You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to say that 2020 was a “good” year. In fact, for many people, it was one of the hardest years of their lives. As we continue into 2021 and dream of better days on the horizon, I think it’s important that we reflect on the bits of good that came out of such a monumentally difficult year.
The entire world had to shift its day-to-day functioning almost overnight. Humanity rose to meet unique challenges, creating change that may have never happened — or may have taken decades — otherwise. I see three major benefits that arose as the dust began to settle.
Benefit No. 1: Job Creation And Accelerated Job Retraining
Human beings have long been resistant to the idea of automation. We’ve worried that putting machines in the place of people will cost jobs and hurt families.
In my opinion, the robots are not, in fact, coming for your jobs. People have to run, monitor and service those automated machines and services. And for those able to pick up on new skills quickly, there could be plenty of digital jobs for the taking.
Similarly, the proof that a large company can still operate effectively without bodies in a central office was an impactful discovery. For many office workers, the shift to remote work has proven to be a long-term arrangement. The fact that remote work is the default right now has likely also opened up opportunities for people who previously might have been boxed out of the workforce due to personal circumstances or geographic limitations.
Remote work calls for a different skill set, and while not everyone loves working from home, it does present an opportunity. For those with the skills most valuable to remote work environments, I believe job security has increased. We’re all learning as we go, but we’re quickly picking up the skills we need to adapt to this new way of doing business.
Benefit No. 2: Improved Quality Of Life
Efficient technological systems don’t just create ease for the customer. They can increase quality of life for workers as well. Robots aren’t necessarily here to take our jobs; they’re here to make our jobs less tedious. Last year taught us how automation can improve our lives, and I think that improvement is just getting started.
From a consumer standpoint, consider the example of grocery delivery. Many stores began offering pickup and delivery during the pandemic, which may remain the norm for many people even once infection rates decrease.
If you don’t have to drive to the grocery store and shop, you could potentially get an hour of your day back. You can use it to play with your kids or paint a sunset or curl up and read a book. This bit of tech has, in many ways, allowed us to reclaim some precious time.
In the same vein, think about how many hours of commuting have been saved across America in the last year because of the shift to remote work. When we leverage technology in smart ways, we can boost satisfaction for both workers and customers.
Benefit No. 3: Change Breeds Innovation
Necessity is the mother of invention, and new problems require new solutions. In the last year, most companies have had to face challenges of an unexpected magnitude, and communicating honestly and directly with customers has been one of the keys to staying afloat. They’ve had to work smarter and become more agile.
Innovation has been the order of the day in companies both small and large. Many small mom-and-pop businesses that were strictly brick-and-mortar before the pandemic took bold steps into e-commerce. Major corporations have had to reach customers’ hearts and bend to meet the needs of this new reality.
Technology has always been a double-edged sword. People fear it for its potential to destabilize the status quo. But as we’ve seen in the last year, sometimes a little shake-up isn’t all bad. As we work to move forward from this difficult and uncertain time in world history, I hope we continue to embrace the benefits that technology and automation can bring to our lives. Perhaps then we can say that 2020 did something good for us after all.
This article first appeared on forbes.com on February 12, 2021