If most of us kept working, and maybe even kept our jobs, despite the 2020 pandemic, it was because of collaborative tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack or video-conferencing services such as Zoom and Google Meet. This has reflected in the numbers of these apps with Microsoft Teams registering a 50 percent jump in numbers with 115 million daily active users by October 2020, while Zoom and Google Meet were among the top downloaded apps of the year, as per AppAnnie’s latest report.
Samik Roy, Country Head (Modern Workplace) at Microsoft India explained to indianexpress.com that the past few months has actually accelerated digital transformation by a couple of years. “We looked at the pandemic as an anchor point to accelerate our mission of helping boost productivity,” he said over a call, adding that in India, Teams usage grew as Indians adopted video in 22 percent of meetings.
As a result, video-streaming within Teams per week increased by about five times in April. Microsoft also saw a 48 per cent increase in Teams chats per person and a 55 per cent increase in the number of meetings and calls per week. “Close to 30 billion daily collaborative minutes are spent on Microsoft 365 as a whole, of which Microsoft Teams app is a part,” Roy added.
As the pandemic was raging, Google revamped its video conferencing service and Meets, which was earlier limited to the enterprise suite, was made available for free to all users in May. “The one thing we have seen from this unexpected outbreak is the rapid adoption of digital tools as more organisations turned to technology to stay connected and productive during this time and for the future too. Companies and individuals across the globe have transitioned from in-person meetings to video conferencing rapidly, some even overnight,” Karan Bajwa, Managing Director, Google Cloud India said to indianexpress.com in an email response.
Bajwa revealed that the last few weeks have seen Google Meet’s day over day growth surpass 60 per cent. Meet’s current usage is over 30 times of what it was in January 2020, according to the company. “Overall, more than 3 million users have been connecting on Meet every day and are spending more than 3 billion minutes together – more than 3,800 years of secure meetings in a single day,” he added.
While Teams and Google Meet both had break out usage, 2020 was clearly the year of Zoom. From just 10 million daily participants in meetings in December 2019, Zoom’s daily participant numbers had jumped to 200 million by March 2020, and to 300 million by April 2020. More importantly, Zoom’s total revenue in the third quarter of 2020 has jumped by 36 per cent year-over-year to $777.2 million.
In India, Zoom went beyond the enterprise segment as everything from family meets to weddings and funerals moved online. “We had a very varied kind of usage in India. The first photoshoot was conducted on our platform in India. Even the record for the longest reading of Hanuman chalisa on a virtual platform happened on Zoom as well as political parties doing the rallies,” Sameer Raje, Zoom India told indianexpress.com over a call.
WFH and security
One important aspect that the pandemic highlighted was the need for security, given everyone was working remotely over different types of devices and connections. Since employees were not on the company network or office computers, there was an increased vulnerability to phishing and malware attacks.
As enterprise customers like Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Consultancy Services and others tried to get over this new problem, companies like Microsoft saw increased uptake of their solutions. “People started to buy our security solutions; people with advanced threat protection went to the next level,” he said, citing the example of their Intune product.
While products like Microsoft Teams and Google Meet had security featured hard coded into them since they were anyway meant for enterprise use as scale, upstarts like Zoom came under the scanner for uninvited guests and concerns over other aspects. Zoom also faced flak over its claim of end-to-end encryption, and India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) even issued an advisory against the app being used by government officials in mid-April.
Raje admitted that there was miscommunication from Zoom’s end, but said the company had worked hard to fix most of these issues. “Zoom calls are always encrypted. It was not end-to-end encryption, so there were some mistakes from our side, but I feel it was blown out of proportion,” he said. While he said enterprise customers have “their own security protocols, administrative controls”.
Raje said there were queries from customers and even some pushback. “We sat down with those CIOs (Chief Information Officers) and CISOs and gave them an update about our 90-day security plan and briefed them about the steps taken in terms of the security features functionalities. We also proposed a security audit in many of the cases,” he added.
“There were a lot of negative rumours about us in the market. But we came out stronger. We learned a lot during this year.”
Beyond the workplace
The pandemic also meant that most of these tools designed for enterprises found themselves in the hands of educators as schools went online. According to Roy, it was not just about hosting an online class, but also about automating processes around online classes, where Microsoft Teams helped out.
“From the management of students, reaching out to particular students, who were shy in classes, rostering, even the process of enrolment into the academic sessions, all of this moved online and Teams and the Microsoft 365 suite had the tools to help with this,” Roy said.
Microsoft Teams also used the same artificial intelligence designed for enterprises to let teachers know which students were interacting less, the ones who might need more attention. Another learning was around the number of panes. At first, Microsoft Teams was limited to nine video panes, but then this increased to 40 video panes.
“Education institutes came back to us and said, “hey, we have a class of 40 so we need more panes. Then we also noticed that people are getting tired in virtual conferences. And that’s where we came up with new functionalities and features. We added an auditorium mode to make it easier for teachers. So when the videos are on, it looks like everyone is one place and makes it easier to see, ” Roy pointed out.
Google Classroom, the web service which allows teachers to hold classes, issue assignments, etc saw a surge of almost 300 percent in India, according to the company, as it saw adoption from both private and government schools in the country. The company also added the ability for teachers to see larger tiled views with a 7×7 grid to ensure they could see 49 students at once in India.
“When schools were closed, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of students start using both Google Meet and Google Classroom to join classes and continue their schooling remotely from home,” Bajwa said.
For Zoom too, education was one of the key sectors, and according to Raje provided them with a lot of inputs from India. “We had a lot of feedback where the teacher wanted to keep the panels or the video frames frozen, ensure that when expelled the student should not be able to join back, or how to invite a participant into the breakout room itself. We incorporated a lot of features around this,” he pointed out. He added that Zoom had to engage with a lot of teachers, including in India, where they trained them on the best practices and features.
Video fatigue and what next in 2021
The other side of WFH was the fatigue that inevitably followed the gruelling hours in front of the screen. Indians, in particular, faced an increased burnout due to increased work hours, according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index report in September 2020.
Roy said as the divide between the office and the home disappeared, people were working through the day and even post dinner. This was one of the reasons why Microsoft tied up with the meditation app Headspace for Teams in September.
Bajwa added that work itself had transformed in unprecedented ways. “Amidst this transformation, time is more fragmented—split between work and personal responsibilities—and human connections are more difficult than ever to establish and maintain,” he said.
And the way things are going, this ‘hybrid’ workspace model is unlikely to go away in 2021, underlining how our reliance on collaborative tools is only likely to go up. Raje agrees: “It is going to be a hybrid environment… But there is burnout happening. There has to be balance between working from home and personal life.”