With the continuing spread of COVID-19, many companies are opting to have employees work from home (WFH), and vendors are stepping up to help, offering free or discounted products and services. There is, of course, a method to their madness. The cost to them will be more than offset by the goodwill (and possible future business) generated, so it’s a win/win situation. And if you’ve ever wanted to check out new-to-you products without having to spend a lot of money, it’s ideal.
Gary Barton, principal analyst for collaboration services at GlobalData, noted that the key applications will be collaboration/unified communications platforms that include team messaging, IP voice calling, conferencing (audio, video, and web), shared documents and storage, and project management features.
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“Most companies will probably adopt a mixture of platforms – e.g., using one platform for team collaboration, another for conferencing, and application suites such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite,” he said. “Desktop-as-a-Service solutions combined with VPN (virtual private network) connections over home broadband also offer another way for companies to enable workers to log on at home as if they were in a corporate office.”
A lot of individuals and companies are diving into the WFH lifestyle. Cisco chairman and chief executive officer Chuck Robbins told CNBC that in the first eleven days of March, Cisco Webex volume has doubled. It hosted 5.5 billion meeting minutes, and in one day held 3.2 million multi-person meetings globally, plus many more one-on-one discussions. Robbins said that the company has teams working 24×7 making sure its infrastructure can cope.
Barton said that COVID-19 is accelerating the evolution of remote work.
“The general trend in the work environment has been towards more flexible working for some time now, so COVID-19 is creating accelerated evolution rather than a left-field revolution. Many companies already use collaboration tools and many employees also hot-desk and/or work from home one day a week. I think that COVID-19 will have long-lasting effects on the way we work, though. I think the situation we are in now will mean that people become more used to remote working – and it will also (hopefully!) demonstrate that it is possible to work from home and be efficient. This could have long term benefits for people’s work/life balance and for the environment if people commute less in the future.”
We’ve compiled a selection of collaboration products that could help companies weather the COVID-19 storm, highlighting any special offers or free access. Do you have a favourite not mentioned here? Please let us know in the comments.
Cisco Webex Teams
People often think of Webex as just conferencing, but Cisco uses it as the overarching brand for all of its collaboration products, including Cisco Webex Teams (yes, confusing, since Microsoft’s equivalent product is also called Teams), which integrates chat, meetings, whiteboard, scheduling, and file management, and integrates with popular productivity software like Microsoft Office. The company has added to the offers around its Webex products (a free tier with unlimited usage, up to 100 participants per meeting, and toll dial-up or VoIP connectivity; free 90 day licenses to business who are not current customers) with free licenses and expanded usage counts for three of its security products. Until July 1, 2020, existing customers can exceed their user limits for Cisco Umbrella (web-based DNS, secure web gateway, firewall, cloud access security broker, and interactive threat intelligence), Duo Security (multifactor authentication, device trust, adaptive access, remote access, single sign-on), and Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client. New customers can receive a free license.
Microsoft Teams is the collaboration component of Office 365, and also offers a free tier, which supports up to 300 users, unlimited chat and search, 10 GB of file sharing, collaboration on Office documents, and over 250 integrated apps and services including web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Microsoft says that it’s seen a huge uptick in usage; it will be releasing more numbers later this week, but in a recent blog post, Microsoft indicated that since Jan. 31, its seen a 500 per cent increase in Teams meetings, calling, and conferences there, and a 200 per cent increase in Teams usage on mobile devices. To further assist remote workers, Teams has set up a community space, Enabling Remote Work, where customers and experts can interact and share tips. And for companies needing to effectively share information with staff, it has released a Power Platform template for crisis communications that includes push notifications and has compiled useful information on responding to COVID-19 on a single portal.
