There is very little good to be said about the Coronavirus. There is one amazing little bright spot. An incredible amount of work is still being done – even in large quarantine areas such as the Lombardy region of Italy, home to Milan, and the Seattle area, headquarters for Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.
Some companies are faring better that others. Those with smart telecommuting practices are relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, companies with strong collaboration and productivity software, especially SaaS solutions such as Google G Suite and Microsoft Office 365, find workers now at home are getting everything done, more or less as usual – using the same collaboration solutions as in the physical office.
In the Seattle area, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google all demand employees telecommute if possible, and do so for the rest of March – possibly longer.
The Coronavirus, we all hope and expect, will eventually go away, and work will return to normal. However, another crisis is sure to hit in the future, forcing us again to adapt to being 100% productive and engaged in our work — even when barred from the actual office. Lessons learned from Coronavirus will put us in good stead to weather the next crisis. However, smart organizations will not wait until the next pandemic or natural disaster, but more aggressively adopt telecommuting now as a new way to work.
Microsoft Lends a Hand
Microsoft is committed to helping organizations weather Coronavirus, and sees Office 365, and especially Teams, as an answer. The company is offering free six-month Office 365 E1 licenses, which include online versions of its productivity apps such as Word and Excel, as well as Teams, and normally goes for $8 a month.
Home users are not left out. First, all individuals can get a free version of Teams and O365. “This version gives you unlimited chat, built-in group and one-on-one audio or video calling, 10 GB of team file storage, and 2 GB of personal file storage per user. You also get real-time collaboration with the Office apps for web, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. There is no end date,” Microsoft explained.
The previous free version of Teams had restrictions on what you could do, such as file storage limits and no ability to record meetings, two limits addressed by the new free version.
Consumer Office 365 customers receive a free upgrade to the new Teams that gets rid of the limit on the number of users in a team, and allows non-administrator accounts to host and schedule conference calls.
Microsoft knows these Coronavirus issues well, as its Seattle-area headquarters is in the epicenter of the Washington State outbreak. “With COVID-19 continuing to impact people and countries around the world, teams everywhere are moving to remote work. Earlier this week, I posted a letter from Lily Zheng, our colleague in Shanghai, detailing her team’s experience using Microsoft Teams to work from home during the outbreak. Lily’s team is one of many. Here at Microsoft in the Puget Sound, we’re encouraging our teams to work from home as much as possible, as are many organizations in this region,” wrote Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365 in the Our Commitment to Customers During COVID-19 message. “And we expect this trend to continue across the world. At Microsoft, our top priority is the health and safety of employees, customers, partners, and communities. By making Teams available to as many people as possible, we aim to support public health and safety by keeping teams connected while they work apart.”
Teams Taking Hold
Microsoft Teams is already showing its crisis mettle. “Since January 31, we’ve seen a 500 percent increase in Teams meetings, calling, and conferences there [in China], and a 200 percent increase in Teams usage on mobile devices,” said Microsoft’s Spataro.
In Florida, one school district is happy they are already on Teams. Pinellas County Schools has all students using Office 365 with access to Microsoft Teams for online conversations. It provides a single sign-on for all district digital materials and authorized websites,” Tampa Bay Times wrote. “Many kids and their teachers use these items daily in their learning.” Microsoft Teams fully addresses these shortcomings.
CoreView, founded in Milan. Has its own story to tell, which you can read in our blog CoreView Milan Team Keeps Working Despite Coronavirus Lockdown, or the TechTarget article Remote Work Shift May Boost SaaS Management Platforms. As an Office 365 SaaS Management Platform (SMP) vendor, we make deep use of Teams and other O365 services.
Our CEO, Michael A. Morrison put it best in a note to the CoreView staff. “It may not have been obvious when COVID-19 first began to wreak havoc around the world, but our technology and processes have prepared us to weather this storm. It gives us the ability to be agile while working from all corners of the globe. It gives us the ability to easily communicate and share information at a moment’s notice. (It also gives us the ability to have ‘virtual’ coffee breaks mid-morning and ‘virtual’ beer breaks at the end of the day in Milan when the pressure escalates.) It gives us the ability to work closely even when we are not in the same location,” Morrison explained. “The beauty of Microsoft Teams and Outlook is that these collaboration, communication and productivity solutions allow us to support existing customers and secure new customers without always having to be face-to-face.”
Doing Remote Work Right
While many employees work remotely part of the time, it is not always very efficient. “A lot of organizations are doing remote work right now in a very ad hoc manner,” Sara Sutton, the founder of job listing site FlexJobs, told Marketplace. “They don’t have a formal plan in place. That leaves many remote workers feeling isolated and unsupported.“
The majority of companies need better collaboration solutions for telecommuters. Many companies already use collaboration tools such as Zoom. In fact a survey by Polycom shows that 37% of workers already use video conferencing software on a daily basis. However, the study found 62% are not satisfied with the power of these tools, and want solutions that are simpler to use and that let them connect better with co-workers.
Will Work Change Forever?
Temporary employment agency Flexjobs says that just 3% of American workers telecommute most of the time. That paltry figure could increase exponentially as technology such as Teams and other SaaS collaboration solutions prove work can go on. Employees can even prosper and get more done. This could well prompt a massive boost in long term telecommuting, altering the nature of work, and society itself.
“While about 50% of people work from home at least half the week on a regular basis, we still see that only about 3-4% work from home full-time. Now, because of the coronavirus, we’re seeing a real focus on remote work that may very well be a tipping point in terms of wider-spread adoption of full-time remote work,” Brie Weiler Reynolds, Career Development Manager and Coach at FlexJobs told Geekwire. “Because the virus’s threat is ongoing and it’s hard to predict how long things may stay this way, we may see companies using remote work daily for the coming weeks or months, and realizing that it’s actually a productive, effective way to work over a long term basis,” she said.
The demand to work at home has organizations reevaluating work at home policies and the collaboration tools that support telecommuting, Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research told Computerworld. “The coronavirus outbreak will definitely lead IT organizations to look at how they are supporting remote work. While there already was interest, this could act as a catalyst accelerating adoption of technologies that enable remote workers,” he said.
Here are a few benefits to increased telecommuting:
- Less time commuting
- Less traffic, less pollution
- Less use of fossil fuels
- More time available for work = more productivity
- Save money on commuting and auto costs
- Work/Life balance easier to achieve
- Save on Office Space