The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work in unexpected ways. On a worldwide scale, workers have had to adapt to working remotely while maintaining efficient communication, productivity and rapport with colleagues and clients. This has also given workplace app developers new challenges, optimizing features for a workforce that is more reliant on technology than ever before. In this article we cover how apps have been aiding the workplace since the coronavirus pandemic and what to expect in the future.
How has office work been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
How a workplace has been affected by COVID-19 depends on regional regulations and the type of work. However, office-based workers have faced similar challenges around the world. While many people still have no option but to work from home, others can access their offices with restrictions. According to USA Today, “When employees do start to return to the office – and those dates keep getting pushed further and further back for many organizations – some companies plan to implement rotating schedules to reduce the number of people in a given space.” This also makes it harder to maintain company culture and support employee communities
Workplace apps can be used to facilitate the practical side of an employee's tasks and ensure that their personal needs are met. For example, it is crucial for new employees to feel welcomed into their new role despite the difficult task of online onboarding. These unprecedented scenarios have made communication and productivity apps essential to a workforce’s operations. Here are four ways in which companies are successfully operating throughout the pandemic with workplace apps.
1. Teleconferencing apps
Teleconferencing has become a critical way for many workers to host meetings, leading to several opportunities for workplace apps to innovate. Here are two examples of teleconferencing apps and how their services have changed since the global pandemic.
Spatial is an app that enables colleagues to meet using virtual reality or augmented reality. Anand Agarawala, Chief Executive Officer at Spatial, has said that coronavirus concerns led to a 400% increase in requests for Spatial licenses and a 50% increase in usage. Spatial has also taken a huge step by launching its VR meetings app on Facebook’s Oculus Quest store, making the app much more accessible to customers.
Zoom’s number of daily users spiked to 200 million in March – up from 10 million in December 2019. This teleconferencing company has already seen a massive increase in profits in 2020, doubling its annual sales forecast. Zoom became increasingly popular this year as users looked for a communications tool that was free, easy to use and immediately accessible to new users. Zoom enables several users to join the same call, with up to 49 on-screen videos and global video meetings with up to 1,000 participants. The New Statesman has called Zoom “the defining app of the coronavirus era” due to its success throughout the year – stating that “Zoom’s daily active user base grew by 67 per cent in the first three months of this year.”
Best practices for teleconference calls
- Test equipment before a call. While you may not need to do this every time without fail, it is a smart practice before particularly important calls that don’t have room for technical error
- Assign a suitable moderator for your meeting: This will help your video calls stay focused with larger groups.
- Divide your meeting agenda between current operations and future operations: This helps with productivity and clarity.
- Only invite necessary participants: Although it may be tempting to invite colleagues to be on the safe side, it is more productive to ensure that your invites only go to those who will have an active role in your meeting.
- Mute your microphone when you aren’t speaking (and encourage colleagues to do the same)
2. Communication platforms for instant messaging
In addition to video calls and virtual meetings colleagues need to have a comprehensive communication platform that can be used throughout the work day. This is critical to ensuring employees have everything they need to work efficiently and cooperate with their teams.
Microsoft Teams includes features such as workplace chat, file storage, video meetings and app integrations. This year, Microsoft Teams gained more than 12 million daily users in one week – achieving a 37.5 percent increase due to more people working from home. When talking about how coronavirus has affected the way we work, Microsoft’s Chief Executive, Satya Nadella, describes it as going through ”two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.
Slack is a communication platform with chat rooms that can be managed by topic, private groups and direct messaging between users. As workplaces around the world have become entirely remote, communication platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams have been an integral part of daily operations. Thanks to a surge in demand Slack hit new user records for simultaneously connected users. If you would like to learn more about Slack’s operations in the early stages of the global pandemic, this Twitter thread by Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield explained the company’s performance throughout March 2020.
Slack has also developed Slack Connect, a platform change for its communications app with the aim of replacing work emails. This allows up to 20 companies to work seamlessly together. In an interview with The Verge, Slack’s Chief Product Officer Tamar Yehoshua explained that “The vision for Slack has always been to build Slack Connect so that the benefits you get for channel-based communication within your own organization you’ll get when communicating with everyone.” Tamar adds that “we wanted to build a model that addresses the limitations of email.”
Best practices for communication platforms
- Respect your colleague’s work/life balance: With you and colleagues working from home, it’s important to separate work hours from your home life. Expect the same level of urgency to messages as you would while working in the office.
- Manage availability settings: Most instant messaging services will allow users to set their availability throughout the day. This is a smart way to communicate with colleagues and avoid being contacted during a more important activity
- Follow office guidelines: Your company should have guidelines employees can use to ensure that they are using communication tools effectively.
- Some companies will utilize private and public chat rooms. Make sure you know which is which before messaging.
3. Project management
In 2020, companies need ways to schedule virtual meetings, coordinate workloads, map tasks, and streamline collaborations with project management tools. Apps that offer this type of service include Asana, Basecamp and Trello.
Asana enables users to build production plans and coordinate tasks. The company also has integrations for workplace apps such as Microsoft Teams, Adobe Creative Cloud and Slack. As restrictions tightened in mid-March, Asana offered free licences for its software to charities working to help slow the spread of coronavirus. This was due to the rise in home working among charities.
Basecamp is a project management and internal communication company that has been run remotely for the last 20 years. Features include message boards, lists, schedules, group chats and automatic check-ins. Users can also integrate third-party tools such as time trackers.
Trello is a free project-management software that enables users to create boards, lists, and cards that can be prioritized and organized by teams. It can be used to keep your workflow in check and is particularly useful for collaborative projects. In addition to being used by companies, Trello also made headlines this year as a smart way for parents to organize their child’s homeschooling during lockdown.
Best practices for project management apps
- Remember that boards should be user friendly. When creating a new board, list or spreadsheet you should consider whether it is easily understandable to colleagues. When working from home you can’t have a quick face-to-face discussion to add clarity, so keeping this in mind can save you time further down the line.
- Use templates to save time. Many project management apps will have templates that you can use. This can be a great way to save time and get to know a new tool.
- Ensure someone is responsible for each project. For example, if you are creating a Trello board you should have a manager for each board and attach an owner to each individual card. Everyone must know who is managing each task.
- Create an ‘incoming’ list. Let other teams know about incoming projects without giving them access to edit your board.
4. Health and safety measures: social distancing
The pandemic has also forced a change in the development of workplace apps. For example, many companies with this type of app are developing new features that focus on health and safety measures. For example, a workplace app that can be used to book meeting rooms may now be able to help workers keep to COVID-19 restrictions.
Safe distancing apps such as Freespace also enable users to calculate an occupancy plan based on an office’s furniture layout. Freespace can also be used to signal when areas are blocked off and regularly update floorplans. This allows companies to quickly adapt to new restrictions and ensure that employees are abiding by safety guidelines.
iotspot is another example of an office space app with social distancing tools. Iotspot allows users to create a digital office space with reduced desk capacity. Employees can then book their spot from home.
Google also released a tool that shows users if they are abiding by social distancing measures called Sodar. This is a tool that overlays guidelines onto real world environments using augmented reality.
Coronavirus in the workplace: What can we expect for the future of office work?
The coronavirus pandemic has started a debate as to whether our office culture is still necessary. For example, Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays, believes “The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.” Whether this is true or not, workplace apps will continue to find new ways to optimize workflows and make it easier for people to work remotely and safer to work within the same space as others.
To learn more about how coronavirus has impacted mobile marketing, read how COVID-19 lockdowns have accelerated growth for health and fitness apps. You may also be interested in “What a pandemic can teach us about affiliate revenue.”