COVID-19 Lockdown Speeding up the Entry Into the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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 of the country made organisations in Bangladesh and around the world realize that the traditional office culture of face-to-face coordination and communication is not a viable model to run an office during this pandemic. Soon enough, most of these organisations, even if resentfully, closed the physical office infrastructure and started working remotely.

This is 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 work, running business 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, as more and more people are buying their everyday essentials from various online retailers. Managers and leaders of big to small industries and organizations, some of whom were often reluctant to use digital platforms, are 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 has been made possible by the existing advance technology and functioning telecommunication infrastructures. People today are realizing that a significant part of the office and economic activities can be done from anywhere with more flexibility, and sitting behind the office desk, direct communication, and physical meetings are not as necessary to do things decently as they were thought. Moreover, going to schools and universities physically to gain knowledge is perhaps also not mandatory. This digital style of working during the lockdown may be considered as a forced entry into the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). The 4IR is characterised by a range of new technologies that fuse the physical, digital and biological worlds, changing society as we know it. The 4IR could unwrap endless possibilities for billions of creative and capable people connected by digital devices. By digitising business and economic operations for all these people, 4IR has the potential to accelerate our economic growth. This global crisis is driving the world to take that leapfrog what many traditional-minded 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 in the post-coronavirus world.

There may be some tentative vital managerial and behavioural adaptation of this crisis period. Employers should realize the effectiveness of working from home and organisations may opt to adopt the concept of remote working. Organisations can start running their operations on digital platforms and perform many business activities like negotiations and business meetings through video conferencing and telecommunicating 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 will 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 realization of the utility of online medical services will expand its scope in the coming days. Many diagnostic and pathological tests in future shall be made out through remote terminals at reduced prices. There is a possibility of a revolutionary change in education systems. It may get more flexible and convenient if the use of digital processes can scale down the requirement to go to educational institutes for instructions. If ready-made garments (RMG) industries can also utilize digital platforms to sell their products during this lockdown, the loss in profit they are currently experiencing 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.

Sayada Jannatun Naim is a Senior Officer – Training and Communication and the Assistant Director of Executive Development Centre (EDC) of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, BRAC University. 

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