There are many ways in which the COVID-19 Coronavirus epidemic has affected life, and business, in the United States and across the world. The virus forced the shutdown of thousands of businesses for months at a time. As entire workforces started working from home, or lost their jobs, Tech CEOs had to face some difficult decisions.
Now, as we begin to recover from the shutdown, we ask what role technology will play in the response and recovery from COVID-19. And social media companies face difficult decisions of their own, as their role in spreading facts (and misinformation) about health issues has set up an all-out war with social networks and politics at the center.
Let’s explore a few of the top stories in Tech today.
In a recent Forbes article, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discusses software’s role in responding and recovering from COVID-19.
Newer cloud technology has been adopted by schools, hospitals, and local governments at a rate that would have been unheard of prior to COVID-19, but the virus has pushed municipalities to adopt these new technologies quickly. For example, Nadella points to a health bot which was developed by Microsoft which plays the role of triage doctor in handling the first round of screening for potential Coronavirus patients. The adoption of this new technology will likely play a role in healthcare moving forward, even as we continue to recover from this crisis.
Microsoft has also announced new products and features, such as Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, new tools for Azure, and it has made its Fluid Framework open-source to help developers build document collaboration tools.
Microsoft Teams (a competitor to Zoom and other video conferencing tools) has also seen a huge increase in usage during the epidemic, surpassing 75 million daily active users.
Nadella predicts that there will need to be a “re-imagining” of the way we do business moving forward. “I don’t think we go forward with exactly the same type of workflows or how we do work or business process the same way”, Nadella said.
On the other end of the spectrum, financial technology company Gravity Payments begin to lose money in early March, as small and midsize businesses like retail shops, restaurants, and clinic started to shut down, and didn’t require credit card processing.
As explained in this Fast Company article, to avoid laying off employees, CEO Dan Price did what many CEOs wouldn’t have -- he asked his employees for help and suggestions. They collectively made the offer to reduce their salaries temporarily in order to help the keep the company alive. To back his employees up, Dan cut his own salary to $0, and this helped the company buy a few extra weeks. And even as the government protection program allowed Dan to restore most employees to 100% pay, he continued to take no salary, and he’s happy knowing that he is doing his part to save his company and employee’s jobs.
Dan says that he is upset that “so few other CEOs take this view”, and says the owners of smaller companies “have demonstrated more willingness to sacrifice for their people than CEOs with vastly more resources.”
Dan’s fear is that “we’ll emerge from this pandemic in a very different world—one where the little businesses are crushed by large corporations making unilateral decisions about one thing: how much money they can make.” Instead, he suggests talking to your employees about how they would handle the crisis, if they were the CEO. He says that their answers just might help save your company.
In another Fast Company article by author Ruth Reader, the role of social media in spreading misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 is examined. Social networks like Facebook, Google and Twitter have all promoted sources of health information, but have shied away from removing potentially false information, as health information “becomes increasing politicized”.
The article says that “even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Twitter, Facebook, and Google were aggressively trying to weed out health misinformation on their platforms”, but their systems are designed to spread popular information, not necessarily authoritative information.
After Twitter recently made a move to fact-check President Donald Trump’s tweets, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News that tech platforms should not be “arbiters of truth”. Whatever side you fall on, it’s clear that social networks and politics have collided like never before, and social media companies like Facebook and Twitter will face many challenges in the future as our country begins to recover from COVID-19.
Technology already plays a huge role in our lives, and as we emerge from this Coronavirus epidemic, we will continue to see increased reliance on technology for working from home, keeping in touch, and getting our news and information. Time will tell if CEOs like Dan Price will continue to do the right thing as they navigate upcoming crises, and if his employee-focused strategy will pay off for his and other small to medium companies in the future. As for social media platforms, they will continue to function at the intersection of politics, information, and truth -- and the world is watching.
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