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Microsoft Unveils Zoom Competitor, Gartner Predicts More Remote Work and Other News

7 minute read
David Roe avatar
This week, Microsoft releases a Skype-based alternative to Zoom, Gartner predicts more remote working will be permanent and Edison unveils new email service.

It is inevitable that with so many people working from home now, the digital workplace is changing and is likely to stay changed once the current crisis has passed. However, recent research from Gartner shows that the changes are going to be far more profound that was originally thought. A survey of 317 chief financial officers (CFO) carried out on March 30th indicates that 74% of them say that once this is over, they will move at least 5% of their workforce to remote positions.

It makes sense too. In a comment on the survey Alexander Bant, Finance Practice Vice President at Gartner said that while there will be issues, with CFOs under severe pressure to manage costs, one relatively easy and already-tried solution is to ask people to work from home. While 5% doesn’t seem huge, keep in mind that a quarter of those surveyed said that they would be sending 20% home to work remotely on a permanent basis.

If the case for remote working has been an ongoing theme in the digital workplace over the past three years, the additional cost and expense that will hit enterprises in the coming months as they struggle to manage the fallout from COVID-19 has, to a large extent, concluded the argument. Now, if remote working is often desirable for employees, it may be necessary for the financial well-being of companies. “Most CFOs recognize that technology and society have evolved to make remote work more viable for a wider variety of positions than ever before,” Bant said. “Within the finance function itself, 90% of CFOs previously reported to us that they expect minimal disruptions to their accounting close process, with almost all activities able to be executed off-site.”  And just look at what is happening:

  • 20% of respondents indicated they have deferred on-premise technology spend.  
  • A further 12% are planning to do the same.
  • 13% of respondents noted they had already made cost reductions in real estate expenses.
  • 9% are planning to take actions in the area of real estate in the coming months.

For all the talk of remote working in the digital workplace over the coming years, it is clear that the current crisis has really pushed the timetable forward. We'll be watching this closely.

Microsoft’s Skype Aims To Replace Zoom

While there have probably been quite a few universal and video communication vendors watching the ongoing troubles at Zoom with a certain amount of schadenfreude, few could have reacted as quickly as Microsoft has. We recently saw that in the immediate aftermath of Zoom’s privacy problems, it started pushing its enterprise communication app Teams as an alternative. However, Teams is only effective if you have signed up to one of Microsoft’s productivity suite plans.

This week, however, the Redmond, Wash.-based company announced that it is offering Skype as a practical video alternative in the shape of Skype Meet Now. Announced recently, Skype Meet Now is a web-based version of Skype. On the Meet Now website, Microsoft explains that it allows you to set up a collaboration space and invite both Skype contacts and friends who are not on Skype. Participants can then easily join meetings whether they have an account or not.

While Meet Now is supported by Microsoft Edge and Chrome, for the moment at least, the web experience is only available through laptops and desktop. If you want to use it on a cellphone, you will have to download the app.

Meet Now is clearly not aimed at the enterprise space but will work well in the small-to-medium enterprise space that is already using apps like Zoom. It will also appeal to small teams in the enterprise that have not signed up to Microsoft yet.

If this works, though, it is just another small step by Microsoft towards pulling these users into one of its many paid plans.

Edison’s New OnMail Email Service

Over the years, many companies have promised to re-invent email, or even to replace it only to see email remain one of the main collaboration and communication apps in the enterprise. The problem with email though is the amount of unwanted material that lands in the inbox. Google tried to manage this with the Inbox apps which they finally shuttered last year. However, there’s a new contender too, in the shape of Edison Software which is preparing to launch OnMail, a new email service that lets users control who enters your inbox. 

According to CrunchBase,  Mountain View Calif.-based Edison Software (formerly EasilyDo,) is a consumer technology company that aims to transform how people communicate by innovating technology and creating intelligence. Founded in 2011 by Mikael Berner, former CEO of BeVocal, and Hetal Pandya, former director at Nuance, the company began by reimagining and simplifying how consumers use email. The new OnMail feeds directly into this. It enables users to decide who are what they want to let into their inbox by providing a blocking feature called Permission Control. The idea behind OnMail is to create a better spam and blocking system.

Its “Permission Control” feature allows users to accept or decline a specific email address from being able to place mail in your inbox. While Edison already has a "Block Sender" or "Unsubscribe" as a declined sender’s future emails will never hit your inbox — well, at least not in a way that’s visible to you.

Learning Opportunities

At launch, the web version of OnMail will work in several browsers. It will also work in the existing Edison Mail apps for Mac, iOS, and Android. In another update that puts the needs of the receiver above those of the sender, OnMail will remove all information sent from any invisible tracking pixels.

Edison also promises to bring other features like search experience filtering tools, support for large attachments, enhanced speed of delivery, and more. Edison says it’s been working to develop OnMail for over two years, after realizing how broken email remains.

WorkJam Raises $50m

Elsewhere, Montreal-based WorkJam, has announced that it has just raised $50 million in funding round, led by top Canadian venture capital firm Inovia Capital. The latest funding round, the company said in a statement, will enable WorkJam to continue to expand geographically, seek acquisitions, and invest in its employees.

According to WorkJam, there are currently over 1.5 million frontline employees using WorkJam's Digital Workplace Platform across 35 countries, operating in 28 languages. Deployed across multiple industries, WorkJam's platform enables non-desk employees with scheduling capabilities, an open shift marketplace, task management, bi-directional communication between frontline and headquarters staff, mobile punching, training, surveys, and more into a unified set of mobile or desktop-based modules that can be deployed separately or together in as few as five days. 

It has a history of working with mid-size and large enterprises, as well as extensive experience in enabling communications and productivity improvements for frontline workforces.

Clearly, the timing of the investment is fortuitous especially, as we have seen earlier, many companies expect to push at least a small number of their staff home to work remotely.

Pronto Offers Video, Messaging Platform Free

Finally, this week, Lehi, Utah-based Pronto, which develops a chat and video messaging platform, has announced that it is providing its synchronous communication platform for free to teams struggling to stay connected due to coronavirus.

Pronto is built mobile-first, reaching teams where they are, while also providing a seamless user experience for team leads on a desktop or browser. It also enables organizations to measure results, KPIs and other key areas that need improvement.

Pronto began offering its platform for free in early March to University professors as schools began going virtual due to concerns about Covid-19. The response from professors was overwhelming as Pronto played a significant role in maintaining continuity in students’ educations. As discussions intensified about social distancing, Pronto quickly decided to expand its free offering to teams dealing with distributed workforces.

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