How Microsoft, Slack, Zoom and Smaller Players Are Capitalizing on the Remote Work Surge

A surge in demand for remote work apps is happening across the board, but the coming months will spotlight the most important distinctions between them.
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With the dramatic increase in the number of people now working from home, apps for remote work are having a moment in the spotlight, and they're trying to make the most of it.

Microsoft  (MSFT) - Get Report, Zoom  (ZM) - Get Report, Slack  (WORK) - Get Report and a multitude of smaller apps and platforms are hustling to meet a dramatic surge in demand over the past several weeks, as well as to highlight how their products can assist employees forced to shift their entire work lives online.

“The large company volume, for us, is equal to what we saw in the last two years -- in one quarter,” said Peter Jackson, CEO of Bluescape, a virtual collaboration platform that hosts multiple apps, such as Zoom, Cisco’s  (CSCO) - Get Report WebEx and numerous others.

Microsoft said on Thursday that Microsoft Teams added 12 million users just in the last week, helping shares rise more than 4%. Slack, meanwhile, added roughly 7,000 paid customers between the beginning of February through March 18, sending its stock price soaring after a sharp decline on Wednesday. Zoom has also emerged as a star throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with a surging stock price matching a major spike in usage this year.

“We’re going to learn a tremendous amount and transform how we work together,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a press briefing earlier this week. “There’s going to be really a fundamental structural change in how we transcend some of these geographic boundaries.”

Various other software-as-a-service firms are offering free services to at least some segments of the workforce coping with the epidemic: Cira Apps, for example, recently made its enterprise edition available for free to first responders dealing with the epidemic. Onscale, a remote engineering platform, is similarly making some of its features free for remote customers.

"Google has opened up its premium paid features for free and Microsoft is offering a free six-month subscription to Microsoft Teams as a result of coronavirus increasing working from home policies," noted Amir Ghodrati, director of market insights at App Annie. "We also expect collaboration apps like Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets to be in-demand by businesses looking to continue cross-team work and collaboration."

Business apps are seeing growth nearly across the board in the current environment, and that’s partly a reflection of a new reality for employees: They don’t necessarily have time to pick and choose between virtual work apps.

“They don’t care if it's WebEx, Talkbox, or whatever -- a conference is a conference,” Jackson said.

But time is also of the essence, Jackson added: Decisions on what apps to use for a conference or call may boil down to a matter of which requires the fewest clicks.

It’s too soon to call winners and losers in the sudden remote work revolution, given the wide range of needs across various organizations: What a government agency needs will vary greatly from what a movie studio, a university, or a marketing firm needs, for instance.

In the meantime, investors are clearly paying attention to the group as a whole. 

The BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index, which tracks emerging cloud software stocks, was up 6.2% on Tuesday, while the S&P 500 was up just 0.7%.