John Daly: Home working leads to virtual conferencing boom

A line from that classic 1995 television advert came to mind this week: “It’s good to talk.” But instead of actor Bob Hoskins extolling the virtues of phone lines, the phrase found vivid application in a growing technology perfectly suited to these self isolating times we find ourselves in, writes John Daly

Co-founder of Workvivo, John Goulding pictured with Eric S. Yuan of Zoom Video Communications.
Co-founder of Workvivo, John Goulding pictured with Eric S. Yuan of Zoom Video Communications.

Stock markets across the globe may be plummeting but one video conferencing company is seeing the rapid rise of remote working impact hugely on its stock.

Zoom Video Technologies has become one of the few bright stars on Wall Street as the Covid-19 pandemic has forced ever more companies to increase the number of employees working from home.

As New York and California became the latest US states to go into some sort of lockdown at the end of last week, Zoom’s shares soared 44% on Friday.

“Leading the shift to a more virtual work paradigm,” as one bullish analyst put it, the Zoom platform provides video meetings, webinars and chat across desktops, phones, mobile devices, and conference room systems.

Founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, the company headquartered in California, with offices around the world, has seen revenue increase by 88% in the recent financial year.

While the downward slide of global stocks wiped trillions of market value last week, Mr Yuan has added billions to his net worth in 2020, the fourth-biggest increase in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, where he now ranks at 274.

As offices across every city and region continue to shutter their doors against increasing pandemic deaths, the demand for software to facilitate virtual conferences and web meetings continues to rise exponentially.

No longer confined to just the business sector, it is now becoming a regular feature of schools, colleges, universities and even children’s playgroups as the world of work and communication moves increasingly online.

With lectures and classes suspended indefinitely, institutions across the US such as Stanford, MIT, Berkley, and Penn State are subscribing to Zoom to facilitate their virtual classes.

The company has also removed its 40-minute meeting limit on free basic accounts for schools and universities in Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, France, Poland, Romania, South Korea, Japan, Italy, as well as here.

“We strive to empower our customers to accomplish more with our video-first unified communications platform,” said Mr Yuan.

“To have the best experience, you’ve got to take a different approach. Invest engineering and time into the product, and make sure it is very easy to use. Too hard and nobody is going to want to use it,” he said a while back.

Prior to Zoom, Mr Yuan was one of the founding engineers and vice president at Webex.

Between 1997 and 2011, he grew his team from 10 engineers to more than 800 people worldwide, and contributed to revenue growth of more than $800m.

“We are the users and we have to be happy with the solution — if employees are not happy with the product then they cannot bring happiness to our customers,” he said.

In 2019, Cork-based internal communication software company Workvivo secured a significant private investment from Mr Yuan.

The Zoom chief executive said the Irish firm’s culture, values and technology were a perfect fit for his vision of employee communication, engagement and satisfaction.

“The purpose of life is to pursue happiness, and that should always apply to your work life as well as your personal life,” he said at the time, adding that engaging a workforce and making them feel valued should be a top ambition of any company.

“Workvivo is making that ambition a reality, and I believe is fast becoming an essential component in the makeup of successful companies as we head into the next decade,” he said.

Workvivo is already one of the world’s fastest growing providers of internal communications for companies of all sizes across 40 countries.

The investment by Mr Yuan will assist Workvivo in its plans to grow users of its unique model of internal communications.

“Eric’s investment is a hugely significant moment in the Workvivo story,” said co-founder John Goulding.

“We’re not just a communication tool. We bring community, engagement, enthusiasm, relevance, recognition, and fun into employee communication,” he said.

While the Covid-19 virus will ultimately result in many businesses never re-opening again, it has also acted as a spur to the popular adoption of a technology perfectly poised to respond to such a global need.

If video conferencing was already well established within the corporate sector, the enforced rush to remote working has acted as a lit fuse to multiple applications of the technology in everyday life.

As more people realise that social distancing is a vital necessity rather than just a hip slogan, Zoom last week soared to the top of the Apple iOS app chart as the number 1 most downloaded app.

It was also No 6 on Google’s Android chart.

With other firms, they provide a flexible way to keep the commercial world afloat in these desperate times and expands its reach into everyday life such as teaching, book clubs and social activities.

As is often the case with IT innovations, the college students have become a powerful shoulder to its wheel of progress.

Now used for everything from virtual blind dates to weekend parties, social clubs and beer pong nights, many students already refer to the current status as being in “Zoom University”.

It seems a suitable branding for a new age of communication.

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