As published by the Globe and Mail.

It’s been four months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and we had our first encounter with widespread ‘social distancing.’ This virus has greatly impacted every person and organization in Canada. Some have faced an unprecedented surge in demand and have had to navigate supply chain and delivery issues; others had to enable a wholly remote workforce in days; and others still have had to completely reimagine their business.

At the height of the shut-down, almost three million Canadians lost their jobs and Canada’s GDP shrank by a staggering 8.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020. These trends are starting to reverse as the economy slowly reopens, but it is important that we recognize that things won’t be “normal” for the foreseeable future. We need to face every challenge with an agile, growth mindset as we navigate through the uncertain rocky waters ahead.

One thing that is for certain is that Canadians are resilient. I’ve been inspired by the determination I’ve seen from businesses, governments and healthcare providers to pivot their operations to meet changing demands.

Beginning your digital transformation journey

The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information (NLCHI), for instance, moved nearly 4,000 healthcare workers to an Azure Virtual Desktop Environment and Microsoft Teams in just five days. This agile shift provided their teams with a secure centralized repository for all COVID-19-related information. It allowed health care workers to screen patients for COVID-19 virtually and manage inventory remotely, ensuring frontline workers have the resources they need to stay safe.

This is just one of the dozens of examples of ingenuity-empowered by technology that I’ve seen from Canadians. By some estimates, digital transformation has accelerated by a decade in the first half of 2020, an astounding pace by any measure. It’s never too late for an organization to start their digital transformation journey. However, it is clear that businesses that were already taking advantage of the cloud were better able to adapt to conditions created by COVID-19.

Technology is a force multiplier. Organizations that are best equipped to weather COVID-19 are using the power of the cloud to adapt how they work, enabling hybrid workforces to be both productive and inclusive, as well as evolve their business models and product offerings.

Preparing for the business of the future

PCL Construction, one of Canada’s largest construction companies, recently joined forces with Insight Enterprise, WZMH Architects, Microsoft and Citizen Care Pod Corporation to develop Citizen Care Pods, a temporary modular structure that can be deployed anywhere to aid in COVID-19 testing and help communities reopen safely. Each Citizen Care Pod is outfitted with intelligent technology powered by the Microsoft Azure platform and Azure AI and IOT to help enable safety in a physical testing environment.

To drive this kind of innovation, organizations must first have the workforce with the skillset to work with modern technology tools, including AI, machine learning, data analytics and more. Even during a crisis, when many companies are trimming budgets, leaders must continue to prioritize skills training to prepare their employees and their business for the future.

For the millions of Canadians who have unfortunately lost their jobs because of COVID-19, the time is now to seek out skills training. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 42 per cent of the jobs that have been lost will not return post-pandemic, and we expect similar outcomes in Canada.

We believe every tech company has a role to play to help skill Canadians and recently announced an initiative to help 25 million workers worldwide acquire new digital skills. As part of this program, we are providing free access to learning content across Microsoft, LinkedIn and GitHub and discounted certifications to help people whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic.

The new post-COVID reality

We are also investing $20 million in grants to help nonprofit organizations enable this initiative for the people who need it most, including people from communities that are underserved or underrepresented in technology.

Over the past 30 years, the tech industry has faced the Asian currency crises, 9/11, the dot-com bubble and the global financial crisis. We got through those challenges – and we will get through COVID-19 – but it is undeniable that the world will look very different on the other side of this pandemic.

The organizations that come out of this ahead will be those that leverage technology to respond to circumstances as they evolve, with a diverse workforce equipped with the skills they need to collaborate and innovate.

Microsoft stands ready to support those efforts. Despite the unknowns before us, we have the expertise, platforms and infrastructure to help – and we’ll get through it together.