There have been many changes in the workplace over the course of the pandemic. Millions of workers were sent home to work remotely and many of them will probably stay at home for the foreseeable future. Enterprises have also been investing heavily in technologies that enable this new model while unified communication platforms and apps are now a key part of the digital workplace.

Behind all this remote working enablement is automation. While everyone has been aware of the growth in the use of automated processes, it has been hard to gauge just how far it has gone. However, recent research from Mountain View, Calif.-based Workato shows that automation across all enterprise departments is rising dramatically. The data, published in the Work Automation Index 2021 which is based on research of over 700 mid- to large-size enterprises across a variety of industries, shows that 33% of enterprises have used automated processes in five or more departments during the past year, up from just 15% in the year before the pandemic began.

To establish this, the research looked at all automated workflows created by these companies from April 2019 through March 2020, and at all the automated workflows created from April 2020 until March 2021. It showed that the pandemic has forced teams to change how they operate, with the focus being placed online now more than ever. In addition, teams want their key processes to be scalable, error-free, and appealing to other stakeholders whether that’s clients, colleagues, or candidates.

As a result, the number of teams that are automating their workflows is increasing exponentially. Pre-pandemic, the research shows that one department enterprises were automating their processes, but today there is likely to be five or more departments automating their workflows.

Collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams were used in 20% of all automated workflows. People spend a lot of time in chat apps, so it makes sense that they’re used to initiate enterprise workflows that happen behind the scenes. More to the point, as customer interaction shifted online over the past year, the department that saw the biggest increase in automation use was "Customer Support," where the volume of automations increased by more than 290% from before the pandemic.

One other figure worth noting is that security and compliance automations grew by 171%. With so many employees working remotely last year, enterprises have had to lock down security processes to keep networks and data secure.

Recruitment saw the highest automation growth of any single process at 547%. With much of the world in lockdown, the process of hiring, onboarding and offboarding employees shifted almost entirely online. As part of this, more companies recognized the opportunity to implement automated recruitment processes throughout 2020.

Microsoft Buys Peer5 for Better Teams Bandwidth

Elsewhere, Microsoft today announced that it is buying Peer5, an organization that is developing a platform to optimize bandwidth usage via mesh networking technology. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Microsoft said it would use Peer5’s services to enhance live video streaming in Microsoft Teams.

In a post about the deal, Microsoft explained that as live streaming becomes more common in the workplace; large organizations need streaming solutions that are not hampered by network bandwidth. Enterprise Content Delivery Networks (eCDN), which is what Peer5 is offering can alleviate limited corporate network downlink bandwidth to provide quality video streaming and broadcasting for large audiences of employees.

This is particularly important for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Teams. Over the past 18 months since the pandemic started, Microsoft has integrated more and more apps and capabilities into the Teams platform, to the point where it has become, for many workers, a single place to work from where they access all the content and communications. If Teams is not working effectively then the digital workplace that is built around it is not going to work either. This is where Peer5 comes in.

As Teams evolves and becomes more important for workers, managers and company leaders have asked for more integrated eCDN solutions for large-scale meetings and virtual events. Peer5 offers a WebRTC-based eCDN solution that runs in-browser to optimize bandwidth usage helping offset impacts to network and line of business (LOB) applications. Its mesh networks are self-balancing and automatically scale as the number of viewers increase. More to the point, the technology does not require additional installation on user endpoints or changes to the physical network infrastructure. Additionally, the Peer5 solution will allow Microsoft to provide a first-party offering to help customers streamline purchase process and customer support, improving their enterprise IT management experience.

Microsoft will continue to support eCDN solutions from Microsoft certified partners in addition to Peer5 eCDN while current Peer5 customers will be able to continue using Peer5 services. Microsoft will provide more information when available.

Google May Reduce Remote Workers Pay

With more and more people likely to be returning to the physical workplace in the coming weeks as vaccination drives gain speed, the question of remote work is once again in the news. This time it’s over recent speculation that pay for remote workers could be reduced. In a report from the Reuters news agency recently and according to a Google pay calculator which Reuters says it has seen, those workers that decide to work from home permanently could face a reduction in pay with long commuters hit harder. 

Facebook and Twitter may also cut pay for remote employees who move to less expensive areas, while smaller companies including Reddit and Zillow have shifted to location-agnostic pay models, citing advantages when it comes to hiring, retention and diversity.

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Alphabet's Google stands out in offering employees a calculator that allows them to see the effects of a move. But in practice, some remote employees, especially those who commute from long distances, could experience pay cuts without changing their address, the report reads. A Google spokesperson told Reuters that such a pay adjustment has always been part of company policy which is determined on the basis of city and state of residence of the worker The spokesperson said: “Our compensation packages have always been determined by location, and we always pay at the top of the local market based on where an employee works from,"

The report cites one Google employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, who typically commutes to the Seattle office from a nearby county and would likely see their pay cut by about 10% by working from home full-time, according estimates by the company's Work Location Tool launched in June.

Although remote work comes with fewer costs, such as gas for commutes, employees will argue the quality of their work hasn't changed, so their pay shouldn't either.

Europe’s Biggest Web Conference Will Be In-Person

And as things slowly return to normal, Europe's biggest tech conference — the Lisbon-based Web Summit — will return as an in-person event this November, for the first time in two years. Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave had said last November that the venue, Lisbon's Altice Arena, had been booked for 2021 and he expected the event to return in-person.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Web Summit moved all of its events onto its proprietary online software platform, which has been developed in-house for nearly a decade. In 2020, the company hosted 140,000 attendees on the platform across multiple worldwide events, with 104,000 attending Web Summit online last December.

The company began selectively licensing the software in March 2020 after announcing its first ever customer: the United Nations Development Programme. Among the attendees this year, Plaid, Intercom, Blockchain, Bolt, Cameo, and many more will speak this November across Web Summit’s 20-plus tracks.

WorkJam Raises $35 million

Finally, this week, Canada-based employee engagement platform WorkJam, has announced that it has raised $35 million in a round of funding from Silver Lake Waterman. According to the company, the money will used to maintain its product momentum and drive rapid global expansion

Founded in Canada in 2014, WorkJam serves as a communication conduit that allows headquarters to liaise with those working out in the field, from health care professionals and manufacturing personnel to grocery delivery drivers and anyone not tethered to a physical desk.

The WorkJam platform constitutes various “modules” that businesses can pick and choose from, depending on their needs, including managing shifts and tasks, clocking in and out, training, surveying and polling, messaging and more — all from a single app.

Last month WorkJam, announced the next evolution of its Frontline Digital Workplace Platform with the release of WorkJam Everywhere. With WorkJam Everywhere, businesses were given both flexibility and choice of where and in which systems they would like to deliver WorkJam's functionality to end users — including varying delivery methods from region to region, business unit to business unit, and role to role.