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Virus Silver Lining: Covid 19 Positive Digital Effects

Silver Lining Copyright Mike Valentine

I‘m a long-term advocate for moving all reasonable and appropriate aspects of daily life to digital platforms and processes. There has been tremendous resistance to this idea from those who ask, “Why work, shop, write, sign documents, communicate, learn or do our banking digitally?” My response has always been, “Because we can.” This was mostly about convenience, efficiency and time saving from my perspective.

Stop the Paper Clutter

This week I was contacted by one of my clients to request that they begin paying invoices digitally via ACH (Automated Clearing House direct deposit) payments. Yes! This company was one of the last holdouts that sent a paper check for each invoice – which means I no longer have to wait for them to do their weekly check run, wait for 2 or 3 extra days for delivery, then pick up my mail to be able to simply photograph the check within my banking app to deposit it. Then I shred the check.

It’s not just checks that seem archaic and unnecessary either. I recently switched cell phone providers for my business phone and it took several billing cycles to stop the paper bills from arriving via snail mail. There is literally no reason to need a printed paper bill, to be returned in a paper envelope with a hand-written paper check inside. I’ve pondered the same issue with each new service – why must it begin with paper?

We are now seeing one very compelling reason to go more fully digital (albeit an entirely unpredictable one) in Covid 19, aka the Corona Virus. Nobody could possibly have seen a global pandemic as the rationale for finally going fully digital with online tools and processes. It’s horrifying that it has taken an easily transmitted, life-threatening disease to push us further in the digital direction, but the fact that we can do many routine daily tasks digitally might now be, quite literally, a life saver.

Remote Work: Business as Usual

Working remotely is now commonplace for many of us in the software, e-commerce and online publishing industries, but it is less common for other businesses. Now that workplaces are being asked to allow employees to work from home where possible due to social distancing (to avoid spreading the virus), I believe that we’ll see many types of work move online from those industries that had previously been holdouts.

Office work of most types can be done from a home computer or laptop. Employees new to working online will need to get familiar with VPNs and may need to use password management apps to help them to use complex, secure passwords for business accounts. They may need training in information security and careful digital habits. Moving our remaining paperwork to PDF or Word Doc form, and then using digital signatures and online storage means less paper clutter and fewer file cabinets and copy machines. Those employees doing office work will be more productive without the usually long daily commute to corporate buildings far from home.

Educational Options

Colleges and universities are moving to online classes taught via video conference or pre-recorded video and many primary and secondary schools are remotely teaching kids at home. Gaining such broad adoption means that the conferencing software will likely improve, and may work out the inevitable glitches that remain. (We’ve all experienced the occasional inability to connect to a group conference or loss of either video or audio during web conferences.)

Industry conferences are being discouraged. Those formerly crowded events may go mostly digital to reduce the amount of social contact and eliminate travel. More routine internal company meetings are likely to move to web conferencing so those at home can participate. It’s small businesses that are slow to adopt digital processes due to the expense of multiple, sometimes costly, software as a service accounts that are tough to justify for Microbusinesses. Perhaps SaaS co-ops will emerge to help out Main Street business or new levels of pricing will be established.

Communicating with Co-Workers

We already have phone calls and texting and FaceTime and of course, dozens of social media options to keep in touch with others in our social circle while we’re social distancing. (Watch those privacy settings to keep personal info protected from the public & social platform owners.) However, we will now be extending the above tools and getting more comfortable with other online options.

Depending on types of office tasks, we may need to communicate with co-workers via Slack, Google Hangouts Meet or Microsoft Teams. We may need to share Word Docs, Excel Spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations or PDF files. Those digital documents can be maintained online at DropBox, Google Docs or other cloud-based options.

Project Management Tools

Some of us are familiar with digital project management tools such as Trello, Jira or Asana – and already understand how to plan, schedule and monitor progress of teams. We already know how to effectively work remotely. Our more traditional office-bound friends will experience a bit of a learning curve while they become familiar with new tools and processes that will free them to work on distributed teams from their homes.

Hopefully, more of the working world can be freed from office cubicles as we overcome Covid 19 and then — remain free.

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