The Covid-19 pandemic forced Bangladesh, like many other countries, to enforce an extended country-wide lockdown to ensure social distancing and scale down the potential spread of the virus among the people.
This long shutdown made organisations in Bangladesh and around the world realize that the traditional face-to-face coordination and communication in office culture is not a viable model to run an office during this pandemic.
Soon enough, most of these organizations – even if resentfully – resorted to working from home instead of physical presence in the office.
This has been a novel experience for the world, especially for a developing country like Bangladesh. It is almost as if we have teleported to another universe where everything runs on a digital system and the traditional way of life is out of fashion.
Moreover, with borders and airports closed, people are staying at home much more than they have ever had. But they are neither idle nor isolated.
From their own homes, people are assigning and performing remote office works, running businesses and operations, and maintaining intensive social contacts through virtual media. Schools and universities have also switched to virtual learning methods.
This lockdown is also positively influencing people's attitude towards online shopping. More people are buying their everyday essentials from various online retailers now.
Managers and leaders of big to small industries and organizations – some of whom were often reluctant to use digital platforms – are now learning and adopting digital tools and technologies to manage and oversee remote work and maximize productivity.
This opportunity of continuing office and economic activities during this period of lockdown and social distancing was possible thanks to the existing advanced technology and functioning telecommunication infrastructures.
People today are realizing that a significant part of the office and economic activities can be done from anywhere more flexibly. And sitting behind the office desk, face-to-face communication, and physical meetings are not as necessary as assumed in past.
This digital style of working during the lockdown, however, may be considered as a forced entry into the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
The 4IR should unwrap endless possibilities for billions of creative and capable people connected by digital devices. By digitising business and economic operations for all these people, we also hope that the 4IR will eventually accelerate our economic growth.
This global crisis is driving the world to take that leapfrog what many business leaders and directors were unwilling to do until now.
This unintentional, unprepared, and forced entry into the framework of 4IR and temporary acceptance of the digital process of remote work may have a long-term impact on the office work culture and economic activities during post-coronavirus world.
It may also require some vital managerial and behavioural adaptation. Employers should realize the effectiveness of working from home.
Many organisations may run their operations on digital platforms and perform many business activities like negotiations and business meetings through video conference and telecommunication rather than traditional direct physical meetings and travels, saving both time and cost.
Women may enjoy considerable benefits if the virtual work environment becomes a reality as it would enable them to work while fulfilling family responsibilities. This may also uncover new employment opportunities for them. The work and family life balance shall be easier for both female and male professionals.
The scarcity of facility-based health services during this pandemic has increased dependency on telemedicine and virtual medical services.
The realisation of the utility of online medical services will expand its scope in the coming days. Many diagnostic and pathological tests in future shall be performed through remote terminals at reduced prices.
There is a possibility of revolutionary changes in education systems. Education may become more flexible and convenient if the use of digital processes can scale down the necessity to go to educational institutes for instructions.
If ready-made garments (RMG) industries can also find a way to utilize digital platforms to sell their products during this lockdown, the loss in profit they are currently enduring may turn into thriving business opportunities.
It is hard to predict when this pandemic will end. But it is almost certain that the utilization of technology will get more prominent after this pandemic and dependence on telecommunication and virtual platforms may become standard.
It is now expected that the introduction of the 4IR may become a reality after this Covid-19 pandemic.
The author is Assistant Director of EDC, Brac University