Jul 14, 2020 - Technology

Coronavirus pandemic kicks off battle over work-from-home tech

The Slack app logo on a phone screen with a map in the background detailing the coronavirus outbreak

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pandemic-induced telecommuting is spotlighting a new war in business: the fight to dominate work-from-home technologies.

The big picture: For many firms, virtual meeting and chatting software went from nice-to-haves to must-haves as they rushed to replicate the communication and collaboration that happens in person at the office.

  • It's a market worth billions, and two front-runners — Slack and Microsoft Teams — have emerged.

The state of play: Both have exploded in use and popularity during the pandemic, as they offer the ability to put the office online.

  • In a recent earnings call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the number of daily active Teams users has skyrocketed to 75 million, from 44 million in March.
  • Slack's latest number is 12 million daily active users, which it reported in October. It's likely much, much higher now.
  • Back in March, just a few days after coronavirus lockdowns began, Slack said active usage minutes per user had spiked 35%.

Startups seem to love Slack — nearly 60% of them pay for it, per Recode.

  • But Teams dominates among bigger companies, perhaps because it's free to tack on if you've got a Microsoft 365 subscription, and it integrates seamlessly with Outlook and any other Microsoft products, notes Ben Thompson in his excellent newsletter, Stratechery.

The bottom line, per Thompson:

  • "This is what Slack — and Silicon Valley, generally — failed to understand about Microsoft’s competitive advantage: The company doesn’t win just because it bundles, or because it has a superior ground game."
  • "By virtue of doing everything, even if mediocrely, the company is providing a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, particularly for the non-tech workers that are in fact most of the market."
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