COVID-19 changed the way we approach technology | Feature Columnist

In the initial chaos of COVID-19, everyone had to adjust quickly to new ways of interacting with technology.

The pandemic impacted every area of life from work, to community involvement to parents providing virtual learning assistance with school and even our leisure time. The learning curve may have seemed steep at times, but it will have a lasting impact on how technology integrates into our daily lives.

  • Working remotely: Social distancing, essential business designations and school and daycare closings forced many Rocky Mount employees to work from home. Remote communication technology suddenly became a necessity as companies scrambled to adjust. Organizations that previously balked at using Facebook now gave regular updates through social media. This rapid shift pushed leaders to create new ways to support employees virtually, and to re-evaluate the previously accepted norms of work hours and benefits across many industries.

In May, just two months after its workforce began working remotely, Twitter announced that employees who do not need to be physically present can continue working from home after the pandemic. After businesses discovered they can maintain productivity with a remote workforce, it will have a lasting impact on office environments.

  • Shopping: Turns out, we didn’t need to sign those credit card receipts.

As brick-and-mortar stores throughout Rocky Mount closed temporarily in accordance with North Carolina state guidelines, consumers increased online shopping for pickup or delivery options, discovering the convenience and ease of ecommerce. By early April, the Walmart Grocery app hit an all-time high in downloads (460 percent growth in average daily downloads) and stood atop all U.S. shopping apps for two days.

If you ventured inside a local store, you likely saw hurried implementation of touchless access controls, devices and payments to reduce high-contact scenarios that could spread germs

  • Health: As gyms closed and health care facilities turned to a model that supported only medically necessary services, Rocky Mount providers and patients had to adjust.

Gym chain Planet Fitness beefed up content on its mobile app and used social media to share daily videos of “work-ins” that anyone could access. Gyms, groups and fitness influencers are now using social media and websites to share unprecedented access to their routines.

Telehealth appointments via video chat or phone had been encouraged by insurance companies to save cost but weren’t widely offered. When COVID-19 hit, telehealth became a necessity and will have lasting effects on the accessibility and convenience of health care for Rocky Mount residents.

  • Education: While technology is integrated in education, the sudden change to remote learning jolted the system. The learning curve was steep for Rocky Mount parents and students alike. Apps for everything from gamification of homework to step-by-step math tutorials suddenly became a necessity rather than an extracurricular.
  • Online services: Seemingly overnight, new services emerged and existing services rolled out new offerings, such as repurposing software platforms to host virtual events, delivering packages of ingredients to go with an online cooking class or shipping yard signs for drive-by parties we have seen throughout the Rocky Mount area. But the increase in services also meant internet providers had to pivot.

U.S. Cellular watched voice calls spike after years of decline, along with an increase in texting and data traffic. The company’s network was built with extra capacity to manage expected and unexpected increases in usage. U.S. Cellular also recorded higher demand for video calling, likely due to business and educational users.

Before this pandemic, we hesitated to reveal the unedited version of ourselves, our homes and our careers. But technology brought us into each other’s homes more than ever and reminded us that it’s okay to be our authentic selves.

Difficult times can be learning experiences, and we saw how mobile technology can enhance everyday life and create opportunities for us to live in the moment, enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family — and yes, be productive from our homes in Rocky Mount. Also, many local businesses are continuing to offer curbside pickup with social distancing in place between customers and employees.

As we emerge from the initial effects of a global pandemic, we are more comfortable with technology and how it is integrated into home, work and play. The effects of a paradigm change will continue, but when everything changed, we were better prepared than we thought.

Jeremy Taylor is director of sales for U.S. Cellular.

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