There’s a lot of focus on the negatives of COVID-19, and rightly so. This pandemic, wreaking havoc on America and the world for going on six months now, seems to have no end in sight, destroying businesses, interrupting education, and causing a whole host of secondary problems, from unemployment to alcoholism, to depression and isolation.

We’re not here to discount that. However, we propose there’s a silver lining to COVID-19, and it has to do with the skyrocketing advancement in innovation and technology. From this perspective, the novel coronavirus has propelled this industry to new heights in a matter of months as opposed to years.

Innovation is the process of translating an invention or idea into a service that will create value, one that is revenue-generating and self-sustaining. Scientists, clinicians, hardware and software developers, innovators, inventors, product designers, and economists in all industries have come together to work around problems, thereby helping the world and themselves, says Healthworld.

COVID-19 has spurred the use of drones and robots in hospitals, virtual care strategies that minimize in-person patient visits such as symptom-checking apps and virtual visits, and video technology to support communication between patients and families. And that’s just in the healthcare world, an industry on the front lines of the pandemic’s surge.

Technology didn’t just explode in healthcare; it’s exploding everywhere — right in your own backyard: the office.

Hybrid Working: A New Normal

One big consequence is the scale of innovation that is occurring in response to this pandemic. The sudden and swift onset and impact of COVID-19 on businesses of all kinds is unprecedented, creating a huge push for businesses to make key changes in order to survive. This innovation survival response may not look or feel like innovation as we know it. It’s painful at times, uncomfortable, to be sure. But no matter what drives it, it’s still innovation, and it still has to be embraced.

Nowhere has this become more evident than in board rooms, offices and companies around the country, particularly affecting leadership positions as we forge a new path through the fire. Stability is critical as we navigate this new normal, and it often originates from the highest levels.

When it comes to senior leadership: “The most important thing you can do is build the strongest team you can around you,” says Former Fortune 100 executive and Poly’s Chief Revenue Officer, Carl Wiese in Coruzant Technologies’ Digital Executive podcast. “If you have the right team on the bus, almost any problem they give you is pretty easy. If you have the wrong team on the bus, almost any problem they give you is really hard.”

Wiese shares his top tips for success as we emerge into the “next normal.” This includes an accelerated approach to digital transformation, the innovative technologies that will support a hybrid work environment, and navigating the future of work.

The things we have resisted for so long, such as cloud, video meetings, and collaboration, got blown away with COVID’s emergence on the scene. Suddenly, there was no longer a choice. Suddenly, those barriers that people were tripping over for so long were cast aside, as they continued to push through and execute critical plans.

Wiese suggests a three-phased model was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic: respond, redesign and reinvent.

1. Respond: Right when the pandemic first hit, the sole focus was triage and mitigation, with a sort-of “no way but through” mindset. You did what you had to do to stay operational.

2. Redesign: This is where true digital transformation happened, as leaders could finally take a breath, take stock of what was happening, and could see what the technology landscape would look like in three years. This is when things starting ramping up as everyone got their sea legs and gained a bit of perspective.

3. Reinvent: And now, we’ve settled into the third phase of asking ourselves: how do I innovate, what is driving key innovations, how can we push the limits of what’s possible, what will it mean to our business model, and what role will technology play in that going forward?

Breaking Down Barriers

The innovations that are created out of necessity may become lasting pillars of the businesses that helped it thrive well beyond the COVID-accelerated digital transformation by about three years.

Indeed, the pandemic is a reality check for businesses that so far had been reluctant to embrace digital transformation. In addition to the stress of their potentially health-compromised employees, a dramatic drop-off in demand coupled with economic uncertainty has sent companies scrambling to migrate their workforce to a virtual environment. But while fast and furious is the name of the game in regards to digital innovation, fast and frantic leads to mistakes, says BDO.

If there had been any lingering doubts as to the necessity of digital transformation to business longevity, COVID-19 has silenced them. Now, most interactions with customers and employees take place virtually, and operating digitally is the only way to stay in business through restricted activity and mandated shutdowns. Go digital or go dark.

Role Technology Plays in the Shift

Technology is emerging into four distinct trends, according to Wiese, and it all has to do with the professional home environment. In the first 60 days of the pandemic, people simply just figured out what they needed, from headsets to HD video cameras, to setting up a purposeful place to work that wasn’t the kitchen table. In essence, they got it done because there was no time to second guess things. Those emerging four trends are:

1. Reality sets in that work from home is here to stay for many people around the country, and indeed the world.

2. As more and more people have returned to work, there’s a push for native app experiences, a “bring your own cloud environment” if you will. It’s a time of adjustment as teams try out a variety of different platforms that work for each of their clients.

3. With many people in a conference room together, even with social distancing measures in place, no one wants to be touching controls that others have repeatedly touched. This has led to a low touch environment embracing voice control, mobile interaction, AI, etc. for innovative ways to interact with the system.

