Over the last few months, most Jamaicans have been experiencing a new normal none of us ever expected. COVID-19 has forced us to pivot towards new ways of doing things. Below are three ideas that we may see more of in the future, thanks to the current pandemic.
- Virtual real estate showings
Before the pandemic, Jamaica’s real estate market was on fire. While things have slowed, many people are still looking for places to rent and buy, forcing real estate agents to get creative.
Coldwell Banker Jamaica Realtors, for instance, is now doing things different. Recently on its new podcast Island Realtors, Kaili McDonnough-Scott and Rebecca Tulloch-Stevenson discussed strategies for showing properties while keeping socially distant. For one listing, McDonnough-Scott guided potential tenants through the property from the parking lot. After opening and sanitizing the apartment for rent, “I went back and sat in my car,” McDonnough-Scott recounted. “And everybody came at their appointment time, and I spoke to them on the phone.” (“With your car windows wound up!” quipped Tulloch-Stevenson.) Though this is not her preferred way of doing listings, the apartment was rented by the end of the day, demonstrating the potential of virtual showings. Both realtors have showed real estate online before, using their Instagram pages, @kailitherealtor and @rebbeca.sellsrealestate, for property tours posted on their IGTV feeds. Tulloch-Stevenson also uses her Facebook page for the same purpose.
Can we expect virtual showings to replace in-person tours? Probably not. For now, Tulloch-Stevenson remind listeners of the value of meeting platforms like Zoom. “If you see a property…(and) you’d like to set up a Zoom meeting, then you can ring us up,” she said. “And we’ll go to the property and Zoom ya!”
Before COVID-19, Jamaican businesses were slow to embrace working from home, although research shows there are some benefits. Some claim increased employee productivity or having a deeper talent pool to pick from. Overhead costs is definite lower. Energy, for example, can be up to 19% of a business’ total expenditure. That’s because we’ve designed offices to make them comfortable and conducive to productivity. Bright overhead lighting makes up for missing natural light, while fans and air conditioning keep us cool. If employees have these things at home, a “work from home” policy may allow them to still work in a comfortable environment, without the high energy costs to businesses.
Recent research shows carbon emissions have decreased in the current global shutdowns. While needs to be done to defeat climate change, the crisis is very much a “mickle, muckle” situation.
Still, with both parents and children now working or learning from home, internet users online at the same time have soared, causing serious problems for unprepared service providers. Posted to its Facebook page, TVJ’s Primetime News feedback question for May 20th, “What has been your experience working from home?”, fielded several complaints about unreliable internet. In response, one person said had it not been for “the unstable internet service, it'd be a perfect arrangement.” Another said, “it would have been wonderful if Flow was not so unreliable.”
This week, the prime minister announced the “work-from-home” order would not be extended past May 31, so we will soon learn how much we’ll miss it. And it may come back sooner than we think.
Seeing doctors online is nothing new. Service providers like MDLink, have been available to Jamaicans for some time. COVID-19, however, brought an uptick in the number of persons willing to forgo in-person doctor’s appointments. In a Jamaica Observer article, MDLink founder and CEO, Dr. Che Bowen, said the service now had more than “10,000 patients registered and 200 doctors providing much needed medical advice – 85% of which joined in the past three weeks.”
Besides the social distancing factor, MDLink may attract patients for other reasons. Its website touts “24/7/365 accessibility” and average wait time of “under five minutes.” Add the three modes of communication available through its phone app– instant messaging, audio and voice calls – and it seems like a very convenient alternative.
That is where patients have broadband access. While 60% of Jamaica’s population does, the 40% of households that do not are primarily in rural areas where telemedicine would be most valuable. Further, having partnered with C&W Jamaica last year to mitigate connectivity issues, Flow’s recent shortcomings is likely affecting MDLink’s ability to provide services.
Meanwhile, the experts haven’t indicated that they are in favour of abandoning telemedicine altogether. Consultant urologist and president of the Jamaica Medical Doctor’s Association, Dr. Elon Thompson, remains in support. "I think a lot of lessons have to be learnt from COVID-19. In the field of medicine, telemedicine has become a reality for a lot of patients. I think we should embrace it and be more efficient in providing quality care to our patients."
The novel coronavirus has undoubtedly changed our current reality. While we can’t say what the future holds, one thing is clear. Based on the number of ways it has already influenced our lives, we can assume we’ll feel its influence for years to come.