The messy reality of collaboration software
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Who's buying enterprise tech's hybrid work vision?
The message from enterprise tech vendors the past two years was stark: The world is going to hybrid work, and only our tools can make it happen.
Of course, the proclamations were self-serving. But they worked. A major surge in spending on all things cloud and software drove up stock prices for top players and helped newcomers secure hundreds of millions in new funding.
However, the feeding frenzy appears to be slowing — for some vendors, at least.
- As businesses firm up their strategies for the future of work and IT teams understand better what tech will be needed to support the transition, that shift could grow more pronounced.
- "We truly want our team members to be able to work from anywhere," said Rock Central senior director of engineering Andy Picmann. "Whether it's on your laptop in the office, or from home, or having similar features and functionalities right on your mobile device as well."
- That mentality, however, is why there's still a huge opportunity ahead. Overall, the collaboration and productivity software market is expected to reach $26 billion by 2027.
The stories are abundant: As the pandemic surged, sending employees from the four walls of the office to seemingly anywhere with an internet connection, companies rushed to buy tools to help connect in the virtual world.
- Overnight, the most valuable real estate in business became the 14 to 16 inches between the casing of a laptop.
- Before the pandemic, tools like Teams, Slack or Zoom were viewed as "nice-to-haves" but not critically important to operations.
- Now, if Teams "is down more than a minute or two, work comes to a grinding halt," said Nationwide Chief Technology Officer Jim Fowler.
But the maturing needs of end users have tempered 2020's sugar high, and early leaders are emerging in the sector.
- Zoom, for example, faces an existential crisis over what role it will play as some workers return to the office. That uncertainty has underscored a 23% decline in its share price over the last year.
- Meanwhile, shares for Microsoft, which has a growing stranglehold over the market, have risen roughly 60% in the same time frame.
- Other smaller, but growing vendors like Atlassian and Asana have also seen huge sales gains that drove up the stock.
And while the market is still booming, there are questions of whether the future touted by Salesforce, Microsoft and others is even going to be a reality — at least, to the extent advertised.
- The amount of workers operating remotely full-time decreased from 54% in May 2020 to 25% in September 2021, per Gallup, while the portion of individuals that went into the office occasionally grew from 15% to 20%.
What is clear is the world of work is bound to get more complicated. And companies like Nationwide and Capital One are uncovering new problems that threaten to undermine the benefits of the evolving hybrid or fully-remote policies.
- Increasingly, meetings are split between those in the office, those dialing in from home and workers who may be on the move. That's creating a need for more-sophisticated videoconferencing capabilities to bridge the conversation divide between the real and virtual worlds, as well as tools that help organizers know where everyone will be located.
- The dispersed workforce also means employees are using a larger array of hardware. Employees need to be able to access documents across all those devices and share them within the enterprise.
- Notably, while enterprise tech investors fear slowing sales in the future, DocuSign just posted 50% year-over-year revenue growth as it builds out a suite of products to tackle that challenge.
- Meanwhile, revenue last quarter at Box, which is facing a formidable challenge in trying to expand deeper into DocuSign's world, rose just 10% to $202.4 million. While that may be solid growth for other sectors, that's not the case in this world.
But it's more than just how or where employees work — it's also when. At some businesses, it's no longer expected that all employees stay online during designated hours.
- In some cases, that's a four-day workweek. Others are using all seven days, offering up the option to hunker down on Outlook on Saturday while waiting for friends to come over in exchange for leaving earlier during the week.
- Those shifts are ultimately helping to craft a more thoughtful approach to the software stack. A tool like Slack, for example, gives workers the ability to get caught up on messages at their own speed — whether in real time or spending 30 minutes in the evening backtracking through the day's conversations.
- Some workplaces have even prioritized asynchronous communication over traditional methods like email, while others see the two continuing to co-exist.
It's all part of an effort by corporate technologists to make sure all employees have an equal chance to succeed in the new world of work — or what Maru Flores, Ford's global collaboration and productivity services manager, called "equity in collaboration."
- The goal is to level "the playing field of both remote and onsite participants to create, contribute, add whatever that is on an equal ground — which is a change now from totally being remote," she told Protocol.
It's still very early innings in what Satya Nadella insisted is the "biggest shift to the way we work in a generation."
- The rise of tech like virtual reality, which IT leaders believe will play a big role in the future of work but is still not enterprise-ready, is bound to create new opportunities for tech giants and startups alike.
- And while vendors like Microsoft and Salesforce tout the emergence of their platforms as one central collaboration zone, businesses are going to many different tools. That's why the focus for many tech chiefs is on taking those "best of breed" applications and integrating them with hubs like Teams.
- It's why vendors are rushing to partner with everyone — even competitors.
Ultimately, the tech is going to have to live up to the marketing hype from vendors. Lucky for tech leaders, they have a fantastic resource to turn to: other IT professionals.
- "The process is to have a tech strategy, know that is going to change, reach out and always stay outwardly focused," said Capital One Managing VP Maureen Jules-Perez. "Sharing is fun; you don't feel like you're on your own."
— Joe Williams and Lizzy Lawrence
A MESSAGE FROM POLY
We must all understand that work is no longer a place: It's what you do and how you do it. Leaders must find ways to create a level playing field for all employees whether working from home or the company headquarters.
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Around the enterprise
A MESSAGE FROM POLY
Achieving work equity in a hybrid world means equipping employees with the tech tools that enable them to feel fully seen, heard and valued no matter where they are. Work equity is the outcome of a business that champions work-from-anywhere, deploying technology to give workers autonomy and increase collaboration across underrepresented groups.
Thanks for reading — see you Thursday!