4. A whole new level of immersion is here, in terms of collaboration of video and even intelligent system monitoring. So-called “smart” rooms or systems can detect when there are more than the recommended amount of people in a conference room at one time, alerting occupants that this number must be reduced for safety.

As we move forward during this time of uncertainty, one things remains certain: human ingenuity is at its best when in the face of global adversity, as we all work under pressure with a deadline of yesterday. The immediate threat of the pandemic will pass at some point, but it’s unlikely there will be a return to how things were before. Yes, the human and economic toll of COVID-19 is devastating, but some changes, such as this invigorated innovation mindset, are the silver lining in all this.

The Silver Lining

The coronavirus pandemic may still be plowing its way through the country, leading to business closures, shut downs and social distance rules, but it’s also been the harbinger of technological breakthroughs as people shift the way they function. From AI to remote work tools to workforce shifts, this pandemic is breaking through technology barriers at a break-neck speed. That old proverb has never been truer: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Translation: the driving force for most new inventions is need.   In a time when people were forced into a new normal in a matter of days or weeks, the demand for change brought about some pretty cool breakthroughs in technology.

As businesses shuttered and sent their employees home, a new way of thinking was needed — FAST. Born from this pandemic came an innovation spurred on by tragedy. The technology race has always been there, but its progress has been somewhat slow, until now. Indeed, this accelerated change has restructured workplaces, redefined roles, and instituted rapid learning, all while organizations were being challenged — and still are — to embrace a new way of thinking. The rush to virtualize business operations continues as social distance directives have taken the top spot on the best practice list.

Coronavirus as an Accelerant

Who would have predicted that COVID-19 would be the catalyst for such business transformation just a few months ago? As companies are forced to adapt to the future of work at an accelerated pace, they’re increasingly embracing culture and purpose as they pivot team operations to enable remote working on a grand scale, says Forbes. Fueled by coronavirus, technologies are making breakthroughs at a rapid pace, in a variety of ways — not just in the virtual conference room.

• Online Meetings: As employees vacated their corporate campuses and set up shop at home, they turned to online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts to meet up, collaborate, and get work done. After all, the show must go on. 

• Virtual events: It’s not just business meetings that are taking place virtually, it’s events, too — coordinators of which have never faced such a big challenge before. But they’re bringing it all together and it’s working. For instance, Mobile World Congress held a one-day digital event, Google Cloud Next became Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect, Facebook F8 is all-online, Starbucks is even holding its shareholder meeting completely online for the first time ever, and colleges the country over are holding virtual orientation sessions for incoming freshmen.

• Schools: Google Classroom and Zoom have been a godsend for education nationwide. With schools being forced to close their doors in March, that’s four months of learning that would have been wasted had these online platforms not been available. Teachers had to learn in a pinch how to adjust their curricula and hold virtual classrooms, while students had to adjust to a new way of learning and communicating.

• Healthcare: Networks of epidemiologists are tracking COVID-19 using low-cost gene-sequencing technologies, which are coincidentally driving promising vaccine candidates. Researchers are using machine learning to search through repositories of published scholarly articles about coronavirus. Informal networks of manufacturing firms and hobbyists are utilizing 3D printers to make thousands of face shields to protect front-line healthcare workers. Apple and Google — in an unprecedented move — partnered together to develop a contact tracing application that is embedded in the operating systems for smartphones, according to Newswise. On a related note, Apple’s latest iPhone update, iOS 13.5, will make it easier to wear a face mask and use Face ID to open your phone. 

• Network and mobile communications have enabled online medical consultations to prevent the need for in-office visits, giving first responders high-speed telecommunications to provide support where it’s needed most, and disseminating vital information around the world to enable local governments so they can make more informed decisions related to the health of constituents. Perhaps most pervasively has been the way these communications advancements have transformed social connectivity with family and friends in lieu of gathering together physically, through online videos, social media and FaceTime.

• Artificial intelligence, automation, virtual reality and data management technologies have all played an important role in anything from tracking the outbreak and planning out scenarios to rapidly building medical devices and supporting research in coming up with viable treatments. In fact, artificial intelligence and genetic applied science are making it faster, easier and more affordable to understand how the virus spreads, how it should be managed and how its effects can be contained. AI can even warn us of upcoming epidemics so we have enough time to prepare. As one example, BlueDot — a global artificial intelligence database company, — uses A.I.-powered algorithms, natural-language processing and machine learning to analyze information from a variety of sources and track more than 100 infectious diseases.

Perhaps the silver lining from the pandemic is the emerging technology that allows us all to stay in touch, make advancements, and ensure the world spins on. Organizations from all sectors are crafting new technical capabilities, harnessing digital technologies and evolving their business models at a pace that would have been unheard of just a few months ago.