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Zoom CEO: Coronavirus outbreak will ‘change the landscape’ of work and communication

Zoom went public in April 2019. (Nasdaq Photo)
Zoom went public in April 2019. (Nasdaq Photo)

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan thinks the response to the coronavirus outbreak could lead to a fundamental, permanent shift in how people work.

“Given this coronavirus, I think overnight, almost everybody really understood they needed a tool like this,” Yuan said of his company’s video conferencing software on an earnings call this week. “This will dramatically change the landscape. I truly believe in the future, everyone will [use] video for remote worker collaboration.”

Hundreds of thousands of workers at tech companies in the Seattle area including Amazon, Microsoft, and many others are working from home due to the spread of coronavirus. This trend, which has left Seattle’s notoriously gummed up roads practically empty, will last at least a few weeks, or maybe longer, depending on the status of the virus.

RELATED: WFH 101: Tips and tricks from the home front as tech workers go remote during coronavirus crisis

Tools such as Zoom and other collaboration software instantly become more crucial for remote work. Zoom CFO Kelly Steckelberg said the company has seen an uptick in usage during the outbreak, but did not give any specific metrics. The increased usage has been mostly for the free version of Zoom’s software, and Steckelberg said it is too early to tell if the company will be able to parlay that into more paid users.

In China, where the outbreak started, Microsoft has seen a 500 percent increase in Microsoft Teams meetings, calling, and conferencing, as well as a 200 percent increase in Teams usages on mobile devices.

Companies such as Zoom, Slack and Microsoft, which all offer tools that make it easier to work remotely, are walking a fine line. Office closures around the world could be a major boon for the companies. However, they don’t want to be as seen as trying to take advantage of a virus that has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide and resulted in 3,400 deaths.

“Empathy, humanity and support for each other is more important than revenue, than growth,” Zoom’s Yuan said when asked about converting the increased free user traffic into paid customers.

Zoom and other productivity companies have seen their stocks spike amid a downturn for the larger market due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Zoom stock is up more than 42 percent since late January, when news of the virus’ spread started to impact the market. Slack is up 16 percent. The S&P 500, an index of the 500 largest U.S. stocks, is down about 9 percent in that time period.

As of last summer, more than 26 million Americans or roughly 16 percent of the workforce spend at least some of their time working remotely, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As technology has improved, remote work has become more common, but many companies worried about loss of productivity and collaboration still haven’t embraced the trend. Approximately 44 percent of companies still don’t allow employees to work remotely, according to Owl Labs, a Boston-area company that makes video-conferencing devices and collects data on remote work.

On Zoom’s earnings call, Yuan pointed to several companies — InVision, Zapier, or Gitlab — that have had success without a single physical office. Zoom, which has told HQ employees to work from home for now amid the outbreak, could have worked without offices as well, Yuan said — a sign of his faith in remote work.

“I’ve mentioned this to some of my friends,” Yuan said. “If I started over with the company, I’m not going to have a single physical office. A lot of people asked me ‘are you crazy?’ They realize that’s reality now.”

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