In it, a rabbi from New York said he prefers to use the term “physical distancing” over “social distancing” because so many people now have access to online technologies that allow us to stay close by seeing and speaking to each other when physically apart.
Much-criticised social media platforms like Facebook have come into their own of late as the majority of the world moves to self-isolation mode. While it’s good to talk, it’s great to be able to see loved ones, family and friends – grandparents seeing their grandchildren is the one that springs to mind at the moment.
Last weekend, when it became obvious that it wouldn’t be wise to go ahead with a small birthday bash for a family friend, we decided to do a video call instead.
After a bit of difficulty setting the three-way call up – despite one of the dads being a chief technology officer and one of the mums a board member at one of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies – it was one of the kids who succeeded in getting us all online on WhatsApp and then we had a glass or two of fizzy wine and a few laughs.
The next day I did client conference calls on Zoom, WebEx, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. Were there some teething issues? Most definitely. Remote working is going to be tough for most of us. What’s for sure is that we’re all going to get much better at it in coming weeks.
I got in touch with Scottish tech entrepreneur George Mackintosh, who set up teleconferencing business Geoconference in 1995 with the backing of venture capital firm 3i, to get an expert’s view. “We had started to get people to conference call”, says Mackintosh, “but struggled to gain user traction in early web conferencing and especially with video technologies.
“While I banged on about it being a business imperative, we were let down by clunky user interfaces and hopeless connection speeds. Over the next 20 years it has been uphill progress until Apple with FaceTime and Microsoft with Skype made inroads, but mostly in the consumer field. Zoom has now burst onto the business scene and is a media favourite. This pandemic has now made video a personal communication imperative.”
Speaking with Cortex Worldwide’s chief executive Peter Proud, he reminds me that the reality of remote working extends beyond enabling technologies. “Working from home is not just about the technology, it’s about the home environment too.” Since asking staff about their remote requirements, Cortex has been buying ergonomic chairs, desks, keyboards and monitors for delivery to staff at home.
I wrote a blog last week about how businesses and PR people seeing an opportunity to position stories around the coronavirus pandemic are walking something of a tightrope. It’s a subject I’ve been speaking to business editors about recently, in no small part because I want to be able to give my own clients the best possible advice at this time.
One of the editors I spoke to put it like this: “At first we wondered whether business news would dry up but that’s not been the case. Companies have quickly adapted to their ‘new normal,’ though it’s fair to say that almost everything is happening against a backdrop of coronavirus and we’re happy to reflect that. This is the biggest business story for a decade. There’s no question of ‘crowbarring’ it in though – and those who have tried that approach are easily spotted.”
In a similar way to the big US tech players like IBM pulling together to offer supercomputer support in the global fight against Covid-19, I know that on the Scottish scene tech players like CodeBase, Care Sourcer, Current Health and Trickle are all flat out doing what they can to support the NHS in Scotland and England. It’s companies like these that are setting the standard at the moment, more power to them.
Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners