Businesses @ Work (from Home) 2020: Enabling phase one of remote work

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and global shelter-in-place orders have created unprecedented challenges for businesses. Suddenly, remote work became a requirement for many businesses (and a luxury others, unfortunately, couldn’t afford), and we had to quickly figure out the best ways to stay productive, connected, and secure from our homes for the first time.

This change led to a rethinking of the tools and technologies embedded in everyday work life. Our Businesses @ Work 2020 report, released in late January, confirmed that cloud technology is now a core component of every business strategy, and companies gravitate toward flexibility when choosing apps. We saw security, data, and app development tools on the rise, but that was just a few weeks before everything changed. To learn which apps have spiked since our global shift to working from home, we turned to our network of nearly 8,000 customers and more than 6,500 integrations with cloud, mobile and web apps, and IT infrastructure providers to see what the data would tell us.

In February and March, we saw a steady uptick in the number of unique users of certain apps as companies adopted new tools and increased existing ones to get work done at home. We discovered that we can’t work without collaboration tools like Zoom, and that multi-factor authentication (MFA) leads the way to ensure secure access to company data. Here’s what we found in more detail.

More collaboration, security and learning apps, more Zoom happy hours

Aside from virtual meetings, we now use Zoom in more ways than we ever expected: to attend online classes, stay in touch with extended family, celebrate birthdays with friends, and even participate in online workout classes. So it’s not surprising that the videoconferencing app sped ahead with 110% growth in unique workforce users in March over February and ranked #1 in fastest-growing apps and tools. For comparison, Zoom grew only 6% during that same time in 2019. RingCentral ranked #6 in fastest-growing apps at 39% growth, and Cisco WebEx took #7 with 37% growth. And the education sector saw the highest growth out of any sector: in the second half of March, the percentage of growth of unique users was in the thousands for GlobalProtect, Zoom, and WebEx.

Security tools like VPNs have also stepped into the spotlight to ensure business continuity as organizations move workforces to the cloud at scale. Palo Alto Networks GlobalProtect showed 94% growth in March over February, compared to 20% for that same period in 2019. Cisco AnyConnect was close behind with 86% growth, and Citrix ADC had 56% month-over-month growth. Beyond using new tools for work, we witnessed an uptick in LinkedIn Learning (23% month-over-month growth), indicating that users might be expanding their skill sets and spending more time investing in themselves.

Stay at home orders correspond with increases in app usage

Our data shows that Friday, March 6, was the last day of “normal” app usage before user activity was affected by the pandemic. Beginning on Monday, March 9, we saw an upward trend of usage as more companies began working from home. We also found that there was a correlation between growing app usage and specific COVID-19 milestones, such as government-issued social distancing directives.

Between March 16 and March 23, many European countries announced lockdowns, California began a shelter-in-place directive, and New York asked non-essential businesses to close. When we looked at the performance of our fastest-growing-apps following that period, we saw massive increases. One week after the lockdowns, on Monday, March 30, Cisco AnyConnect had 238% growth, Palo Alto Networks GlobalProtect had 233%, and Zoom had 211% growth. By the end of March, it’s clear that many companies had adopted these fastest-growing tools (and many others) as they adapted to a new normal of working from home.

Businesses up MFA usage amid COVID-19 phishing attacks

The chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has erased the traditional perimeter and triggered a flood of phishing, identity attacks, and fraud schemes, meaning companies need to put even more measures in place to protect their people. We found organizations have upped MFA usage to ensure their workforce has secure access to company data. Okta Verify showed the most growth in the percentage of unique users per day at about an 80% increase over 28 days prior. SMS, Google Authenticator, Symantec VIP, and YubiKey all illustrated their own growth trajectory.

Our data shows that customers have altered their technology suites in phase one of enabling their new fully remote workforces, with connectivity and security top of mind. But the traditional workplace is a thing of the past. As we enter phase two, it’s all about enhancing the way we work. We expect greater technology adoption, and change will be constant as we learn more about what we need to stay productive and encourage more dynamic work. Every organization needs to shift its focus to flexibility—empowering employees to work how, where, and with whichever apps they need to do their jobs well.

You can see additional data in our Businesses @ Work (from home) report.