By Zoë Macintosh
A time to think beyond the unexpected
Moderator: Puja Puja and Deep Bali, founders of Recalibrate
Live from: New Delhi, India
Start time: 10:00 a.m. EDT
Deep Bali introduces his speakers, stating that the key highlights will be that technology can be helpful, and not just with social distancing.
Akhilesh Tuteja: “Covid-19 has put the extreme gear on us working digitally. The challenges have become that much more significant. The second challenge that is significant is that we were all caught off guard.” He runs through the greater cyber-security risks that come from an entire workforce suddenly working from home.
He says his clients (200,000 + in India, 200,00 globally) are also looking at where they will land after this. What is the newer approach to people management? Many are connecting with free university and book programs to make their workforces more prepared for the future.
Tuteja: “There are some interesting things that are happening where people are saying, what will the world look like when we get back to the new normal? There is a huge re-baselining of the cost model that is happening.”
Tuteja says cyber criminals are also pivoting and struggling to the new normal. He mentions that the majority of cyber-attacks recently have focused on individual phishing attacks. However, Covid-19 has created new attacks: victimizing people with false information (rather than an alluring offer), which after a click then undertakes a malicious attack on the computer; and, preying on people’s current willingness to skip the necessary steps to verify information in the extraordinary Covid-19 situation. For example, if they read a (malicious) email that appears to come from their CEO and which demands action by the end of the night.
Bali asks Dr. Rasha David how people can deal with psychological effects of covid-19? He muses that the “go-getters of the world” seem to panic the most.
David: “Psychology of fear is a mis-calibration of scientific knowledge.” She recommends reaching out to a counselor. They remove their focus from the pandemic, but focus on their life day-by-day as it comes.
David: “The survival brain makes judgments about what is safe and what isn’t, due to its disdain for uncertainty […] Our brain would do almost anything for certainty.” She adds: “The brain makes hundreds of false assumptions a day”.
David recommends watching movies with kids (what they want to watch, not what you want to watch), doing yoga, seeking help outside the home from counselors and therapists accessed remotely.
David: “The mind rejuvenates every night on its own. It helps you. When you go bed, do not focus on the worst. Stay with the positive. Think about something happy, what the next day will bring.”
David questions the focus on executive workers. She says that office workers who get 15 days off are a minority of the spectrum in India. The daily laborers and wagers, who eat together, who sleep together 7-10 people every night, are the other side of the spectrum and have a different mindset. For one thing, they are happy right now. “Where is the question of their containment and their contamination to other people?” She is concerned about their awareness and how to manage that now, before it blows out of proportion.
David says that the daily laborers must be assured that their food is rationed, that they will get food packets, and that medics will give them free medicine. For health workers who have access to counseling, they should be assured they still have this access.
Bali brings up how the East has a focus on spirituality rather than psychology (compared to the West).
David says the behavior is more casual here in India towards covid, less panicky than in the West, but also less responsible. She mentions the greater illiteracy in India, and how there can be more callousness towards this population. She recommends that India publicizes namaste as the most responsible form of greeting (Bali chuckles).
Prashant Mehta says that technology can help us get results faster than the Spanish flu 100 years ago, using drones, using AI to sequence the virus, to trace connections, to predict what will happen, how it is going to happen. He says the level and speed of international collaboration is unprecedented, as is the level of data that is available.
Mehta acknowledges the role that technology played in China’s dealing with Covid-19. “China did a fantastic job—Wuhan got through this in two months.” Ten years ago, without our current technology, would not have permitted this result.
Mehta says that early detection (scanning information) and early response was key to managing smallpox in India: only 20,000 sites were monitored. Yet, we have missed that early detection opportunity at this point. The biggest problem now is the human behavior, the culture and the mindset—not the technology.
Mehta: “Cure is too complicated at the moment, and is the lower end of impact. Management is what’s important now: the way you identify threats and manage information flow. For example, the graphs which help people understand what will happen if we isolate or don’t isolate. This helps influence social behavior. This is where you see the power of technology coming in.” Technology permits for real-time interventions in productivity for people working from home. As long as privacy is owned by the individual—there is opportunity for using data and AI to process information and help in new ways. China used AI to predict what would happen next - image recognition technology, flight information, all of this to process very quickly where ground zero was and who was getting infected next – in China and in the world.
Bali notes that, “In India the behavior is less predictable. There was actually a [public] celebration that a [social distancing] curfew was successful!”
Mehta remarks that there are organizations that have decided to stop spending on ad money and decided to instead go and help healthcare workers. Organizations are thinking first in terms of empathy. This is heartening. "Talk of “the gods in white coats” in hospital shows that the humanities are most important right now, not technology." The vaccine will take more time.
Bali asks Anil Parashar what are the fears and concerns in the airline industry now.
Parashar: “Yesterday afternoon, all domestic aviation was announced to be grounded as of tonight. Never since the Wright brothers has this happened […] In my previous life, agents have gone into default. But now airlines are going into default and cannot pay the agents. [...] The biggest thing to me is that cash in business is the king. Over the past years, especially in the US, Delta in particular has been buying back their shares and never being in a situation where they will run out of cash.”
Indigo has carried 3,000 people from Saudi Arabia. Oil is down to its lowest level in 20 years. Airlines are unable to take advantage of the oil because there are no airplanes to fly. But it’s not just doom and gloom.
Parashar: “Yesterday, I was sitting at the TV wondering how will doctors move, how will government workers move, how will the army move? Immediately the announcement came that flights are grounded, but airlines are not closed. This is a reflection and endorsement that you can ground people from flying but not airplanes from flying. This is the silver lining.”
Parashar notes that there are multiple innovative uses for aviation and hospitality to help with WHO goals. Airplanes can help with transporting cargo. Right now, the supply side is completely jammed (example: medical equipment), and productivity is a problem. In the immediate future, the government advisory is to keep the middle row open on airplanes. For meal service, a helpful change is to serve only the dry meals, no hot meals, and to put these in the pockets of the passengers in advance (so human touch is gone). In the longer term, the aviation business will undergo an essential shift. Passengers will need to feel reassured - what is important to them today is not the quality of food but the hygiene; not comfortable seats, but the social distancing. Airplanes and buses will have to be 50 percent less populated. De-globalization will bring new solutions in the world of aviation and hospitality.
Bali asks the panel about the lasting effects or changes in behavior due to Covid-19.
David: Losing a job, the prospect, is causing huge pain and suffering. There are miscalibrated emotions: the psychology of uncertainty results in thinking the worst. It is not a good time to make decisions.
Tuteja: "In India the concept of de-monetization forced people to take on digital payment, which was a hump but then a hockey-stick curve. This is a positive: a better use of technology. Second positive, those who deal with crisis will learn lessons from the difficulty. Third positive, as a community we will have more permanent awareness of health, hygiene, etc.
Bali asks: will reducing traffic on buses and airplane to 50 percent result in increased inequality? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen?
Parashar: In the short run, there are not enough passengers so inequality is not a question. In the long run, if people insist on social distancing, there is some concern because airlines still have to break even. But more sophisticated checks before boarding can relieve discomfort and fear.