Coronavirus: technology giants fighting one invisible enemy

The Coronavirus has been classed as a global pandemic

Sound the alarm – the UK is now in the grip of the coronavirus crisis. And it’s official: the outbreak has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. 

So, as COVID-19 spreads across the globe at an alarming rate, just how is it affecting the tech industry?

This week, Google’s parent company Alphabet asked its North American staff to work from home to reduce the potential spread of the potentially deadly virus.

And on Sunday, Apple chief executive Tim Cook asked employees at several of its global offices to work remotely ‘if your job allows’.

Google has temporarily banned ads for medical face masks and established a Covid-19 fund, so temporary staff and vendors can take paid sick leave if they have symptoms of the virus.

They have also joined forces with the NHS to help prevent the spread of misinformation about the outbreak, by promoting correct health and travel advice when people search for coronavirus treatments or symptoms.

Meanwhile, Twitter has told its employees in a blog post to work from home to help stop the spread of the virus, saying it was mandatory for staff in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea to work remotely.

They have also suspended all non-critical business travel and events for employees.

Microsoft has asked its employees who can work from home to do so and warned investors that revenue in the business sector that includes its Windows operating system and Surface devices would miss forecasts.

Facebook has tightened up its rules on adverts that reference coronavirus, in an attempt to stop misinformation and scaremongering about the outbreak.

The social network giant has also banned ads that mention if they promise to cure or prevent the virus, or attempt to ‘create a sense of urgency’ about it.

Big bashes scrapped

Yes, uncertainty and fear are having a big impact. No one is immune – and it could get worse before it gets better.

Large tech industry events have been cancelled such as Facebook’s F8, the Geneva Motor Show, Google I/O and Mobile World Congress, while Dell told attendees of its 2020 tech conference that it’s been moved to ‘a virtual setting’ due to coronavirus concerns.

Now companies such as Apple and Facebook have declared revenues will take a hit because of supply chain issues or declining consumer demand.

How the virus plays out in the next few days, weeks and months is anyone’s guess, but the general theme is fairly predictable.

More people will contract the virus, and thus conferences will be cancelled and working remotely will be the way forward in the short term.

Digital marketers have the option of working from home if necessary, but shopkeepers and other traders and service workers won’t have that luxury.

And, anyhow, will corporate virtual private networks (VPNs) be able to handle the strain caused by thousands of telecommuting employees?

If we get to a point where we must avoid shops or other public places, it could boost e-commerce as digital marketers compete for the purchases of consumers who are not usually online shoppers. In fact, Amazon is already starting to see it across its major marketplace.

This increase in online orders will likely grow larger as people avoid the person-to-person contact of in-store retail. Not only for disinfectant and cleaning supplies but for all goods and services, such as groceries and other perishable items.

However, the long-term impact of this increase in online orders could create stress on logistics and potentially grind the system to a temporary halt as delivery windows stretch back. No one really knows how this will play out.

So, as the world holds its breath for a vaccine, which is likely to be many months away, the ultimate stress tests for technology firms are still to come.