COVID 19 and digitization: what opportunities does the pandemic present?

Nothing has hit, impacted and unhinged the modern world like the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the globe since December 2019. A new virus, about which there was little to no knowledge paralyzed public life, making the future uncertain. Companies had to become flexible in order to keep operations going and either already have or are starting to invest large sums in digital infrastructure. Buzzwords like home office, homeschooling and Zoom meetings have become the norm ever since and it is impossible to imagine life without them.

Of course, most people miss personal contact with their colleagues (even those random encounters in the hallway during coffee breaks!), and have no clue when a return to “normality” will be possible again. But shouldn’t the days of Zoom meetings and home office be part of the new normal? More importantly, what opportunities does digitization and a digital transformation offer for private citizens as well as companies?

Unfortunately, Germany is currently lagging behind in terms of digital infrastructures – schools are not outfitted with the appropriate equipment for online classes and many medium-sized companies have missed making the jump into the digital world. There are only a few digital champions – pioneers who recognized well before the pandemic that sooner or later a shift to online will be inevitable. Nevertheless, it is not too late. Everyone can contribute to the progress of digitization in Germany and turn it to their advantage.

  1. More flexibility

Anyone who has ever worked in a home office would certainly agree with this: if you work from home, you’re more flexible in all respects, from scheduling appointments with the handyman, managing child care, to simply having the freedom to decide when to take a break. For many people, home office is a regular part of the work week, sometimes only one day a week, other times two or three days. When employers allow an employee this “flex-time”, they benefit as a company as well: 91% of all men and women who regularly work from home said it made them feel more productive and happier. The workload is easier to keep track of, there are fewer distractions from office co-workers or last-minute requests, and sick days decrease considerably. It’s a win-win situation for both employee and employer – flexibility is king!

 

  1. More efficiency

What company or individual does not wish for more efficiency in all areas? Optimizing work processes, creating one’s own home office atmosphere enabling a streamlined work flow: digitalization is creating new opportunities to increase efficiency in all these areas. Complete order processing in the fashion industry, for example, can be doubled or even tripled in speed by transforming them into digital systems. What previously had to be manually processed can now simply be done with a tool, allowing more time for additional projects. Another prime example of total efficiency, plus ensuring survival of a number of small businesses, was Zalando’s #supportthelocals initiative. Here, small fashion stores and retailers could continue to sell their products through a simple connection to Zalando’s marketplace system and benefit from the support of the marketplace giant.

  1. More ease in everyday life

Contact restrictions and partial curfews meant that even shopping could become a stressful task for many. Restricted numbers of customers per store and ultimately even complete store closures were added to the mix. Solutions had to be found to keep customers supplied with goods and consumer products. Fortunately, large supermarket chains such as REWE had already set up an option of delivering purchases directly to the door. Beverage delivery services such as Durstexpress also make it easier for people to obtain food and beverages, offering high-risk groups in particular peace of mind, knowing they don’t have to put themselves in unnecessary danger when doing their weekly shopping. Of course, when it comes to the subject of home delivery, fashion is not neglected. The online trade, which had been on the rise for several years already, can now report record-breaking figures. There was no need to forgo the consumption of clothes and accessories, and both shipping and returns could be handled easily and conveniently via parcel service providers. Many fashion companies have even recently started offering digital showrooms where customers can take a spin through the latest pieces on the Internet and buy them at their leisure.

However, one aspect that should not be overlooked is the general day-to-day routine. Since the advance of digitization, it has become easier to manage child care, household upkeep and appointments. Everyday life can be planned more flexibly and unforeseen events can be responded to spontaneously. This is an absolute plus point of digitization.

  1. More environmental protection

Ongoing climate change and its possible consequences have been an ever-present item on the agenda of government debates for several years. Measures to combat the climate crisis are being incorporated, reaching into all areas of public life. The development of electric means of transportation, the transformation to alternative energy sources and the planned removal of climate-damaging factors such as old internal combustion engines are just a few examples aimed at stopping global warming.
One aspect that has been decisive concerning the reawakening of nature and the recovery of entire ecosystems is the absence of mass tourism. Everyone has most likely marveled at the famous pictures of the crystal clear canals in Venice or of completely overgrown houses in abandoned vacation resorts. The pandemic is giving the earth time to recover from the ever-increasing strains of globalization and also allows people look at the environment from a new perspective. In the U.S., for example, 26% of people who had never really spent much time outdoors before said they had gone into the wilderness and engaged more with the environment since the pandemic. “Citizen Science Projects” have also received a big boost – more and more people have helped scientists count birds, observe butterflies or even aid toads and frogs during their sometimes dangerous migrations across busy roads. This awareness and appreciation of nature can be decisive for the way people will perceive and also protect the environment in the future – which can ultimately also ensure that global warming is slowed down.
But what has been most noticeable in the context of home offices is the reduction of greenhouse gases: no more driving your car or taking the bus to work. No factor was more responsible for CO2 emissions in Germany than transportation (both air and land). In the Corona year 2020, emissions of CO2 fell by a staggering 2.7 billion tons. The Paris Climate Agreement stipulated that global carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by 1 to 2 billion metric tons per year over the next ten years – this is roughly equivalent to the drop in transport emissions in 2020 (-1.4 billion metric tons of CO2).

Humans have been unquestionably shown that it is not impossible to stop climate change. Another aspect of environmental protection and innovation can be found in both the business and private sectors – the consumption of paper. Every year, one person needs about 250 kilograms of paper, which is equivalent to about three to three and a half trees. With 7.8 billion people in the world, this comes to approximately 23.4 billion trees. Here, even small steps can mean a massive change, and in view of digitalization, everything speaks in favor of greater efficiency, more flexibility and more ease in everyday life.
If we take the subject of business cards, for example, we also come up with figures here that are really troubling. Every year, more than 10 billion business cards are printed worldwide, which means about 16 tons of paper or around 9,500 felled trees. Yet up to 90% of these cards are thrown into the trash within the first month – an absolute waste of resources and harmful to the environment.

Unite World has made it its mission to put an end to this, fully relying on digitalization in the area of contact management and its technology.
It is important to note – digital business cards have been around for a long time, but only as attachments to emails and in unexciting, rather embryonic form. Name, address, contact information and nothing more. Most people only realize just how important contact exchange and data management are when, as mentioned before, business cards end up in the trash because they have become uninteresting or obsolete due to a change of address or a change of company of the contact person. Unite World’s digital business card offers the possibility of storing an infinite number of contacts, which are automatically updated as soon as the contact changes their details. It can be customized, providing the necessary contact details according to the occasion. By scanning the QR code, the data of a new contact is automatically transferred to the Unite World app and always kept up-to-date. An app-independent solution is also already being developed for the Unite community. Meetings can be organized and planned via the database, ensuring that all information is sent to the right people without fail. Thus, a digital business card offers advantages that will become increasingly relevant for companies and private individuals over the ensuing weeks and months, contributing to the positive development of digitization.

In general, it can be said that the severe and threatening pandemic has nevertheless created a number of opportunities that will have a positive impact on our lives in the future. New industries will emerge, bringing new jobs to people who have lost theirs due to the pandemic. We can only hope that the current state of emergency will continue for just a few more weeks and months. However, this also continues to offer the opportunity to test and optimize new concepts and, ideally to introduce them successfully. Digitalization is certainly important and necessary, especially in Germany, because many things are not up to date and are falling behind. That is why a lot of time and money should and must be invested in a digital infrastructure. But one thing is certain — the most important and elementary thing is personal contact and cooperation between people that will hopefully be possible very soon.

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