It has been approximately two weeks since a larger-than-normal number of companies started shifting many in their workforce into a remote working environment due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Work-from-home software companies that develop the primary software packages being used from home offices these days are already beginning to iterate on their products. It’s likely the new features and enhancements were in the development pipeline prior to the current COVID-19 situation, but their announcements come just as a significant percentage of white-collar workers are settling into remote work.
Of note, these updates are being shipped to users while most of the developers building and pushing them to production are also working from home.
Taking a closer look at the various work-from-home software companies and their work to improve those collaboration tools, it looks like the focus is on subscription-based offerings but some upgrades are coming to companies’ free tools as well. Here’s a roundup of significant new features.
Slack is one of the work-from-home software companies seeing a significant uptick in usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to TechCrunch, in the 47-day period between February 1 and March 18, Slack added over 7,000 new customers. For comparison, TechCrunch points out that Slack only added 5,000 new customers total in the previous quarter (90-day period), so the increase represents a 28% boost in customer growth over the previous quarter’s gains.
Slack decided on March 18th to begin the roll out of a simpler, more organized experience for its collaboration software.
In addition to a phased rollout to the desktop and web clients, Slack’s enhancements will also make their way into the mobile app as well:
- New navigation bar for finding channels and searching for data across your team.
- More prominent display of conversations, shared files and apps across the top of the sidebar.
- Ever present compose button on all pages/channels to jump directly into creating content for other team members.
- Collapsible folder organizational scheme to customize the arrangement of channels, messages and apps for efficiency and to save screen real estate.
These aren’t significant changes but rather intuitive tweaks that should help users be more efficient across the board.
Last week marked the third anniversary of the launch of Microsoft Teams. Since it became generally available to enterprise customers, Microsoft Teams has continued to become a single pane of glass for all aspects of the Microsoft collaboration ecosystem. Those three years’ worth of work placed Microsoft Teams in the perfect position as huge numbers of enterprise employees headed to their homes to work remotely when the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak sparked a few weeks ago.
In an announcement blog post about those first three years, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro shared their own bump in usage numbers for Microsoft Teams since the increase in remote work over the last few weeks. Spataro stated that in November 2019, Teams had 20 million daily active users – those are users that perform an intentional action in Teams such as sending or replying in chat, joining a meeting or opening a file in Teams, as opposed to possibly-inactive user IDs under a corporate account.
Four months later, and in no small part due to the increase in remote workers on the software, Microsoft Teams is now seeing 44 million daily active users. Although that is not all new customers, it is a doubling in usage compared to four months ago.
Of course, Microsoft had no plans to just share numbers about the usage of their Teams product, they are also preparing to deliver significant enhancements that are targeted at those who are working from home for the foreseeable future.
Among those new features, which Microsoft says will be available later this year, you will find:
- Real-time noise suppression to eliminate background noise such as kids that are also at home due to the COVID-19 situation or even a barking dog. It will also get rid of the sound of someone typing on their keyboard while their microphone is turned on during the call.
- Microsoft Teams meetings can handle up to 250 participants and mayhem ensues when everyone attempts to jump in with a question or response. A new raise hand feature will enable participants to visually signal to the meeting leader that they have a question – just like you can do sitting in a real meeting room or presentation event.
- Pop-out chat windows will enable smoother movement between the meeting you are in and side conversations that inevitably develop during large calls.
- Improvements for Firstline Workers in industrial and retail situations include hands-free hardhats and walkie talkie style communications using Teams on a mobile device.
Finally, Teams will soon have offline and low-bandwidth support so that you can reply to chat messages and write other replies without an Internet connection. With the major increase in bandwidth usage from homes around the globe, plus questionable bandwidth for many users depending on their location and provider, this will be a huge benefit to employees working from home.
Whatever collaboration tool your company and employees use, work-from-home software companies are learning very quickly due to the current circumstances around COVID-19, how to scale up the infrastructure behind their collaboration products.