Any number of companies are benefiting from the Covid-19 lockdown: the most obvious being online entertainment and teleconferencing.
Take Zoom, a teleconferencing start-up which allows people to host virtual meetings. It signed up more than two million new users in the first two months of 2020, more than the whole of 2019, and its free app topped the most downloaded list on Apple and Google mobile app stores in recent weeks.
Thousands of South African companies are taking to Zoom, Google Hangouts and other products as we enter what may be a prolonged period of remote meetings. The longer the coronavirus threat remains, the more businesses, training colleges and clubs are going to ditch rental office space and replace it with virtual offices and online meeting rooms such as Zoom.
Some South African companies were already well-positioned for the transition to virtual training. SA Accounting Academy provides continuous professional development for accountants and for years has used webinars to deliver training. It started putting some of its content on YouTube to make it freely available to the public, and this is pulling in scores of new users.
“Online training made sense, even before the outbreak of the coronavirus,” says the academy’s CEO, Rob Murray. “It allows you to reach people anywhere in the country, or indeed the world, provided they have an online connection. There’s no doubt this crisis is forcing everyone to relook at their business models to see how online delivery and customer service can be offered remotely. There is no doubt this is a big market going forward because we don’t know how long the pandemic will last or if there will be another one.”
Perhaps the most astonishing beneficiary of the virus is Microsoft Teams, a collaborative tool allowing teams to work together and share information in a common space. It added 44 million new users in recent weeks, doubling its user base in a matter of three months. Its competitor Slack, though much smaller, is also reporting a rush of new customers.
Many of these companies may be unwilling to return to rental office space – and perhaps a lot of that will eventually be converted to affordable accommodation, with buildings adopting the integrated model of commercial space on the ground floor, a couple of floors of office space and several floors of residential accommodation.