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The perfect cocktail for a remote working boom

(Image credit: Shutterstock / LStockStudio)

Even before the pandemic forced companies all over the world to adopt remote working, there’s been a rapid emergence of software and tech platforms that power remote work. Now that the virus has escalated into a global pandemic, it will add to a powerful cocktail of factors driving the remote work growth spurt.

As the organiser of worldwide conferences for SaaS founders and investors, I get to see trends in the tech ecosystem before others and I predict that the home working boom will impact more than just a shift in our personal lifestyles. As the startup ecosystem de-concentrates, the balance of power shifts away from the established tech hubs. Talent pools are becoming democratised and CEOs are having to think globally to build scalable products.

Why now? What's driving the remote-first trend?

We’re at a turning point where remote work is not only possible - it’s now preferable for many startups. Buffer, Hotjar and Doist for example - these are all thriving scale-ups who have all been fully remote from day one.

Popular communication and collaboration tools have become reliable enough that they provide an alternative to in-person discussions. The tech needed time to mature, to make regular remote work easy and possible - and at last we seem to have reached that stage.

Additionally, we’re on the cusp of seeing 5G rolled out, putting the infrastructure in place to deal with the increased demand of more remote workers.

Building the tech that makes remote work, work

I spend a lot of time learning about the growing trends in SaaS. One thing that’s stood out for me recently is that if you’re building tools for remote work, competition is fierce.

Think about what you need to work well remotely.  Firstly, a messaging tool to communicate with your colleagues? Today G2 showcases 200+ tools in the Business Instant Messaging Software category. Then there’s video calls. There are 190+ tools in the Video Conferencing Software category. Thirdly, what about storage for files. That’s well covered too with 210+ tools in the Cloud Content Collaboration Software category.

These are big, established software categories, and we’re seeing dozens (if not hundreds) of companies building in these spaces.

The categories I mentioned above have all been around for a long time (in SaaS terms). They have established category leaders - like Slack, Zoom and Box. 

But the market is overcrowded, and with companies worldwide adopting remote work almost overnight, I expect we’ll see even more fragmentation within these established categories in the coming months as everyone tries to nail their niche. 

But we’re now at a time where we need to collaborate and consolidate rather than fragment. Will we start to see holistic solutions providing an all-in-one suite of products for all your remote working needs? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Already I’ve seen new categories emerge to foster communication and help teams work together virtually as they would in a co-located office. In some cases, these tools exceed what’s possible in-person, building new ways of working together based on existing practices.

For example, visual collaboration platforms like Miro are making it possible for remote teams to run whiteboard sessions that enable collaboration more easily than in real life, providing a canvas that everyone can work on simultaneously, instead of having a single person as the designated scribe.

Or unified comms tools like Mio that are enabling cross-platform communication, making it possible for Slack users to communicate with Microsoft Teams users, without either party needing to change the tool they use.

I think integration across existing tools and technologies will be one of the biggest trends we’ll see as remote work becomes increasingly mainstream. 

Will this be a continuation of the platform model, where we have one central integrator, who connects up all of the competing applications? Or will individual companies work together with their competitors to build integrations that enable users to work across their tools?

Whichever approach takes off, I see this is a big trend for the future of remote work. If the tech industry can pull together on this or at least ignite some cooperation we could see something really radical and amazing emerge.

Beyond coronavirus

The current pandemic has meant many companies have been forced to go fully-remote at no notice, for the very first time. This can be overwhelming, challenging, and unpleasant. But there are already learnings from the remote work sector that we can use to help us manage not only our teams and our communications, but also our collective mental health in this time of uncertainty.

Many remote first businesses are completely global - and this necessitates asynchronous communication; where we trust that our teams in China, the US or anywhere else in the world to work as productively as if they were sat across the desk from us.

Creating the frameworks, psychology and behavioural tools to empower your workforce is an integral part of company culture. Where once it was considered unthinkable to have a business without an office, the metrics have been coming out in favour of remote workers, not just in job satisfaction, but in productivity and profitability.

The tools, tech, and timelines perfected by companies such as Buffer and Doist can provide a framework for how to safeguard your employees’ mental health as they adapt to the new normal.

With conferences such as Running Remote now hosting their not for profit online mastermind, and global governments providing grants to ensure that workforces are equipped for this abrupt transition, there is a moral imperative to support remote work. 

Now is the time to push forward global innovation, accelerate the pace of change, and do what tech does best: adapt and innovate.

Alex Theuma is Founder and CEO of SaaStock