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Massive uptick in collaboration software usage in 2020

US and Europe show differing directions of travel in remote working take-up but leading collaboration systems exhibit four-figure growth since February 2020, with usage levels set to remain high as the new normal of work establishes itself

For collaboration software, 2020 was a year like no other, as has been shown clearly in research from Aternity, which, while revealing the huge growth in the use of Microsoft Teams and Zoom over the last 12 months, has indicated that the new normal of the hybrid workplace is now establishing itself.

The latest version of the Aternity global remote work productivity tracker examined what was important for business and technology executives planning their organisations’ digital employee experience in 2021 and beyond. It looked at how the usage and share of productivity and collaboration applications had changed since the shift to remote work in early 2020, and issued a number of recommendations for enterprises to manage collaboration apps to support work-from-everywhere, hybrid work environments.

The study analysed millions of data points from global locations up to 20 December 2020 and among its key findings was that the percentage of employees working from home in North America stood at 79% as of 20 December, a drop of 5% from its mid-March peak, while driven in large part by the outbreak of Covid-19 variants, the percentage of employees working from home in Europe has increased by 6% since 25 October to 75%.

In Asia Pacific and China, which have had continued success in controlling the spread of the virus and preventing a resurgence, 64% of employees were working from home as of 20 December, a 13% decrease since April.

The study found that usage of nearly all collaboration tools increased substantially between 17 February and 20 December 2020, except for Skype for Business. Microsoft Teams experienced by far the highest growth rate (3,891%), a trajectory that further accelerated in early August. Zoom was second (1,788% growth), followed by Slack (1,073%) and Webex (1,070%). 

Skype for Business’ growth was just 8% as, in preparation for the July 2021 end of life of the product line, Microsoft’s enterprise user base migrated to Teams. Skype for Business’ usage share declined from 84% to 16% between 17 February and 20 December, while Teams’ overall usage share grew from 9% to 67% over the same period. The study said this transition opened the door to competitors by allowing employees to consider alternatives amid the remote work disruption.

As indicated in the company’s previous study, growth in Microsoft Teams usage came at the expense of Skype for Business, which declined by 63% from its peak on 28 March. Overall, Microsoft collaboration app usage – through Teams and Skype for Business – grew by 391% annually. That said, the usage share of both Microsoft collaboration apps fell from 93% to 83% between 17 February and 20 December.

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Collaboration app sprawl continued in the enterprise, with Zoom tripling its share to 6.9%, while Slack and Webex more than doubled their shares to 4.9%. Zoom was the main beneficiary of collaboration app sprawl, increasing its share of non-Microsoft product usage during this period from 29.3% to 39.6% at the expense of Webex, whose share slipped from 35.2% to 27.2% and Slack, whose share eased back from 35.5% to 33.2%.

Aternity pointed out that the research was published when there was at last light at the end of the tunnel from the global availability of Covid-19 vaccines. Also, it said that companies are evolving their thinking and planning for the post-pandemic workplace, noting Google’s decision to keep its offices closed until September 2021 and that it is considering offering a flexible working week once its employees return to the office.

Amazon and Salesforce have made similar announcements for their key hubs. Amazon unveiled the design for its HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia on 2 February, which includes collaborative spaces for employees who would go to the office only occasionally.

Aternity says the trend brings the future hybrid workplace into clearer view and is essential for two reasons: it probably portends that most companies will also delay office reopening until the vaccines are in broader distribution; and that the reliance on applications, specifically collaboration apps, for individuals and teams to remain productive, is permanent.

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