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Microsoft and Slack add millions of users amid coronavirus lockdowns

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

As countries around the world lock down amid the coronavirus pandemic, millions of remote workers are logging onto remote video and chat apps. Just Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that businesses keep at least half of their employees working from home — and in California, six Bay Area counties including San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara have been ordered to shelter in place until at least April 7.

And those moves are pushing massive spikes in users signing up for services offered by Microsoft (MSFT), Slack (WORK), Zoom (ZM), and Cisco (CSCO).

On Thursday, Microsoft announced that its Teams collaboration platform added as many as 12 million daily active users in the week between March 11 and March 18. That brings the total number of users to 44 million. 

Csaba Posta, IT specialist working from home, studies with his daughter Vilma during the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Budapest, Hungary March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Prior to that, Microsoft was preparing to tout a jump from 20 million to 32 million users since November 2019, underscoring the incredible scale at which companies are using chat technology to communicate with their employees.

Microsoft says it now has 20 clients with more than 100,000 users on its Teams platform. That’s six more than the company had just a few days ago.

On Wednesday, Slack announced via an SEC filing that it added 7,000 new paid customers between Feb. 1 and March 18. To put that in perspective, the company added 5,000 paid customers in both Q3 and Q4. In other words, the company added more paid customers in a little more than a month than it has in an entire quarter.

At Cisco (CSCO), which owns the Webex service, Sri Srinivasan, senior vice president and general manager for the Team Collaboration Group, said the company saw a 22-times increase in traffic to Webex from Japan, Singapore, and South Korea following Lunar New Year celebrations in China.

And by March 10, the company had seen as much traffic from the region as it normally does for an entire month.

“As you move into AMEA [Asia, Middle East, Africa], Europe, we are seeing pick-up in a major way,” Srinivasan told Yahoo Finance last week. “Last night we saw twice the normal volume as countries kind of hunker down. You know as Italy, in particular, Milan being the financial capital, there is quite a bit of work from home situations starting up.”

Microsoft, meanwhile, saw usage of its Teams app explode in China amid the country’s lockdowns, with Teams meetings jumping 500%, and usage of the Teams mobile app increasing by 200% in the country from the month of January to the month of February.

Last week, Zoom CFO Kelly Steckelberg said the company began seeing increased demand for its service from Asia roughly 5 to 6 weeks ago. At that point, the company dropped the standard 40-minute time limit on free video conferencing, giving users unlimited access to the service.

Cisco has taken a similar step, launching a free offer last week that gives users in 52 countries subscription-free, unlimited access to its Webex software.

Businesses are struggling to keep up

But as companies send their employees home, some are beginning to realize they’re not properly equipped to handle having large chunks of their workforces work remotely.

“In terms of the type of challenges we see, I think it’s preparedness,” Srinivasan said. “I’m kind of seeing how organizations are scrambling to prepare for the work from home situation.”

According to Srinivasan, clients have been dealing with issues related to their VPN, or virtual private network, capacity being overwhelmed, and what types of virtual desktop offerings they should use.

“Forget the collaboration aspects, it’s basically how to keep the business secure,” Srinivasan said, adding that some firms are finding themselves having to purchase laptops for the employees to ensure they can work from home.

Steckelberg, for her part, said that Zoom has its own library of webinars to get companies up to speed on how to use the service and what it needs to get ready to implement it.

If you expect to be working from home soon, there are a number of steps you can take to prepare yourself ranging from testing your internet speeds to ensuring you have the right apps to remotely connect to your company’s network.

That’s a lesson Steckelberg said she learned herself. As she began working from home amid the virus, Steckelberg realized that her own network connection couldn’t support her needs.

“I work in the office, I always come to the office,” she said. “And now that we’re working from home, I have to get set up.”

A version of this article was originally published on March 11 and has since been updated.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at danielphowley@protonmail.com or dhowley@yahoofinance.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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