Coronavirus, cancelled events, immersivity and a more sustainable world

Paul Moore

Head of Innovation for the Media Market at Atos and member of the Scientific Community

Posted on: 6 March 2020

In 2012, for the London Olympic Games, there was a specific request from the UK government for companies to be more flexible in terms of allowing their employees to work remotely during the games (here). The idea was to reduce traffic, public transit use and in general public services.

While in some other countries, especially the Nordics and the US, remote working was already fairly common, in the UK there was still some resistance. But during the Games, businesses discovered that the sky didn’t fall in, that work still got done, that networks and technology were up to the task, and that employees loved it! And what’s not to love for businesses as well? Offices can be smaller, energy and network costs are lower (the difference being borne by employees), and in many cases people actually work more hours. The “always on” worker phenomenon took a quantum leap. In terms of the acceptance of remote work by managers, it can truly be said there was a before and after the 2012 Games.

Might we also be approaching a similar watershed moment for large events? The growing human threat resulting from coronavirus has meant the cancelation of quite a few very large events; the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona probably being the most significant. The first events, such as MWC, were just cancelled, but now many other events are shifting to online mode. For an up to date list (as of March 5, 2020) see here.

But the problem is that it can be challenging to main participants’ interest at remote events. Anyone who has spent a whole day or even a few hours in a remote meeting or watching webinars knows just how difficult it is to maintain concentration. So the question is, how to, at least minimally, recreate the event experience without being there? VR telepresence devices are nowhere near common enough to do it, and in any case spending several hours, let alone several days, with current headsets would not be an option, even if sufficient image quality were there (which it isn’t).

On the other hand, besides the health fears brought on by coronavirus, there is a very, very powerful reason for us to make these kinds of alternatives to large events work. What is the carbon footprint of people travelling from all over the world to the hundreds of events around the world? From a sustainability standpoint, can we really justify this in the face of the huge challenges around global warming?

Let’s take advantage of the travel bans and event cancelations to really see if remote event experiences can be created that are sufficiently compelling that people are happy to not travel around the world. What might be needed?

  • Immersiveness – Somehow people need to feel that they are “there” participating, not alone in their home or cubicle.
  • Interactivity – How can we better interact with technologies, really feel like we are seeing and touching things
  • Collective experiences that are, at the same time, somehow personal
  • Networking – Obviously networking is a big part of these events. The typical networking app that people have now for events is no replacement. How can we make these better?
  • Serendipity – How to create opportunities for fortuitous meetings, for stumbling across ideas/people/technologies/products that you weren’t looking for?
  • Fun – Let’s face it, many people see attendance at one of these events as an opportunity for some fun. But webinars are not fun…

It’s a big ask, but we are probably looking at a few months where people will be forced to attend events remotely, so can we trial new ways of doing these events? It’s not like we are starting from scratch – social media has been creating collective, yet personalized, experiences for years. We just need to find the right combination of streaming, collaboration tools, social media, and possibly gaming technologies to create a captivating experience that make people not miss too much these mass live events.
Coronavirus is a frightening thing but let’s at least take advantage of the current reduction in travel to do some good. It’s not really clear who said “never let a good crisis go to waste” but, unfortunately, this may be one of those moments. Future generations might thank us.

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About Paul Moore Olmstead
Director of Strategic Business Development for Global Media, Atos and member of the Scientific Community
Paul Moore Olmstead has been working in the area of innovation in the media market for over 15 years. He is based in London, UK and has dual Canadian/Spanish citizenship and degrees in Economics from the University of Toronto and Computer Business Systems at Ryerson University. Previously he spent many years on the BBC Account for Atos where he was responsible for Innovation and Sustainability and before that was the head of Media in Atos Research & Innovation. With over 25 years experience in IT, Paul has worked in wide variety of areas, including public procurement, accounting, mobility, Smart Cities, analytics and media. Paul has worked in such areas as video streaming, 3D, digital preservation, social media, video analytics and recommender systems. He has been collaborating as an external expert for the European Commission for over 10 years and has been a member of the Atos Scientific Community since 2011 where he leads research in the Media area. As well, Paul is responsible for the Media Industry in the Atos Expert Community.

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