Americans turn to technology during COVID-19 outbreak, say an outage would be a problem


Original Post; Commentary by John Brokaw

We rely on technology, but need personal contact.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, over three-quarters of Americans interviewed in this Pew survey have used email or messaging services to communicate with others, seventy percent have used the Internet for coronavirus information, and twenty-five percent have attended work meetings via video calling or online conferencing. While these technologies play an important part in Americans' lives (and seventy-seven percent of respondents said that major interruptions to these services would be a big problem), only twenty-seven percent of the sample said that online or cellphone interactions are just as good as in-person contact.

Given these findings and looking forward to a post-COVID-19 environment, it may be useful to consider (or reconsider) whether an organization's wholesale move to working from home is the best course. While there may be savings in reducing office space (which may be offset by subsidizing workers' home office expenses: equipment, technology, support, etc.), job satisfaction for the organization's staff must be a prime consideration. Judging from this report, renewed personal contact will play an important part in that satisfaction, suggesting some balance between working from home and back in the office.


---Questions/issues addressed in the article:

Large shares of Americans are using digital technology to keep in contact with others, search for outbreak-related information

Asked about a range of activities they have performed in response to the coronavirus outbreak, roughly three-quarters (76%) of Americans say they have used email or messaging services to communicate with others, while 70% report that they have searched online for information about the coronavirus. By comparison, fewer Americans – though still about four-in-ten – say they have shared or posted information about the outbreak on social media.

Americans are worried about a potential interruption in digital services

The new survey shows that majorities across demographic groups believe that losing internet or mobile connectivity during the outbreak would be disruptive to their daily lives, but how big of problem they foresee this causing varies substantially across demographic groups.  Roughly nine-in-ten Americans (93%) say that a major interruption in their internet or cellphone service during the coronavirus outbreak would be a problem for daily life in their household. 

Will the internet and phones be an adequate substitute for in-person interactions?

Even as the public describes a major interruption to their internet or phone service as disruptive, only a minority thinks interacting via these technologies would be just as good as face-to-face contact with others. Asked what will happen if many of the everyday interactions they have in person have to be done online or by phone because of the coronavirus outbreak, 27% say these technologies will be just as good as in-person contact. By comparison, the largest share (64%) says these tools will be useful, but will not be a replacement for face-to-face communications, and just 8% say the internet or phones won’t help much at all during this time. This pattern holds true across each major demographic group.