COVID-19 changes everything, and everything about how you work. If you are employed in an industry under threat, it may transform you right out of a job. If you are an office worker in a conservative sector like the legal profession, you might find yourself sitting at home staring into a laptop wondering where your assistant is, and why you don’t have a stack of paper in front of you. We are experiencing unprecedented uncertainty, but there are two things we already know: first, the virus will pass; and second, when we make it to the other side of this pandemic, the world of work will look very different.
What tools will shape this new environment? Collaboration analysts have known the answer for years, but the so-called “transformative” promise of collaboration tools rested mostly in the marketing messaging of vendor executives, despite their best efforts to encourage widespread business uptake. As proof, Omdia’s most recent forecast for web-enabled and video conferencing services (not including equipment) estimated a 2019–20 global growth rate of circa 7%. Tepid, indeed.
Yet the picture has changed dramatically in the last month. Microsoft now claims that demand for Teams has surged to 44 million daily active users, with an additional 12 million users in the past week as workers across the world begin to work from home in response to the spread of COVID-19. What was the adoption rate just four months ago in November 2019? 20 million users. Uptake has doubled over just the winter, and most countries in the West are only in the early stages of facing down the viral threat. Once collaboration tools are embraced, they are rarely cast aside.
Daily working practices in 2020 will be less like 2019 than we would ever have imagined just a few short weeks ago. But in one way it will be similar: if collaboration tools fail, more often than not, it’s the network that gets blamed, and the application that’s the hero. Already in the US and the UK, service providers whose broadband network capacity is not designed for “peak all day” use as workers and school-aged children head home are battling to maintain performance for fear of poor customer experience and the media attention this attracts. More than ever, home broadband, and not business broadband, will become the lifeblood of the economy. The medium- and long-term impact on network architecture will be dramatic.
In troubling times, it is often difficult to focus on the future over the present, but we already know that COVID-19 has been a catalyst for a radical, and likely permanent, change in working practices. The virus will continue to fuel a dramatic further uptake of collaboration services, and it will place unprecedented demand on the network. With just two months of living with COVID-19 behind us, what will the next six bring?
Straight Talk is a weekly briefing from the desk of the Chief Research Officer. To receive this newsletter by email, please contact us.