Virtual Technologies Will Get a Lasting Boost From COVID-19

Telehealth, video conferencing, and e-learning are on the rise among risk-averse and flexible consumers.

Close up of a father and daughter having a video call with their doctor

As people adapt to a COVID-19 world, many are using new technologies to help cope. Mobility substitutes like telehealth, work video conferencing, and e-learning technologies are helping reduce the need for public or shared transportation to get to the office or school. Certain groups of people will drive the most sustained use of these tools as economies reopen, according to a recent eight-nation Oliver Wyman Forum survey.

Machine learning analysis of responses identified four distinct types of consumers, each with their own attitudes about future mobility or tech adoption. Whether consumers use public or shared transit, are early or late adopters of tech, or plan to keep working remotely, our analysis of survey respondents identified important similarities and differences.

Cautious and tech-savvy types of people will drive the most sustained use of mobility substitutes while those averse to new tech or determined to return to pre-crisis patterns of behavior are more likely to forgo them.

The Restless

The restless crowd is the group most eager to return to work and resume their previous daily routines. They don’t have much of a problem returning to public transportation — only 12 percent are less willing than before or entirely unwilling to take a ride on a train or bus — and more than two-thirds are willing to return to ride-hailing or shared mobility services. 

Just seven percent of this cohort is reluctant to resume their former habits until there is a vaccine or no new infections in their area. Most restless consumers are seeking to return to the office and will favor in-person interaction over digital tools. Less than half say they will continue to use work video conferencing, e-learning, and telehealth at higher rates after the pandemic ends.

The Cautious

If you are unwilling to return to your old work and social habits until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, you’re likely to fall into this category. These people are the most risk-averse: Fifty-eight percent of this group say they will work remotely more often post-COVID than they did before, and 99 percent of cautious respondents who used to commute by public transit say they’ll be less willing to do so in the future.

To facilitate their work-from-home lifestyle, 60 percent of this group say they used work video conferencing for the first time during the pandemic or had increased their use of it. More than half plan to continue using the technology as much after the pandemic.

The Flexible

Flexible consumers have their fingers on the pulse of new trends, as 74 percent identify as early adopters of new technology. Naturally, 80 percent of them are using most digital mobility substitutes more or for the first time, and there’s no sign of them slowing down: More than half of this group plans to increase the use of these technologies, particularly in work and social video conferencing, to maintain their adaptable lifestyle post-COVID. 

These respondents skew younger and more urban: Sixty-seven percent of them are under 40 and 76 percent are city-dwellers. Over 80 percent of them are working remotely for the first time or doing so more frequently during the pandemic, and 74 percent want to continue doing so after the pandemic.

The Traditionalists

We all know someone who’s the last to adopt new technology, whether that’s a new smartphone model or a ride-hailing service. We call this group of survey respondents the traditionalists.

Fewer than 26 percent of these people have increased their use of services like telehealth or e-learning technologies during the pandemic, or employed them for the first time, and only 13 percent have done so with work video conferencing software. Traditionalists tend to be older and less urban, with 61 percent of them over the age of 55 and only 33 percent living in urban areas.

Post-pandemic, we expect these low-tech predispositions to persist. Even among those traditionalists who find themselves working remotely today, only one in five plan to continue working from home at increased levels after COVID restrictions are lifted.

Cautious and Flexible Consumers Will Drive Staying Power of Tech Post-COVID

It’s clear that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of technology. Flexible and cautious consumers will form the vanguard driving the long-term use of digital substitutes like work video conferencing, but traditional and restless consumers shouldn’t be ignored. They are generally tech-shy, but technologies that these consumers view as complementary or superior to the in-person alternative are much more likely to have staying power. For example, 48 percent of traditionalists that have used telehealth for the first time or increased usage since the pandemic say they will continue to use it after the coronavirus.

These findings suggest that the use of faster and safer technology tools, and the impact on the mobility industry, is likely to be lasting.