By Jurica Dujmovic, MarketWatch
If history can teach us anything, it’s that pandemics have a long-lasting and severe effect on the economy. But there’s another lesson: Human ingenuity and adaptation march on.
The deadly coronavirus may have shut down a large number of American businesses and forced many people to work from home, but it’s also the driving force behind the acceleration of technological adoption.
New technologies are being rapidly adopted. Even after there’s a vaccine for the coronavirus, those trends will be here to stay, remodeling society for years to come.
With offices closed around the world, many people are working from home for the first time. For others, remote work has been part of work life for some time.
In all cases, this trend has shown that many businesses can thrive even when employees don’t come into the office every day. The amount of time, energy and money saved on commuting and real estate alone is an incentive enough for many companies to completely rely on a remote workforce.
This change sent ripples of disruption across many industries. The fact that people can now work wherever their laptop is fundamentally changed labor-migration dynamics. There is no need to relocate to city centers when you can work from the comfort of home. Downtown properties are losing tenants, and in some cases their values are plummeting. In suburbs and rural areas, the opposite is happening: Property values are rising as a growing number of people decide to stay and work from home, enjoying peaceful life only small towns can provide.
None of this would be possible without the help of video conferencing. Video-conferencing software has been around for a long time, but never has its use surged as high as in the Covid era. Teleconferencing app Zoom /zigman2/quotes/211319643/composite ZM -3.37% is a case in point, one which I covered in detail in an earlier article. Suffice to say that for the company, the arrival of the pandemic was nothing short of lucrative.
The number of Zoom meetings jumped from a pre-Covid 10 million daily-meeting participants in 2019 to a whopping 300 million in April 2020. There is a huge potential in apps facilitating remote communication, and many competitors, such as Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -2.03% and Microsoft /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT -1.99% , are already vying for a bigger piece of the video-conferencing cake.
Workers aren’t the only ones profiting from remote practices. Since location no longer plays a role in choosing candidates for a position, a lot of companies have tapped into the global online labor market. Now more than ever, opportunities have arisen for skilled workers who otherwise wouldn’t even dream of landing a job in a company thousands of miles away.
Obvious winners of this trend are companies mediating freelancer services, such as Upwork /zigman2/quotes/200102859/composite UPWK -2.56% and Fiverr /zigman2/quotes/212683127/composite FVRR -2.65% . As time passes, their value will only surge as freelancing becomes the new norm for U.S. and global markets. According to some projections, the majority of the U.S. workforce will consist of freelancers by 2027.
In mid-April, almost 1.6 billion students were affected by the coronavirus epidemic due to school closures in 190 countries. The necessity of being proficient in the language spoken by international employers, as well as having the skills to stand out in a huge global market, is pushing demand for ed-tech businesses sky high.
From a $107 billion market in 2015, the ed-tech industry is expected to triple to $350 billion by 2025 as more people look for learning resources online. Analysts predict the surge is largely caused by Asia’s growing youth population.
BYJU’S, based in Bangalore, India, is the world’s most valuable ed-tech platform. Its userbase has grown by 7.5 million after it started offering free access to content. In April alone, gross revenue reached $46 million.
Another ed-tech platform whose userbase has increased to unprecedented levels is Duolingo . According to Business Insider, the number of new signups worldwide and in the U.S. grew by 108% and 148%, respectively, in March 2020. There’s now talk of an IPO.
A Nielsen investigation uncovered six key consumer thresholds that tie directly to concerns about the Covid-19 outbreak and shape the way retailers are adapting to the new environment. Consumers want to shop online, prefer home delivery, and are looking for seamless online experiences. Retailers have recognized these needs and responded by completely digitizing the shopping experience.
The result? As of April 21, U.S. and Canadian e-commerce orders have grown by 129% year-over-year, while global online retail orders have achieved an impressive 146% growth.
Even the concept of online shopping is being revamped.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has kept consumers at home, brands and retailers like Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT +1.47% , L’Oréal /zigman2/quotes/203477983/delayed LRLCY -0.64% , Kendra Scott, and Suitsupply have introduced virtual tools to engage with shoppers.
According to a Coresight Research report and pre-Covid-19 projections from Statista, the reality-technology market, which includes augmented reality and virtual reality, is forecast to reach $18.8 billion in 2020.
Another industry is getting a boost from the Covid-19: Autonomous vehicles. In China, the pandemic has created opportunities for the autonomous-driving industry and intelligent solutions. Baidu /zigman2/quotes/209050136/composite BIDU +0.05% has released 104 driverless vehicles, which will help with disinfecting, logistics, cleaning and transportation in 17 Chinese cities.
Apollo, Baidu’s autonomous-vehicle platform, has partnered with Neolix, a local self-driving startup to deploy unmanned vehicles that disinfect all roads in commercial areas in Shanghai.
Additionally, vehicles can serve as a nighttime security robots and sound the alarm if they detect behavior that disregards coronavirus-prevention guidelines, such as not wearing masks or holding mass gatherings.
Apollo has also partnered with another company, iDriverPlus, to provide autonomous vehicles for 16 hospitals for nationwide Covid-19 treatments. Each hospital is allocated one or two disinfectant and delivery vehicles — the aim is to minimize person-to-person transmission and alleviate the shortage of medical staff.