People have got the flavour of working from home and they aren't going back to office anytime soon: Zoom India head Sameer Raje

After the lockdown is lifted, would you like to go back to the office? Would you be ok spending time and money to get to work every day?

When I brought up the ‘life after COVID-19’, this is the picture Zoom India head Sameer Raje painted for me:

“Just imagine: would you be comfortable going to the office now, where you sit in the same air conditioning as somebody who may be infected; you know the same air is being circulated. Or that you're sharing the same coffee mugs and touching the same coffee machine buttons or the lift buttons.”

Just the thought of this is enough to make me want to go wash my hands!

But really, would you go back to the office after this, if it were up to you? Would you be ok spending time and money to get to work every day? Would you be ok waking up early in the morning to be able to get ready, eat breakfast, and reach the office at the time you are currently waking up?

COVID-19, Lockdown, Work From Home, and Zoom

I am assuming that a majority of us would shake their heads to these questions. This happens to work pretty well for employers as well – potentially lower workplace costs. And you know who else this works out well for? Zoom, and many other online conferencing platforms that we currently rely on for work calls, online classes, family meets, etc.

For the uninitiated, Zoom was launched in 2011, and has been a very popular enterprise tool since. But why are we hearing about it now, nine years later? The reason is that while many enterprise customers were using Zoom as their primary communication tool, its use by individuals was comparatively low, until the COVID-19 outbreak brought the whole world to a halt and locked us into our homes.

Representational Image.

Representational Image.

An explosive rise in Zoom’s user base

“What COVID-19 did is it spiked up the usage by individuals, and in a very different manner. Before, individuals who were using it were probably using it in a very subdued manner, but with COVID, everybody started working from home, socializing from home and even people who had never used such a collaboration platform started using Zoom,” Raje said.

In May 2020, Zoom became the most downloaded app in India, dethroning popular apps like TikTok and Instagram.

Zoom and its various security flaws

However, this sudden boost in popularity came with its own set of issues. Between the end of March to mid-April this year, several issues were reported in the Zoom app, including one called ‘Zoombombing’, which led to a temporary ban of the app by authorities in various countries.

Zoombombing’ is a term used to describe an attack where strangers join your Zoom call and disrupt the conversation. This can happen via hacks, as well as from something as simple as guessing the Zoom ID of your meeting.

The US banned the use of Zoom in schools, and in India, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory stating that the popular video conferencing app is “not safe”. Weeks later the ban was lifted by the US.

Raje, however, points out that more than being a security flaw, Zoombombing was about the way the users were employing the existing security features while using the platform. He says that the platform already allows users to lock their meeting rooms, but for calls like online classes and virtual meetings, people started sharing their meeting IDs on social media, occasionally inviting ‘bad actors’.

“You can’t announce on social media that you are leaving your house. You have to be careful while sharing the content on a social media platform. It's like telling the entire world, “hey, I'm heading out and I have valuables at home. And oh, I usually don't lock my room”,” Raje adds.

Zoom apologises and repairs the platform

Regardless, Zoom chief executive Eric S Yuan apologised for the security flaws and within days, Zoom introduced a new security menu so that users can easily access privacy tools. The video conferencing app created a dedicated icon for security at the bottom of the screen, which replaced the invite button in the app.

And that’s exactly why Zoom has stayed relevant and popular, despite all its security flaws. It has acknowledged and fixed its issues immediately, staving off a mass exit in the face of formidable competition.

Raje said that after lockdowns began to be imposed in different parts of the world, “we went from 10 million participants a day on the platform to 300 million participants a day. Any company would have taken more than two years to do that, but we saw this jump in 12 weeks.”

“Obviously, there were some mistakes on our side as well. Like, for example, we could have been more proactive in mandating the use of passwords. We could have been more careful about the Chinese data centers, and we missed on geofencing some of the servers. We could have been more cautious. So this all bundled together,” he added.

Representational image

Representational image

Relevance of Zoom in the post-COVID-19 world

How long can we rely on apps such as Zoom? The lockdown’s got to end at some point, so what will be the future of these apps? I asked the same question of Raje.

He told me to consider a few possibilities for when the lockdown does actually lift:

“You might have gotten comfortable working from home. I definitely have, and my team definitely has too. Who wants to travel from Borivali to BKC every day? We don't want to do that. People have realised the fact that there is an advantage to working from home. You're close to your near and dear ones, and you don't spend on travelling every single day,” Raje said.

“And for the employers, they can do away with real estate costs. And the fact that if employees are more productive working from home, why would they want them in the office?” This entire transformation has been accelerated due to the COVID-19 situation and has brought forth this thought process that is accelerating the adoption of these technologies,” he added.

Last month, Facebook also announced that it would allow its workers — who are able to work remotely — to do so until the end of the year.

The unprecedented crisis has compelled companies to modify their infrastructure and look at unorthodox and alternative ways to keep their business going. For the sake of coordination and timelines, a lot of workplaces insisted on employees going to the office, even when it wasn’t absolutely needed. However, COVID-19 has compelled many employers and employees to reconsider the need to go to offices, or at least consider whether this is necessary for every employee.

What does this mean for Zoom and other similar platforms? Work from home FTW!

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