their school, along with all educational institutions in the country, is currently on a four-week shutdown, the Gulf News reports.
Their students will engage in distance learning via video conference and other educational technology, something that most of them are already familiar with.
Healthcare and tech serve patients together
Healthcare enterprises around the world are turning to telemedicine to facilitate remote diagnosis and patient monitoring as the disease spreads. This goes a long way toward limiting public interactions with sick patients, and also eases the strain on medical facilities that are facing a massive load.
Dr. Samat Virk of MediSprout believes telemedicine is proving itself to be an extremely valuable tool in this current situation. His company provides a secure video chat platform specifically designed for remote patient care.
“Much like it has done for doctors assessing and treating patients for influenza – where its use has hit an all-time high – televisits can help doctors combat a coronavirus outbreak, even reaching patients in remote locations who have limited access to care,” Dr. Virk explained.
The real value of our connected lives
Too often we hear of the problems of our interconnected lives; the constant distraction, the inability to unplug, the nonstop news. Yet here we see the power of these connective technologies to improve lives, assure public safety, and keep the information flowing at a time when it’s incredibly vital to do so.