Business collaboration tools have never been more integral to enterprises than they are today, due to the worldwide COVID-19 pneumonia pandemic, which to date has infected nearly 5 million people and killed nearly 500,000 (93,000 in the United States to date) in a span of about five months.
Workers have been forced to operate from home, and many who have never had to do this are required to learn how to schedule and create videoconferences, send workloads via various channels to corporate storage locations, and collaborate on internal social network-like tools, such as Slack, Zoom, Teams, Box, Google and others.
As analyst and eWEEK contributor Zeus Kerravala wrote: "This shift presents new challenges for IT departments, such as connecting a distributed, remote workforce to business apps and services both in data centers and in the cloud. All employees and their home networks are now treated as remote branches that IT must support with existing resources. At the same time, IT must ensure that those connections are secure and dependable. Historically, for most people, remote access was something used once in a while. Now it needs to be as available and reliable as the company network, because people are working from home for an indefinite period of time."
Pandemic or no pandemic, you are probably using some sort of business collaboration tool, even right now. Our #eWEEKchat app, CrowdChat.net, is one of those great, interactive collab tools that we're all using more and more. Likewise, if you utilize Slack, Box, Wrike, Dropbox, Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, Cisco Webex, Salesforce Chatter, Skype, Outlook, SharePoint or any of the other myriad brands out there, then you are using enterprise collaboration tools.
More and more functionalities are being packed into cloud services like those noted above, so that users can meet up online and make decisions, offer opinions, delegate work and get things done. Location isn't a factor, unless there's a connectivity issue—THEN there is a serious problem!
In parallel to this are audio and video meetups, the genres of which are changing rapidly and the quality of which is improving all the time. Services such as Zoom, Uber Meet, Teams, Google Meet, Facebook Rooms and Webex, which are experiencing a huge upsurge in usage here in 2020, are leading the way in videoconferencing. On the other hand, old-school phone conference calls are still the mainstay of remote meetings among three or more people—largely because it is the main default way to do this.
In April, eWEEK hosted an interactive Twitter chat with experienced professionals on this topic, and it met with a strong response from readers, with more than 8,000 pageviews and 244 posts during the one-hour event.
Q1: Looking ahead, when we're out the back end of the pandemic, how will your workplace be changed, and will you add new collaboration tools?
Seth Elliott (Gtmhub): Boring answer to this for us is it won't have changed much in regards to what we are discussing here—we have collaboration tools we have distributed and WFH activities that were in place before the pandemic, so this hasn't changed that much.
Andrew Filev (Wrike): Even when this is contained, it’s unlikely things will return to normal. Right now, we're seeing the forced acceleration of previously slow-moving trends that are likely to shape the future of the workplace for the long haul.
Tom Randall (InfoTech RG): Productivity could increase with less meetings! This pandemic has shown that many ‘would-be’ meetings can actually be resolved through IM, audio/video chat, or email. Employees can now rightfully ask: do we actually need a meeting for xyz?
Erik Jost (NTT Data): Very little I suspect for us, we already have an amazing WFH culture. I expect we may see more of our clients loosen some requirements for on site personnel in some roles.
Sean Broderick (Altify): Samuel Goldwyn said one should "Never make forecasts, especially about the future” but I am definitely in the wait and see camp. We are still very much in the honeymoon period with regards to working from home and a fully remote workforce.
Kurt Schrader (Clubhouse): Our workplace will be fully remote first. Still up in the air about whether or not we even get a new office when our lease runs out, and I know that we're not the only company thinking about this.
Dan Lahl (SAP): I think so. Our team is pretty much virtual now, but I think the trend will continue across the board, except for some industries like construction, mfg, leisure. But even those I believe will see a move to virtual
Filev: Virtual events is another way things may change. Whether this format sticks is unknown. The measure of success for trade shows is in the value of the sales they generate and peer to peer connections they build. If successful, their appeal may be lasting.
