Pandemic disruptions and a paradigm shift in virtual business

Over the past year the personal and business disruptions due to the COVID pandemic have brought disaster, closings of long-standing successful businesses, job loss, and distress on a personal level. Recovery will be a long and painstaking process, and in some cases, will involve bringing in an entirely new way of thinking about how we work, play, and communicate with others. It is precisely that new way of thinking – and new level of necessity-driven innovation – that will help us emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.

The pandemic has caused us to rethink everything from global supply chains to the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries. It has resulted in changes to our personal lives as well with sheltering in place and stay-at-home orders that have deprived us of our normal person-to-person contact.

The need for person-to-person interaction

The most fundamental change coming out of the pandemic may well be the creation of alternative ways of interacting. Prior to the pandemic we were moving towards a virtual world, with significant advancements in collaboration tools, broader acceptance of remote work arrangements and a technological foundation that few companies and individuals embraced to its fullest capacity.  The onset of COVID-19 caused those remote connections to become more necessary than ever.

“We need those personal connections, not just in our day-to-day social lives but also on a business level,” said Ash Sobhe, founding partner of ThinkPeeps.com, a new kind of search engine that locates and connects experts to consumers over live video conferencing.  Consumers can input their search query and then preview the various profiles of relevant experts within the given subject matter. Once an expert is chosen the consumer makes an appointment, pays the appointment fee and connects via livestream at the appropriate time. The search engine, expert profiles, calendar of availability and the secure payment system and video conferencing features are all available on one easy to use platform. Consumers using the platform will often find experts available right then for an “instant connect” which helps the consumer solve challenges even faster.

Things will never be the same again

Even after the country is fully recovered from COVID-19, companies are not likely to return to a 100 percent in-the-office model. Companies that shifted towards remote work have found that it delivered unexpected advantages in terms of efficiency and cost savings. Employees have discovered that remote work gives them the work day flexibility they have long desired.

“The events of the past year have resulted in a significant rise of the gig economy and peer economy culture,” said Sobhe. “Today’s gig economy goes beyond what we normally think of as a gig. No longer limited to low dollar-value services, today’s gig platforms are more focused on high-value personal and corporate services and highly specialized information, up to and including consulting and C-level executives offering specialized counsel.

A paradigm shift in information, support and intelligence

As these face-to-face connections go online, the benefits are more than simply allowing people to work from home. It represents a fundamental shift in how individuals and companies search for, access and process information.  “Whether you’re a company looking for specialized management consulting, or an individual wanting to know how to install a piece of software on your personal laptop, the first thing we usually do is turn to Google, conduct a search, and then access either text-based information or a recorded video,” said Sobhe. “It works – but it lacks the personal connection and detailed clarity that we have been missing this past year. Hypertext does give us the ability to interact with a document, but it still lacks the qualities that are available only in a live, person-to-person interaction.”

Early search innovations brought convenience, but at the same time eliminated human interaction and natural behavior, and to this day, we have gotten accustomed to communicating with impersonal search engines that are not responsive to our individual needs and lack the ability to conduct an on-the-fly analysis to really resolve a complex issue. The next generation of search – incorporating live experts to evaluate each individual’s situation and deliver customized results – combines the best of modern search and communication technology with actual person-to-person contact.

“We believe the next step in search engine technology is to open up access to live, person-to-person connectivity,” said Tony Arbini, managing founder at ThinkPeeps. “Instead of conducting a search for information and then sorting through dozens of text-based documents, searches on the ThinkPeeps.com platform will deliver access to live experts who can deliver the guidance you’re looking for in real time. When you add live connections to the mix, search becomes infinitely more powerful.”

The difference represents a major paradigm shift in how we source and deliver intelligence. A traditional search that yields a text-based document is one step removed from the source, making it difficult to ask questions. The next generation connects you directly to the source in a live session.

Disruption often brings disaster, but it may also bring opportunity. Already we are seeing the cutting edge of technology-meets-humanity. What will the next generation of technology look like? It will look like people. The coming year is very likely to see pent-up demand and economic growth, and a blossoming of new ideas and innovations as individuals and companies re-examine how they gather and deliver information.

 

Dan Blacharski

Dan Blacharski is a thought leader, advisor, industry observer, and author of the book “Dotcloud Boom.” He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, fintech, cloud computing and crowdsourcing, and he is editor of TheVivant.com. He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife Charoenkwan and their Boston Terrier, "Ling Ba."

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