We have been completely taken aback. We all have heard of plagues, some of which provided great plots to horror fiction movies, but, I guess, we took them as distant, limited threats that animated a few Hollywood blockbusters.
If someone told us, in the beginning of this year, that most of our social and professional interactions would shift to video calls, that we would have to stay at home and would not be allowed out of our towns, that there would be no flights, or that we would develop new habits – now almost visceral such as wearing a mask, not touching our face, disinfecting our hands, greeting with careful elbow bumps instead of kissing or hugging each other as we used to do – we would have called him nuts!
This time, the whole world has been taken aback. On such a scale, fear, the lack of knowledge and experience are fertile ground for uncoordinated, uncertain, speculative, hasty and irrational actions. We have been seeing so many examples of this hitting our plans for this year’s summer holidays, the return to our workplaces, the start of the school year, and even for 2021. The coming months are filled with uncertainty – no one really knows what tomorrow will be like.
INESC TEC seems a lot different since March. We have been replaced by an acrylic protection, by hand sanitiser everywhere, by entrance and exit signs to guide people who are no longer showing up and air purifiers that have been installed to incinerate the damned, should it decide to come in.
Nothing is what it seems, though. The truth is that, deep down inside, INESC TEC remains the same, even if we are still too stunned to grasp it. In an unprecedented test of resilience, the institution has excel, and even surpassed itself. With us all at home, INESC TEC has disinfected itself from head to toes, put on its overalls, mask and visor and has never stopped since then.
With an extraordinary sense of commitment, it kept us all in the loop and guided us along the way in a timely, clear, rigorous manner, always relying on the most accurate, transparent information. Shutting services, either human or digital-based, was never an option to INESC TEC, which fiercely protected its tireless pickets and installed more and new software, so that all of us could be just a click, a drive, a chat or a zoom away. INESC TEC has exceled as a facilitator and catalyst for teams, between researchers and services, between internal and external services. The evidence is very clear: during this period, INESC TEC submitted 80 new proposals and kept running all active projects. In less than two months, and in parallel with other ideas already making their way along the innovation pipeline, INESC TEC had designed 40 new projects to directly help Portugal and the Portuguese. The institution has worked on a ventilator, a disinfectant robot, a visor, masks; a comprehensive study to learn how Portuguese citizens adapt themselves to new experiences; a set of actions to deliver online classes to a larger number of students; a study to estimate the bastard’s diffusion rate and its personalised pathways and also a personal radar that uses mobile phones to track it down.
When we return to INESC TEC, not everything will be as it used to. This overwhelming event, which took us by surprise, revealed INESC TEC’s sound foundations, its care for each and every one of us and its ability to thrive in difficult times. We will surely come back with a new mindset, better equipped and with more efficient tools and methods to make good use of.
We live in a wonderful country, but we are increasingly global; we long to go outside and interact with each other, but we cannot simply lower our guard; we have less space to share, but we are more capable than ever of fulfilling our mission remotely. As we like to say at INESC TEC, this is an excellent opportunity to help us realise how we can make up for all we have been through – and as far as I am concerned, this should definitely mean improving our quality of life.
Rui Carlos Oliveira, Member of INESC TEC Board of Directors
The English version was written by the author.