Zoho is offering Remotely, its suite of web and mobile apps that includes chat, meetings, online training, shared secure storage, project management, developer scrum boards, remote assistance, and three office apps that are designed for collaboration: document creation and editing, spreadsheet creation and editing, and presentation software. All are free until July 1, 2020. Chandrashekar LSP, Canadian Evangelist for Zoho, noted that the company has seen 500 percent growth in daily usage of its collaboration apps, 1000 percent growth in daily new users for Zoho Meeting, and has over 4000 new companies globally running on the platform.
Avaya is offering free access to Spaces, its collaboration software, to educational institutions and non-profit organizations. The company has seen a 500 per cent increase in video collaboration traffic since the onset of COVID-19. Additionally, said David Robertson, managing director and president of sales at Avaya Canada, Avaya has already enabled over 160,000 agents in call centres to work remotely.
Google’s contribution to the need for connectivity is Google Hangouts. Although the consumer version has none of the enterprise features many companies require, G Suite customers globally get free access to advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing features until July 1, 2020, including meetings of up to 250 participants per call, live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain, and the ability to record meetings.
Zoom video conferencing has a free tier that lets users host up to 100 participants in an unlimited number of group meetings of up to 40 minutes. It allows unlimited 1 on 1 meetings.
8×8 offers enhancements to its free standalone version of 8×8 Video Meetings to provide unlimited usage, international dial-in numbers for more than 55 countries, cloud storage of meeting recordings, and real-time closed-captioning and transcription, and more. The company said its number of new users has more than tripled.
GoToMeeting by LogMeIn is offering free emergency remote work kits for health care providers, educational institutions, municipalities, and non-profit organizations. These kits give free use of the services for three months. In addition, all existing customers are able to expand their subscriptions to cover their entire workforce for three months at no additional charge.
And for people who are hard of hearing and working from home, SonicCloud‘s Justin Lai recently tweeted the following:
If you or your friends are #HOH and now working from home due to the coronavirus, and are having difficulties hearing/following videoconferencing audio, please shoot me a DM. I’m happy to set you up with a complimentary @SonicCloud account. Feel free to RT and share.
— Justin Lai (@justindlai) March 10, 2020
If you’d like a few more choices, we’ve turned up these solutions as well:
RingCentral has plans for both large and small businesses, with its Standard plan allowing up to 4 people per meeting for an unlimited number of meetings, and its Premium plan up to 100. It also provides team messaging, file sharing, task assignment, instant meetings, calendar sharing, and telephony and fax services. The company offers a 15-day free trial. Education (K-12), healthcare, and non-profits can receive RingCentral Office, which includes video conferencing, team messaging, screen sharing, business phones, SMS and fax at no charge during the COVID-19 crisis.
BlackBerry is offering a 60 day free trial of its BlackBerry Productivity Suite, which offers secure remote access to corporate resources in a containerized environment. Users can access their email, calendar, contacts, documents, Intranet sites, cloud-based business apps, and Microsoft Office 365 apps without need for a virtual private network.
Lifesize is offering 6 months free video conferencing to any organization in more than 100 countries, and is allowing existing customers to add as many users as they need free of additional charge. The product integrates with Office 365 or Google calendars to make scheduling easier. The company says that its cloud-based architecture intelligently adjusts to network conditions and usage. There are apps for PC, Mac, Android, iOS and all major browsers, and calls are encrypted by default. There’s a free personal tier that offers unlimited meetings of up to 90 minutes for up to 25 participants.
BlueJeans offers a free 7 day trial of BlueJeans Meetings, its collaboration tool, and a purchase discount of up to 25 percent. The “Standard” package is for individuals and small teams who are getting started with video conferencing and don’t require access to BlueJeans’ IT management tools or third-party integrations (including Slack or Microsoft Teams). It can host up to 50 participants for an unlimited number of calls of any length. The “Pro” package is for individuals and teams of all sizes that want higher participant counts (up to 75), advanced meeting analytics, and access to third-party integrations, and the “Enterprise” tier can host up to 100 participants. It offers enterprise features such as SIP/H.323 interoperability.