The coronavirus pandemic will be a harsh test to see how we can continue to collaborate and cooperate to keep the economy, education, government, finance and healthcare going.
• Coronavirus: Vodafone NZ to empty offices to test outbreak response
Remotely that is, because physical presence and contact between people risk the deadly Covid-19 contagion.
The good news is that, technology-wise, we are much better set up to get things done without personal interaction than we were.
New Zealand in particular is well prepared here, with near-ubiquitous fast-wired and mobile broadband coverage. Australia however, with its NBN mess, might find it more difficult to cope with a huge wave of work from home.
We're also used to doing many crucial things digitally, like banking, shopping, accessing government services and more, with most of the initial teething problems they had being resolved by now.
The online services are by and large cloud hosted, which means they're fairly robust and reliable, and accessible from everywhere. We take it for granted that we can use websites and apps for everyday tasks that required physical visits and action a few years ago.
Many companies are reasonably ready for remote work, with collaboration software, staff training, usage policies and security measures in place, and backup connections and computers for key employees. The last bit is something I can't emphasise enough: have a spare mobile data connection in case the wired one conks out, and a second laptop or tablet, and mobile phone, if you have deadlines you simply can't miss.
Tech companies should lead by example here, and Apple, Amazon, Google, and Twitter are already encouraging people to work from home along with Microsoft, which also said it will continue to pay its army of campus service workers on hourly wages while salaried staffers are away.
Google and Microsoft have also made their Hangouts Meet and Teams collaboration apps available for free during the virus outbreak. This could be useful for schools and academic organisations, but be mindful of any licensing fish hooks when the free period runs out.
Not so great are the numerous pitches I've received from security vendors and IT providers taking advantage of enforced Covid-19 quarantines and people working from home to hawk their wares and services.
I'm not a public relations professional but I can safely advise companies thinking about heading down a viral route like that to hire less tone-deaf marketing staff.
Nobody expected entire regions and countries to hoist the Yellow Jack though, as China and Italy have done. That is, not just a big number of people trying to go about their lives and livelihoods from their homes, but they'll be doing so for weeks while being isolated.
That's unprecedented and is creating headaches as corporate IT and networks weren't modelled for such a situation. IT staffers are having to quickly reconfigure networks because routing user traffic to the cloud via the company connections kills application responsiveness and performance.
Corporate IT people would be silly not to worry about security for remote workers.
Residential broadband routers, for example, are often horribly insecure with out of date software, and then there's sensitive and confidential business data leaving company confines to be nervous about.
Ironically, there's one set of "remote workers" who are fully ready to exploit employees' virus-induced isolation away from corporate IT security and support, and that's ransomware criminals.
Remote working on a massive scale is uncharted territory, and there will be plenty of challenges and things to learn for everyone. That includes having to contend with kids and students who are also stuck at home with their parents, and need fast broadband access for remote learning.
If we have to mass-isolate, perhaps Chorus, Enable and WEL Networks along with their retail internet provider partners could upgrade customers on slower UFB fibre connections to the full gigabit, to give people more bandwidth?
Awful as Covid-19 is, we can use tech to be more resilient and recover faster; especially if it is possible to throw telemedicine into the mix with remote testing and diagnosis, to avoid infectious patients passing on viruses to already at risk healthcare workers.
There's a remote coronavirus testing kit in the works, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which lets people take swabs and send them off for analysis. That process and monitoring vital health signs through sensors and smartphones/wearables would be ideal to implement online, to cope with the massive scale of the outbreak.
The current outbreak probably won't be the last and what we set up now to cope with it should stand us in good stead for the future, and most likely permanently change how we work, study and live.