Immunizing the Infrastructure: Business in the Advent of COVID-19

By Cara Bedford

At the moment of writing this article, the spread of COVID-19 is continuing across the globe. Countries are struggling to contain it within their borders and the movement of people and goods has, for all intents and purposes other than those critical to economy, stopped. It is a crisis on a scale that was scarcely thought possible just a few weeks ago, and the measures now being put in place to stop the spread of the disease are incompatible with the manner in which most businesses – from Fortune 500 companies to small family outlets – are used to doing things. The question we need to pose now isn’t how to prepare for the effects of the virus on our daily tasks, it is the question of how to adjust.

CompuVision is no exception. I have watched in awe while our company has transferred thousands of employees to secure work-from-home models all within a two-week span. The seemingly impossible is constantly being redefined every day, and more than ever I get to witness people experiencing how technology can transform their lives. We are all in this together, and we are all working hard to adjust to this new normal.

The New Normal

Being reluctant has proved to be a synonym for being complacent. When we attempt to define what adjustment means within this new context, we must understand the very thing global economy is bracing against: a tumultuous ripple effect, affecting each pore of our society, going down every vertical structure available and putting a cog into each gear that was previously thought to be out of reach. Now that it’s certain that the crisis will last well into the summer months, we must find means to survive. In order to do so, the landscape needs to change since the current one stopped providing necessary resources to fuel an economy dependent on interconnectedness.

Pinpointing the Paradox

The global economy is incompatible with containment: it depends on logistics needed to move vast quantities of data and goods around, and in the ease of movement of professionals. The internet has, for all of its prone-ness to disinformation, and proliferation of arguments done in bad faith, proven to be resilient in response to the COVID crisis. Even when confined within our borders, we’re still able to monitor the worldwide infection rate, get instant information about valuable breakthroughs – such as vaccines being developed at universities across Canada – and react to them accordingly. The information is within our reach, but what does this mean when correcting the lull the economy is experiencing?

Moving Remote

Government measures have drained the glass-domed heart of metropolitan business districts, as office personnel was ordered to stay at home to curb the possibility of infection. Working from home isn’t a new concept, and many tech-savvy companies consider it a perk in their job advertisements. However, when faced with remote work being delegated across the board, lack of preparation might hinder daily operations more than a physical ailment ever could.

The concept of Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is not something every entrepreneur is familiar with. When it comes to ensuring a secure network environment and the protection of valuable data, it is something that needs to be arranged for each person with remote access. No IT security professional can vouch for the networks an employee is accessing outside the office, but the company can anticipate this by providing a secure, encrypted tunnel for work-related purposes.

Cloud VPN services are experiencing enormous growth, spearheaded by the technology giants such as Microsoft, Google, Oracle and others. This Software as a Service (SaaS) wave promises to solve many of the problems both emerging, small-scale businesses have, as well as some of the issues faced by giants impervious to change.

Reconnecting with the Workforce

And that change is already here, and will inevitably rush the implementation of some of these ideas, but there is no doubt that moving forward is vastly more preferable than staying in a position that is now untenable. Many business giants have outsourced a good deal of their tech support staff over a decade ago. This left only the more essential staff in their offices, but now the meaning of “essential” is shifting towards blue collar workers: janitors, mechanics, electricians and other tradesmen who can actually maintain the physical aspect of company HQ, while everyone else is going virtual.

A new blueprint emerges – a company disseminated into a series of nodes, each containing a (formerly) essential employee, contributing towards a nexus that is now really more of a shell, and an empty one at that. Even the outsourced employees have scattered, creating even more dissonance. The infrastructural issues keep mounting: the quality of an employee’s home connection, link drops, power outages, compromised machinery, sensitive data exposed to third parties, and the constant entropy of communication.

The Encouraging Actions of Online Community

This is a sketch that is undoubtedly bleak, and the solution isn’t an easy or obvious one. A perspective shift needs to happen, and these deterrents need to be viewed in a different light – as growing pains, rather than as inevitable downturn. In just a few weeks, huge industry players have put together incentives that will help companies surmount many of these obstacles during the troubling times ahead.

Discord is a household brand and a go-to communication platform for many professionals; therefore, their decision to quintuple their streaming and screen share limit was met with universal acclaim. Recognizing the importance of bandwidth for both business and home users, Canada’s Telecom companies including Rogers and Telus have temporarily removed data caps on their coverage plans. It would be cynical to observe this solely as brand image campaign, and should be recognized as a sign of unity between those sharing the same values, acquired through participation in a technology where ease of access means profit.

We’re witnessing a particular sort of altruism taking place, based upon knowledge that we’re all in this together, even when temporarily confined to the boundaries of our province, city or home.

What the Future Holds

To view this crisis as a temporary setback, something that will pass, would mean being in the right – and ensuring that it happens again. It would mean dismantling the very process taking place before our eyes, a new way of doing things and the redefinition of what it means to be an office employee. The ripple effect is also present here: it means questioning our daily commute, length of primary, secondary and higher education. It demands to take a long hard look at the concept behind each company and figure out whether it can sustain future outbreaks and whether this means another costly pause.

Most importantly, we must not forget that the developments we’re facing now – both positive and negative ones – are temporary, and will not be sustained in the long run. Goods still need to be transported, even at a risk of infection of humans conducting these vital physical tasks. Offices will reopen, and downtown skyscrapers will work through three shifts per day again. The amalgam needed will need to bridge the gap between physical and virtual, and ensure seamless transfer of every possible company asset if, and when, the need arises.

Technology develops fastest in the times of war; Second World War started with cavalry charges and ended with cruise missiles and atomic bombs. We can hope that this war will end in similar mass-eradication devices, only aimed at an enemy operating on a much smaller, and much more encompassing scale. We can expect the new way of doing business emerging now to have a worldwide implementation once the crisis is past. If economy has taught us anything, it’s that it possesses infinite malleability when aimed towards optimization of profit; and today, there is no bigger profit than that of human capital.

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