Abhishek Goel, CEO, Cactus Communications, addresses the economic and mental health fallout of the pandemic and how AI can improve engagement with employees and monitor their wellbeing
Alongside the economic uncertainty of the last year, one of the major fallouts of the global pandemic has been the emotional and mental turmoil people have faced in grappling with sudden changes to the nature of work and business. However, as Abhishek Goel, CEO of scientific communications company CACTUS explains, the answer lies in using technology to embrace uncertainty and explore new opportunities.
In the worst annual decline in a decade, more than 17,500 chain stores and other venues closed in the UK in the last year, at an average rate of 48 closures a day. This is according to the latest figures by accounting firm PwC, which show that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
The changing rules of business
It’s no surprise, then, that the pandemic has changed the rules of business. In 2020, the global economy contracted by 3.5 per cent on average, with the UK recording its worst economic performance for more than 300 years. The impact was felt in the global labour market too, costing workers $3.7tn in lost earnings.
The result is that businesses have focused on cutting costs, postponing new investment, overhauling recruitment strategies, managing work from home policies and turning to technology to soften the blow from the pandemic.
While industries like travel and tourism have been some of the worst impacted, others, including the global video conferencing market have actually benefited, expecting to exceed a market value of $9bn by 2026. One of the best performers has been Microsoft Teams, which added 95m users in 2020, experiencing an 894 per cent growth and surpassing even that of Zoom between February to June 2020.
An emotional response
While the economic impact of the pandemic has been well publicised, many people have silently struggled with the emotional and mental impact of the pandemic. In fact, according to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers found that while people with existing conditions did not report a greater increase in symptoms during the pandemic, people without depressive, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders showed a greater increase in symptoms during this period.
Prolonged periods of working in isolation, sometimes balancing household and childcare duties alongside and an ever-blurring work-life space has led to burnout. According to a survey by The Observer, 43% of people say their mental health has deteriorated over the past year, while more than a third (35%) report that their physical health has gotten worse.
Use tech to embrace uncertainty
It seems that the answer to some of these may lie in embracing technology widely. Building on our reputation as one of The 100 Best Remote Companies in 2020, CACTUS recently introduced Amber, an employee experience chatbot that will help HR to quickly identify areas of improvement.
While it was important to make sure that our employees were safe, we were also exploring ways in which we could help the researcher community beyond our service offerings of editing, translation, publication support and research promotion in this trying times. One of our first initiatives in the early days of the pandemic was building the world’s largest AI-powered, expert-curated platform for COVID-19 research. This project forced us to push our technological capabilities and strengthen our technology offerings.
The platform, called covid19.researcher.life, is the world’s largest AI-driven and human-curated collection of research, news, literature reviews, clinical trials, datasets and other educational resources on COVID-19. It works by using natural language processing technology to create access to aggregated, categorized, concept-tagged research papers from preprints, journals and publications, currently in English, with Chinese, Japanese and Korean sources to be added weekly for more complete coverage.
The purpose of the platform was to help researchers, labs, institutes, funders and others to stay connected, collaborate freely, share insights and accelerate scientific solutions for life. This was an important tool for many researchers, especially during the pandemic with major libraries, labs on a halt and with minimum facetime with their mentor.
A learning opportunity
The pandemic has forced people across the world to adjust quickly and has been perhaps the greatest learning experience in modern times. As the sudden global turmoil was mirrored in our emotional state, it also taught us the importance of facing challenges together as a society.
A core part of facing this challenge is using technology correctly to overcome the uncertainty and tackle the mental health crisis that has accompanied the economic one. Having technologies work for us, individuals, as well as businesses, can embrace the uncertainty and explore new opportunities.