A woman working from home during the Covid lockdown.
Alistair Berg | DigitalVision | Getty Images
Sending employees home to work remotely when the pandemic first emerged was a seismic shift for nearly every business.
Now imagine being the company responsible for making all that virtual communication possible.
“I had more sleepless nights than at any other time in my career,” admits Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, describing the position his company was in as the early days of the lockdown unfolded. At the time, few could have predicted that Zoom would practically become synonymous with remote work, or that its name would enter the lexicon as a verb.
While more workers are starting to go back to the office, virtual meetings are sticking around. Most companies are planning some form of hybrid work, according to a recent CNBC survey of senior executives across many sectors of the economy.
Yuan, and Zoom chief information officer Harry Moseley, joined CNBC’s Technology Executive Council Forum on Wednesday to discuss Zoom’s role in what’s emerging as a hybrid work world.
In the early days of the pandemic, Zoom’s daily meeting participants grew 30 times—from 10 million participants to more than 300 million. In addition, annualized Zoom meeting minutes went from 100 billion in January 2020 to 3 trillion by October. The company also doubled its employee base to 5,000. “We had some real challenges, but it was true grit that enabled us to scale the way we did,” says Moseley.
Now, as the company looks ahead to a post-pandemic work environment that is largely hybrid, Yuan and Moseley say Zoom is creating the next iteration of communication and collaboration tools that will help companies foster better connectivity even when workers are not all together.
Smart galleries, AI-enabled meetings and shareable virtual whiteboards are just some of the offerings Moseley says will help enable the “democratization of meetings” that emerged in the midst of the pandemic to continue.
“From the beginning of Zoom we were asking, ‘how do we make the virtual experience as good, if not better, as in person,'” he says. For example, during an in-person meeting, it’s really not possible for multiple people to use a whiteboard at the same time, he says. Zoom’s iteration of what it’s calling its persistent whiteboard will make it easy to share and collaborate in real-time.
The company recently launched virtual receptionists, and is working with financial services customers to launch virtual tellers and virtual wealth managers that will use advanced technologies like AI to recognize nonverbal cues to better engage with customers. “There’s no question that innovation is at the center of everything we’re doing going forward,” he says.
The ability to do all this traces back to the original architecture of the Zoom platform, Moseley adds, and its five core principles. Among them: ease of use, reliability, and innovation.
Understanding customer pain points as companies craft new working arrangements is a key strength, Moseley explains. Zoom has spun up a collection of what it’s calling industry councils — financial services and healthcare are among them, for instance — that keep it in touch with what’s happening in specific sectors of the economy. In turn, Zoom shares with these councils what it’s thinking in terms of new features and functions it wants to add, and asks these councils to prioritize the ones that are most important to them.
As Zoom continues to be an essential way for employees to connect, even as they return to the office some of the time, Yuan emphasized the priority that reliability plays in the company. In the early days of the pandemic, Zoom moved a lot of its free services to the cloud in order to free up its data center capacity for enterprise customers. Doing so enables Zoom to provide greater reliability for all the meetings taking place on its platform. “We want to ensure that there is no single point of failure,” he says. “We’re all about protecting the meeting.”
Yuan says Zoom’s ability to scale up the size of its workforce is because it is sourcing talent from all over the globe, not just Silicon Valley. “I can hire engineers from Texas, or any other state or even outside the country, because we allow them to work remotely,” he says. The company’s growing brand equity is also enabling it to attract top talent from leading universities, something it now has in common with Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
As work continues to change and adapt in a post-pandemic world, Moseley says one of the most important questions companies can ask is: What is the purpose of having people in the office?
“When we can get clear on that,” he says, “then companies can make better decisions about hybrid work.”