The New Normal of Covid-19: 3 Technologies Supporting the Frontline

Written By: Nancy White
  • 11/17/2020
  • Read Time : 4 min

In 2020, we have seen a massive shift in the way people work. Largely driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses have had to reimagine work in order to maintain business continuity in a shifting marketplace.

This current state is “the new normal of Covid-19” and, as we close in on a year into it, it’s not going away anytime soon.

Remote work and working from home have become more prevalent during the pandemic, but many workers – frontline and essential workers, who make up roughly 75 percent of the global workforce – don’t have that option. As a result, businesses have had to think beyond video conferencing and the cloud to support the workforce (and their customers) in novel ways. A year ago, many these technologies were considered emerging, and now, in many cases, they are necessary.

To take a macro view, recent surveys show in the new normal of Covid-19 digital transformation has accelerated. Consider these statistics, some of which were highlighted in ComputerWeekly:

  • 89 percent of CIOs say their digital transformation has accelerated and 58 percent say it will continue to do so into the new year (Dynatrace).
  • 79 percent are reinventing their business model (July/August, Dell’s Digital Transformation Index).
  • 99 percent believe digital manufacturing technologies can lead to economic growth and 90 percent are looking to evolve their business models because of the current world business environment (HP Digital Manufacturing Trends Report).
  • An October 2020 study found that Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the digitization of customer interactions by years. In December 2019, about one-third of interactions were digital, in July 2020, that had jumped to 58 percent. Based on previous trend lines, this equates to a 3-year acceleration (McKinsey).

As businesses navigate in the new normal, balance employees’ health and safety with business demands, and in many cases, reinvent themselves with new business models, technology continues to play a pivotal role.

In this post, we’ll look at key frontline technologies being incorporated into digital transformation strategies in the new normal of Covid-19.

Augmented Reality

Travel bans and social distancing requirements quickly put a pause on traditional methods of training and service. Job shadowing, classroom training, and on-site service support were no longer safe options for businesses. Augmented reality has specific use cases that solve these challenges and enable workers to work together digitally while physically apart.

For training, knowledge transfer, and work instruction, augmented reality aids in getting the right information to a worker at the right time and in-context. Early on in the pandemic, PTC and Rockwell Automation began offering the real-time remote assistance platform Vuforia Chalk for free. This AR tool allows two people to see the same thing at the same time and talk through a problem. In restricted on-site staffing scenarios for factories, there are instances of workers having to perform functions outside their expertise, with Vuforia Chalk, a factory worker can connect with an remote expert to discuss any issues they may be having with a machine or process and be seeing the same thing.

At PTC we’ve seen AR technology boost frontline worker productivity by as much as 50 percent and reduce human errors by up to 90 percent. A couple examples:

  • Howden, a global engineering business, leveraged Chalk in the wake of Covid-19 to deploy a standardized program to their product and service units around the world.
  • GlobalFoundries is using Vuforia Expert Capture to record and deliver work instructions. The program has accelerated training time by 40 percent and decreased unscheduled downtime by 25 percent.

On the customer service side of operations, augmented reality is becoming the bridge between service professionals and customers. AR use cases for sales and marketing are increasing as many customers are limiting brick-and-mortar shopping for purchases large and small. For example, BMW was one of the early pioneers (2017) of the virtual showroom enabled by an AR app for smartphones.

Industrial Internet of Things

Continuity, flexibility, and resiliency are three key words in the post-Covid-19 world. The Industrial Internet of Things helps with all three. Opportunities like remote employee collaboration, workforce tracking, and remote asset control, as highlighted by McKinsey, work to ensure employee safety and security – essential elements to business continuity.

Being flexible and resilient in shifting markets with evolving regulations is a hallmark of success – this has only been exacerbated in the new normal. A 451 Research survey found 93 percent of digital leaders claim digital investments made prior to the pandemic allowed them to be more agile in their response.

IIoT offers companies the data and insight necessary to respond quickly and appropriately and deliver new value to customers. Capabilities like remote condition monitoring and product-as-a-service are enabling businesses to deliver new business models and services. This shift was happening before Covid but are now even more effective when coupled with ongoing health and safety concerns.

Prior to Covid-19, global healthcare manufacturer bioMérieux implemented a remote service platform for its deployed products, which includes more than 16,000 connected diagnostics systems. When the pandemic hit, customers turned to the remote platform for a digital twin view to resolve any issues. Usage of the tool increased 40 percent and decreased the need for onsite service calls.

Robotics & Automation

Healthcare workers are the relentless heroes of the Covid-19 crisis – and to protect them as much as possible, robots have been deployed in different applications. From health screening to repetitive tasks to disinfection to telehealth, robots have many roles to play in the pandemic.

Finding appropriate roles for robotics and automation will continue to be a significant trend in the new normal of Covid-19.

Collaborative robots (or cobots) are playing an important role in augmenting human workers’ abilities and productivity. For example, a metal fabricator in Texas is utilizing a team of cobots to meet social distancing requirements while meeting demand.

An emerging technology – spatial computing – could revolutionize how humans and machines, including robots) work together. Spatial computing leverages a combination of technologies (artificial intelligence, IIoT, camera sensors, computer vision, augmented reality) to better understand how humans, machines, products (and more) move and relate to one another in a space. It could take robotics and automation to a new level, enabling more seamless collaboration between humans and machines while enhancing each individually.

Final Thoughts

To reflect on the timing of this pandemic – it happening in 2020 vs 2005 – is to recognize the incredible strides made in technology over the past 15 years. When we look back three years from now, it’s going to be even more apparent how Covid-19 accelerated technology adoption even further.

Digital transformation has never been more of a necessity for the enterprise than it is right now in the new normal of Covid-19. Businesses have powerful technologies at their disposal to not just survive but thrive in these challenging times. Essential workers who continue to go into work and get the job done should be recognized and supported in new and innovative ways.

Technologies like augmented reality, IIoT, and robotics and automation are a start – and when paired with a digital transformation strategy, businesses are not just existing in the new normal, but preparing for the next normal.


  • Augmented Reality
  • Industrial Internet of Things
  • COVID-19
  • Digital Transformation

About the Author

Nancy White

Nancy White is a content marketing strategist for the Corporate Brand team at PTC. A journalist turned content marketer, she has a diverse writing background—from Fortune 500 companies to community newspapers—that spans more than a decade.