How product teams are creatively responding to the Coronavirus crisis.

By
Nicola Bertazzoni, Senior Product Manager
Date:
03 April 2020
Photograph:
Photograph of Nicola Bertazzoni
Listing image Product Management during a global crisis

Business not as usual

Life during the Coronavirus crisis has changed dramatically. We are locked down in our homes, physically distanced from our families, friends and colleagues. 

Meanwhile businesses are facing a sudden and unprecedented disruption too, due to reduced consumption or operational challenges in serving customers and working with colleagues. I was struck by the number of companies that reacted immediately after the lockdown and offered support to their customers and communities in various ways – for instance, relaxing policies, reducing payments or offering their service for free. 

This disruption has also led many companies to accelerate their transition to digital. In this article, we want to focus on those who creatively utilised digital to launch products or features and rethink interactions with customers. 

On a good day, product leaders manage a lot of pressure and conflicting requests to prioritise items on their roadmap and release features. With the additional levels of stress and uncertainty of the current scenario, it becomes even more difficult to think strategically and achieve impact in little or no time. That’s why some of the following stories really impressed us for the mix of creativity and time-to-market.

So, here is our list of the most interesting digital products or features released in response to the Covid-19 crisis so far.

Netflix party 

A common theme for many of the new features released is replacing a physical social activity with a digital equivalent. One of the first features of this kind to be launched during the crisis was Netflix Party, a browser extension that lets you watch videos with your friends and chat in real time together. The extension syncs the playback across the friends’ Netflix accounts to make sure they are all watching the same part of the video, and adds a chat on the side of the screen to share comments and reactions. We particularly liked the approach of creating a browser extension as an MVP, a relatively less elegant solution which in exchange allowed the team to release the feature as fast as possible.

Somo Product management during a global crisis Netflix Party

Instagram co-watching

Along this line, Instagram added a new “co-watching” feature to help people get together and connect “virtually”, while browsing their feeds. The co-watching is accessible through video chat and allows people to look at posts, photos and videos together, and discuss what's on the screen. Interestingly, the feature was in the works for over a year, so it is not necessarily a direct response to the crisis, but the company accelerated release as this seemed the perfect time for people to use it. 

Brewdog Online Bar 

Brewdog has been very active and launched various initiatives addressed at limiting the impact of the current situation on the business and on customers. For instance, in the early hours of the crisis, when many essential hygiene products were sold out, the brand repurposed part of their manufacturing facilities to produce and distribute hand sanitiser gel. On the digital side, they rapidly revamped their home delivery app Hop Drop with improved features and experience, and launched the new Brewdog Online Bar experience, a virtual space where participants can enjoy drinks with friends and strangers and socialise on video while being physically distant. The first Brewdog Online Bar session was held on Friday 27th March and - according to the brand - had 1000+ attendees who enjoyed video chat, virtual pub quizzes, and prize giveaways. Overall, the brand showed a great entrepreneurial spirit, speed and digital vision.

Somo Product management during a global crisis BrewDog

Nextdoor Help Map

Launched in 2010, Nextdoor is a localised social network that helps people connect with their local community. The app has grown consistently across 11 countries and 250,000 neighbours, but many believe it hasn’t really had its “moment of truth” yet, like many other social apps. The Covid-19 crisis and its hyperlocal implications – people isolating at home and needing support with supplies or medicines, others wanting to offer help – may give the app an opportunity to stand up to its vision and values. For this reason, the app has quickly released Help Map, a new interactive map to let neighbours offer and find help in these testing times - such as collecting shopping, medications or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating, phone check-ins, or childcare. 

Somo Product management during a global crisis HelpMap

Airbnb housing for Covid-19 responders

Travel and hospitality is facing enormous economic pain during this crisis. Nevertheless, many hotel groups have started to offer help, making their facilities available for governments and cities to use as emergency centers. In some cases, hotels have been converted into self-isolation and treatment facilities. Others are being used to provide housing for doctors and nurses. 

There have been some really interesting digital initiatives as well. In Portugal for instance, 120 different tech start-ups and companies teamed up, and in less than 48 hours created Rooms Against Covid, an online portal to book rooms exclusively for healthcare professionals.

Meanwhile, on Airbnb in early March 2020 many hosts started to react to the sharp decline in bookings by adding “perfect for self-isolation” to their houses description, and to add self isolation packages with Netflix and delivery. A few weeks later, Airbnb decided to organise an official programme for housing available for Coronavirus responders, where hosts could make their house available for Covid-19 workers, while getting subsidised by Airbnb. Only a few hours after the launch, thousands of hosts joined the initiative.

Somo Product management during a global crisis Airbnb

Covid Credit

While during the coronavirus outbreak salaried workers will be almost immediately eligible for subsidies from the UK government, access to income support will present more challenges for self-employed, especially around their ability to evidence their lost income. Therefore, some companies in the UK Fintech community (the promoters were Fronted, 11:FS and Credit Kudos) teamed up and quickly created a Proof of Concept web application called Covid Credit to help self-employed easily certify lost income. The service uses Open Banking protocols to aggregate data from an individual’s bank accounts. Algorithms are then used to calculate income and generate a proof statement for the self-employed that can be used to apply for the grant. The current POC is being discussed and evolved with key stakeholders.

Conclusion

The current crisis has forced many brands to rethink their strategy and creatively reshape their digital product offering. Some focused on developing features to help people in need during the pandemic and economic downturn. Others – on the social side of the crisis, helping to ease the daily life during social distancing, connecting people and creating engaging virtual experiences. While this is certainly a difficult period, one that we hope passes quickly, brands have a real opportunity to create something truly meaningful. To release new product features quickly during this crisis, brands must ensure they have the right tools and process in place. If you're interested to find out how we moved our teams to a digital-only environment in just a few hours, and learn more about some of our favourite tools to boost collaboration, check out our recent blog