COVID one year later: Disruption, resilience, and innovation

See how the pandemic has helped us adapt to new trends and opportunities.

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Over the past 12+ months, we have collectively experienced a massive disruption triggered by a tiny pathogen. And in the face of virus-prompted changes, we’ve each had to adapt—as parents of new online-learners to leaders of teams, businesses, and nations. As the pandemic plays out, we see 3 areas where meaningful adaptations have taken hold.

1. Physical space – at home, work, and play

New conditions or environments: Most of the knowledge workers in this country shifted overnight from their daily commute to logging on from home. School districts purchased, planned for, and transitioned to online learning platforms in a matter of weeks. Instead of lunch meetings and handshakes, business teams pivoted to video and experimented with audio chatrooms and video avatars. Instead of playing sports, we saw people of all ages playing Fortnite or Animal Crossing together.

While physical spaces felt constrained, the digital and synthetic world was abuzz: We’ve seen digital currency exploration moving forward, progress in synthetic organ generation to test vaccines, and pilots of electronic market simulations running on quantum architecture.

2. The pace of acceleration

So much seems to be happening at a faster pace and gaining traction more quickly—in some ways, because of the pandemic. While some of the emerging themes we track at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology (FCAT) seem to have been suspended in time—others have taken off in this new environment. In health care, 10 years normally needed to produce a vaccine has been compressed to 10 months. A decades-long discussion about going paperless and the requirements for wet signature and in-person notarization changed tone immediately and progress toward these efficiencies will not backtrack.

3. An expanded awareness of the world all around us

A number of newly exposed frailty points have also emerged during the pandemic: Anyone who has debated the safety of going to the grocery store or attending a family gathering this year has gone through the process of risk assessment. Heightened awareness of risk in the atmosphere exercises an investor mindset: analyzing and weighing pros and cons of the long-term, potentially societal, implications of an individual choice.

Two questions come to mind: How does one decision to travel or not affect the general public health? How does one hiring decision add to a social narrative of inclusion? Our collective experience has also broadened awareness of who is not thriving or even included in our system: The precarious state of millions of small businesses and individual Americans' finances came to life in vivid relief this year.

Seismic shifts on the horizon

It is too early to make calls on which of these pandemic-prompted adaptations will persist, but we know that some COVID-prompted adaptations will be shedding in society for years beyond the virus itself. How will physical settings newly enhance or restrict our ability to innovate: from corporate real estate to the Earth’s environment? Could our freshly exercised risk-assessment muscles change perspectives on long-term planning? The work of exploring these questions and identifying the seismic shifts in technology, society, and emerging businesses is now more important than ever.

About Fidelity Center for Applied Technology

The Fidelity Center for Applied Technology (FCAT) is a catalyst for breakthrough ideas, contributing to a successful future for Fidelity and its customers. FCAT teams track emerging social and tech trends, test product concepts and ideas, and build scalable solutions that support more-efficient operations and enhance customer satisfaction. For more information about FCAT, visit https://www.fcatalyst.com/.

About Megan Kelley

Megan Kelley is head of research at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology. Her team identifies and researches emerging trends and startups that could shape Fidelity's future. She is passionate about new ideas that ignite networks and allow people, information streams, and context to connect in powerful, timely ways. Prior to joining Fidelity, Megan worked in natural language analytics for startups and editorial roles in magazine publishing. She holds a BA in English from Williams College and an MLS from Simmons College.

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