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Communicating In The Post-COVID World: How It Will Impact The 2020s
Digital modes of communication-social media, online advertisements, augmented reality, and video conferencing are no longer optional “good-to-haves.”
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For better or for worse, communication: how we talk, who we talk to, and what we talk about—is set to change in profound ways over the next decade. Right this moment, the majority of us are reading this article from home quarantine: a global pandemic has caused in-person business communication to grind to a complete halt. Digital modes of communication-social media, online advertisements, augmented reality, and video conferencing are no longer optional “good-to-haves.” At the exact moment that digital communication has matured in terms of reliability and ease of use, a global black swan externality is forcing us all to rely on it for business, companionship, and survival. While COVID-19 is certainly playing a major role as a catalyst, the paradigm shifts in communication have been evolving over the past decade. Let’s take a look now at some of the ways in which communication is set to change this decade.
As physical distance expands, virtual space shrinks
According to VOIP vendor WebEx, customers used over 5.5 billion meeting minutes in just the first 11 days of March. That’s nearly 10,500 years of remote conference in aggregate. Physical distance between people has expanded in the recent past. As on-demand communication platforms become more robust, and as India and China, the growth engine of APAC bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, it becomes important for decision makers around the world, thousands of miles apart, to be in regular contact. Even as business partners transcend borders through the digital space, enforced social distancing means that in-person connectivity has significantly worsened. It’s harder today to set up an in-person meeting with an associate on the other side of the city than an e-meeting with a supplier in China.
Businesses need to leverage disruption to scale up and offer better solutions
This peculiar realignment of the concept of distance poses both opportunities and challenges for communication. Digital communication platforms are seeing a massive upsurge in concurrent user counts. Facebook has seen a 70 percent increase in group video calls. Meanwhile, Netflix has registered such a large increase in concurrent users that it is temporarily reducing per-user bandwidth in certain geographies.
In the immediate to short term, businesses will have a window of opportunity to iron out kinks in their solutions as user numbers and requirements skyrocket. However, the big opportunity here is for businesses to build in more robust communication solutions in their platforms. Video conferencing players can enhance security and offer lower prices. Streaming video vendors can secure better licensing deals for a wider range of geographies. Social media platforms can better integrate voice and video features. The long risk here is for businesses who assume things will continue as normal. Those who fail to adapt to the changing communication environment will be left behind once the current crises ends.
Communication infrastructure is set to become more robust
The number of smartphone users in India alone is expected to cross 500 million by the end of 2020. By the end of this decade, smartphone penetration will be near-universal, as will access to mobile or broadband internet. Many communication innovations—such as the Google Stadia video game streaming platform—rely on robust communication infrastructure in order to work. New modes of cloud-based communication, including teleworking, remote surgery, and audio-visual customer service experiences, all depend on widespread access to robust communication infrastructure. Over the next decade we expect both the physical infrastructure of communication—optical cables, transmission towers, and endpoint devices—as well as communication software and communication modes to become substantially more robust and reliable.
As digital communication becomes ubiquitous, privacy and security implications become more significant
However, as digital communication becomes more important, businesses and individuals face a substantial challenge in terms of security. Video conferencing solutions, online avatars, and VR experiences may collect and transmit vast quantities of user-identifiable information to third parties, even as lawmakers and policy-watchers struggle to adapt. Users and businesses alike will need to be more aware of the privacy and security implications of their day-to-day communication over the next decade as law and policy slowly catch up with technology.
AI, VR, and AR transform are set to transform how we communicate and who we talk to
With the unveiling of Samsung’s Project Neon, advanced, photorealistic AI assistants are no longer the exclusive domain of science fiction writers. Over the next decade, AI assistants are expected to grow both in technical capabilities and ubiquity. AI assistants won’t just be limited to communicating with users on their smartphones. We expect holographic and AR-based assistants to replace physical presence at point of service terminals, customer support desks, and front offices. This will have implications for businesses and their customer facing staff: what roles can traditionally in-person, client-facing employees play in an increasingly digital environment? As the VR and mixed reality markets continue to grow rapidly, these two solutions will offer brands and individuals new ways to reach out to their personal and professional contacts.
We expect VR and mixed reality enterprise solutions to mature over the next decade, enabling advanced collaboration in virtual workspaces. In the personal space, we expect social media players to bake VR functionality into their existing solutions as a first step, and later on develop VR-forward solutions.
At the end of the day, communication has always been about people and ideas. It would be disingenuous to describe the ongoing change as a paradigm shift in communication. Communication itself—and its end goals—are not changing. Rather, the ways in which we talk to ourselves are, presenting immense opportunity and risk. Savvy businesses will pay close attention to these emerging trends and align their communication strategies to leverage this decade’s paradigm shifts.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.