If the events of recent weeks have taught us anything, to paraphrase former US president and military leader, Dwight D. Eisenhower, it’s that “planning is useless, but planning is indispensable”.
What do you do when plan A is shot to pieces? What if your detailed left to right gantt chart suddenly no longer makes sense, or the carefully orchestrated series of meetings and events you’d crafted all need to be postponed, cancelled or re-thought altogether.
This is the reality that many of us, and our organisations, are now facing as events are cancelled, travel plans are shelved, budgets need re-evaluating and our approach to communication, work, learning and even the mundane everyday activities we did on autopilot might need to be re-thought.
Some will have a plan B, with contingency plans being dusted off, but many will not and will be forming crisis management approaches in real time.
Technology has enormous potential in these kinds of crises.
Whilst some may roll their eyes at the thought of endless video calls, modern communication platforms can offer so much more than a facility for multi-person dial-ins.
Take the challenge our NHS is facing. Rising numbers of callers worried about whether their symptoms warrant further investigation could overwhelm traditional helplines. Deflecting a proportion of calls into a more asymmetric communication method, such as live chat, could alleviate the huge stresses the service is likely to experience. Videoconferencing could also be deployed far wider than it is today, with GPs offering consultations over devices rather than face-to-face. In addition to avoiding physical contact, an additional benefit would be added convenience for the patient, saving them travel and potentially wait times.
Events are another point in case here. While we’ve become accustomed to travelling to a venue, networking in person and filling up huge conference facilities, is now the opportunity to re-think what a conference is or could be? Virtual conferences could be cheaper and more efficient for attendees and organisers.
Teaching and learning is another opportunity area to test plan B. The virtual classroom has been talked about for years. Now could be the time to test its efficacy on a more significant scale. Harvard Business School already runs remote interactive lectures, correspondence and more recently online schooling has been used in remote locations such as the outback of Australia for years.
Of course there are questions and challenges. What about data security and governance? Aren’t we assuming broadband speeds can cope, especially in rural areas (black spots)? Who is going to subsidise the infrastructure?
These are all valid challenges, but not insurmountable. If we can no longer rely on Plan A then technology enabled solutions provide an alternative. And everyone needs a Plan B.