Working from home is not for everyone. Yet anyone who still has a job and is able has been thrust into it. From the early days of the work-from-home mandate I have been watching how this distributed teamwork is impacting both organizations and employees.
That’s the subject of the latest update to consulting firm Creative Strategies’ workplace collaboration research study, in which we asked nearly a thousand U.S. (remote) workers about their go-to tools for working on projects with peers. These are some of the highlights.
Diverse set of tools in use every day
If you listen to Microsoft talk about Office, or Google talk about GSuite, you’d think each of their paying customers uses only their software and nothing else. In the modern workplace, that is simply not the case. More and more employees want to choose the software and services that work best for them and their team. More often than not, employees are choosing those solutions from many different companies, not just one.
Our study suggests that there is no one-company monopoly on tools for any single work-related use case. Just because workers use Microsoft’s Office apps every day does not mean they don’t also use Google’s GSuite apps. Video meetings are the new norm, and remote workers use a variety of platforms including Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and even Apple’s FaceTime.
A quarter of respondents in our study said they use at least one app from four different tech companies on a daily basis as a part of their workflow. The most common overlaps are with Microsoft, Google, Zoom, and Apple (with iMessage).
Almost a third of respondents said they use at least three different apps for video meetings on a weekly basis. Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime were the videoconferencing apps most often associated with collaboration by people under 30.
Employees commonly choose their own corporate-owned hardware, their own software, and even their own cloud services. Increasingly, the role of IT is to validate and bless a wide range of technology, rather than dictating which options employees can use. In some cases companies use this kind of freedom as a perk to attract talent. Just as the option of working from anywhere is likely to become more widely accepted, so is this software flexibility.
The end of email (finally)?
For every age bracket above 30, email was among the top things they considered a collaboration tool. This changes dramatically when we looked at responses from those under 30. For that demographic Google Docs was, by far, the app workers most associated with collaboration. Zoom’s videoconferencing app ranked second, followed by Apple’s iMessage.
As we dug deeper into the data, a clear generational bias between Microsoft Office and Google Docs emerges. We found the under 30 demographic more frequently using Google’s tools than Microsoft’s, with 55% using a GSuite app for collaboration and only 32% using a Microsoft Office app. We found the reverse in the over-30 crowd, with 61% using an Office app daily for collaboration and only 30% using a GSuite app. The data may reflect a “chooser versus user” scenario where younger workers choose the apps they feel are best for them, while older workers are more likely to accept the apps chosen by their employer. This helps explain the dominance Microsoft Office has across enterprises’especially large ones.
The under-30 crowd may end up being the one that finally kills email, but it may not be (Microsoft’s) Teams or Slack that takes on the bulk of that group’s work-related chat. It may be Apple, with iMessage. iMessage ranked far higher with the under-30s than Slack or Microsoft Teams chat, which was far down the list.
That fact is exemplary of perhaps the biggest overall insight drawn from the survey data. Younger people often have unique ways of approaching business practices like collaboration. Their approach may have been influenced by tools they’ve grown up with in the consumer world, and it may not always fit with the most commonly used tools in business. And as these users get older and come to constitute the main part of the workforce, business tools will be forced to adapt their tools to accommodate them.
Ben Bajarin leads behavioral analysis and research at the analyst and consulting group Creative Strategies.