Broderick: I have an inkling that we will bounce back to a very similar pre-covid scenario when the conditions allow. Working from home will become much more accepted and companies may move to a halfway house model where employees work 1-2 at home per week
Peter Burris (industry analyst, eWEEK contributor): At minimum, a recognition that WHF infrastructure is not synonymous with WFH tools and applications. Most "collaboration" tools aren't that sharp. Lots of talk and experimentation is likely, but not much new adoption until the tools and apps improve a lot.
Randall: We have to be careful when deciding if we need new collaboration tools, especially if cost-cutting. @infotechRG's research has shown that rationalizing collaboration tools around required capabilities see better results in terms of end user satisfaction, security, productivity.
Elliott: So I think that this idea of a different view on infrastructure needed to enable and take advantage of distributed teams will evolve rapidly as a result of a forced trial.
Mike Jumper (Gyptodon): Our workplace--not very much, TBH. We are always remote, even in the office, due to our desktops being in the cloud. I'm hopeful that other companies will shift toward WFH as a core requirement that must always be available.
Jose Pastor: Trends will accelerate with respect to more distributed and remote work forces. Many people and businesses are tooling up for remote work, and proving that is can be successful. Tools and practices in place are great enablers for long term WFH change.
Molly Presley (Qumulo): Aside from everyone showing up with a new stylish mask at the office instead of a fun Zoom background, the Qumulo workplace won't be changed. But, many of our users' data intensive workloads will have shifted to the cloud, likely permanently.
Chris Preimesberger (eWEEK): We've been a distributed company at eWEEK since I've been here, and that's since 2005. Our publishers have offices for corporate meetings and when reporters need official surroundings, but we're mostly WFH office types!
Q2: From a recent Wrike survey: More than half of U.S. companies say a work from home policy would seriously harm productivity. Depends on the use case, I know. But what's your take?
Broderick: @uplandsoftware has a remote first culture with limited offices in the US and EMEA. I think mindsets will change during the current crisis and people can see that employees work just as hard at home as they do in the office.
Lahl: HOGWASH! My team is spread all over the world, from Israel to China and India. The management of companies have to get on board with the new normal of remote workforces …
Filev: That was actually a survey of 1,000+ workers, and half believed their companies weren't ready to go remote. With the proper tools in place, orgs can make it happen. Here's the survey info: https://www.wrike.com/blog/are-employees-ready-to-....
Randall: This is likely based on a bad perception of what “work” is. Work is a process, not something inherently tied to a place. As remote work becomes a norm over the next few months, we'll see focus on results/outcomes, not how many hours you spend in an office.
Elliott: For us, we have been operating as a distributed team across multiple locations from the start: Bulgaria, Berlin, London and Denver. We've also had a very liberal work from home policy and this has all driven more productivity for us personally.
Jost: Depends on the company, culture, and role. WFH is very prevalent in our company and we have highly collaborative and productive teams. For the most part, I think many "knowledge worker" roles can easily WFH.
Burris: For rote activities with no physical component, no effect on productivity. For an activity that changes in response to time or context, having folks proximate can be better. But, of course, most offices are poorly managed and run!
Dave Vellante (Wikibon): I'm seeing mixed data on that Chris … on the one hand, it's true many companies are scrambling to put in #WFH infrastructure & are not prepared. On the other hand, I see customers rapidly getting better and ramping up productivity.
Schrader: We've had a mostly remote team at @clubhouse for several years now and we haven't seen a drop in productivity (the opposite in fact). There's definitely a lot work to be done to make sure that you have the right processes in place though.
Jost: Personally I have seen a dramatic increase of video use, getting to know co-workers, their families, pets, etc. We are reconnecting humanity back into the workplace.
Randall: @usmcjost absolutely agree—this is something that will require structural change so that labour not traditionally seen as a part of the economy (childcare, etc.) definitely ought to be. Several hundred years late!
Join us for the next #eWEEKchat on Tuesday, June 9; topic is "Data Storage and Protection in an Ultra-Sensitive Era."