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As the coronavirus worsens, companies are renewing their focus on collaboration and remote work.

As the coronavirus worsens, companies are renewing their focus on collaboration and remote work.

As the US approaches the coronavirus epidemic, companies looking to protect the health of their employees are taking steps to support staff at home, leading to an increase in demand for video conferencing technology and other collaboration tools.

Stock prices for Slack and Zoom video conferencing software have risen in the past month, although the broader stock market fell sharply last week. Zoom also gained a number of new users in the background, according to CNBC , and company officials say they saw more active users in the first two months of 2020 than in the whole of last year.

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan in a blog post , spoke about the features that the company’s products offer and how they could be useful during the outbreak.

Just before that, on Thursday, Facebook decided to cancel the personal component of its F8 2020 developer conference in San Jose, California. The decision was made just 10 days after the social media company announced it was canceling its global marketing summit in San Francisco. . Other companies with well-known technology events, such as Apple’s WWDC, are also considering canceling their events.

IT needs to make plans now

The prospect of canceled events and the need to maintain employee productivity are pushing companies to review collaboration tools and policies at home, said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research. «The coronavirus fire will certainly lead IT organizations to see how they support remote work, as it has already led organizations to cancel participation in industry events such as MWC.

«Although there is already interest, this could act as a catalyst to accelerate the adoption of technologies that allow remote workers,» he said.

Remote work has increased significantly in China due to limited movement; In a conference call last week, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, advised U.S. companies to start making similar preparations.

«For adults, companies can replace in-person meetings with video conferencing or conference calls and increase telecommunications options,» he said last Tuesday. «Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and ordinary people to start preparing.»

On Thursday, IBM, which moved away from remote work for its employees a few years ago, asked employees in the hardest-hit areas to stay home, according to him Washington Post . Other companies restrict business travel or withdraw from events.

Remote work is not a new concept, with research from Merchant Savvy which shows that 69% of US companies have already implemented a long-term employment policy – 7% more than the global average and a threefold increase since 1996.

However, Castañón-Martínez pointed out that, although there is a growing awareness of teleworking, most organizations are not prepared for its large-scale activation and many are still evaluating the requirements and solutions.

A survey of 2017. made by Polycom 25,234 employees in the US and 11 other countries found that 37% of respondents used video conferencing software every day to better collaborate with colleagues. Teams can often be spread across states, and video communication can help improve employee relationships and increase productivity and slow the spread of diseases such as coronavirus.

The same study also found that 62% of respondents did not believe that the tools they had were appropriate and wanted their employers to provide better, easier-to-use technology that helps them stay connected with their colleagues.

CDC: Companies should encourage telecommunications services

The CDC’s official recommendations state: “For employees who are able to perform telecommunications, supervisors should encourage employees to perform telecommunications, rather than going to work until symptoms are fully resolved. Make sure you have the information technology and infrastructure to support more employees who can work from home. «

In its statement, Zoom’s Yuan said the company is doing its best to support those affected by the outbreak «by compromising our reliable technology, extended access and agile customer service».

The company has removed the time limit for two-person meetings for users in China and has scheduled a series of tutorials and on-demand resources to help new users learn to use the platform «easily and conveniently».

BlueJeans of California also provides assistance to customers who may be affected by the outbreak, according to a spokesman. «BlueJeans is doing its best to support the development of meetings by expanding our cloud infrastructure and network capacity.»

One of the biggest problems resulting from working from home for long periods of time is that employees will need technology that allows them to work remotely with colleagues they often stay with, as well as with workers in various offices across the country. and with external partners and customers.

«Activating a distributed workforce is a complex process, especially given the growing security and compliance requirements that IT organizations have to face,» said Castañón-Martínez. «A good place to start is to evaluate how your current technology and communications stack support different use cases.»

Castañón-Martínez said that the adoption of remote work led directly to the emergence of suppliers such as Zoom, which emerged precisely because of its relevance for activating and connecting remote equipment. While Zoom continues to focus on video conferencing, CafeX Communications recently launched a new collaboration tool called Challo to address external collaboration, while other options such as Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook are looking for ways to better meet workers’ needs. from the first line. outside the network. office.

Matthew Finnegan contributed to this report.