When Eric Yuan, a former Cisco engineer and executive, founded Zoom in 2011, it is highly unlikely he expected the kind of traffic and business 2020 yielded for him.
It had to take a pandemic, the worst in living memory, to give Zoom a global acceptance as people desperately sought a panacea to a disrupted work environment.
Zoom is a videotelephony software programme developed by Zoom Video Communications. It is now a popular tool through which meetings have been held during the pandemic.
Soon after lockdowns that were prompted by the rapid spread of Covid-19 started, Zoom lifted the limits for the free version of its software in many countries, which saw its popularity rise, as BBC reported.
“But the firm’s bread and butter customers are corporate clients, who pay for subscriptions and enhanced features,” wrote BBC.
Zoom said last June the sales jumped 169 per cent year-on-year in the three months to 30 April to $328.2 million, as it added more than 180,000 customers with more than 10 employees since January – far more than it had expected.
The office operations changed for good, globally, as restrictions imposed by governments, especially on travel and public gathering, meant that meetings had to be held through an alternative platform.
With many employees working from home, the office environment changed drastically. And the performance statistics showed a shift.
American management consulting firm, McKinsey, found that 80 per cent of the people enjoyed working from home. In addition to cutting costs on transportation, they worked longer hours as less time was wasted in movement.
Some 41 per cent per cent said they were more productive than before while 28 per cent said they were as productive.
“Many employees liberated from long commutes and travel have found more productive ways to spend that time, enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and decided that they prefer to work from home rather than in the office,” the report illustrated.
Bidco Africa chairman Vimal Shah told The Standard that employees were more likely to be more productive working from home.
“Hours spent in traffic are eliminated, and a fair chunk of this time is put into profitable use.
“The usual office chit-chat and catching up between colleagues is also minimised. People have more time to deliver on their assignments,” he said.
With the traffic gridlocks into and out of Nairobi all but minimised, more time was certain to be spent on work.
Most offices also realised that they did not need as many employees. They cut down their workforce while retaining minimum, but efficient, staff.
But perhaps it was in real estate where the changes were likely to be felt most. At the height of an office space glut in most parts of the city, the realisation by most companies that they could actually do without spacious offices with expensive furnishings was insult added to injury for office space developers.
Even the grade A office spaces that were coming up were shunned as an economically devastated population sought to go for working from home, or making do with smaller spaces.
Abraham Samoei, president of the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya, told The Standard that the onslaught on the economy fueled by Covid-19 could change the workplace environment for many companies in the foreseeable future.
“Due to the pandemic, companies may realise that they require less office space and that people can deliver from home,” he said, adding that “occupancy of rental spaces for commercial tenants may end up taking a hit.
And Rhino Mabati Chief Executive Andrew Muriungi agreed with Samoei, saying that houses were now going to be constructed differently from the past, with a space set aside for the office.
After all, everyone was just a Zoom call away!
The accommodation and food industry took a hit last year, with the quarterly sectoral reports by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showing that it contributed a mere Sh4 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2020, less than a quarter what it had in the first quarter.
The losses in the hotels were partly because there were few customers, and also because the conference rooms, often booked by companies that have board meetings or are holding press conferences, were ditched for some time. It was not unusual to have board meetings where all participants were in their living rooms but connected easily via Zoom.
The CMA even issued guidelines for holding virtual general meetings to issuers of securities to the public as use of Zoom, alongside other similar platforms, became inevitable.
The Glassdoor report in 2020 found that less commuting has improved employee health and morale. The Glassdoor is a website that allows workers to rank their employers.
“Splitting the week between the home and the office is also overwhelmingly popular with workers: 70 per cent of those surveyed wanted such a combination, 26 per cent wanted to stay at home and just 4 per cent desired a full-time return to the office. Perhaps as a consequence, remote work has not dented productivity,” reported the Economist.
It was a win-win. The employer could monitor his staff easily, the employee had more time in their hands, and freedom to boot. A mobile office, with many online calls, seems to be the future.