How COVID-19 impacts remote teams by industry

Matthew Klassen

Matthew Klassen,

Content Marketing Manager

16 May 20200 min read

The whole economy has taken a hit from COVID-19, but it hasn’t affected everyone equally. It turns out Front could have some insight into how the impact has been distributed thanks to the power of usage data.

If I asked you whether people are generally working from home more or less these days, you probably wouldn’t have to look it up. “More” would be a pretty safe guess, right? But it’s just as intuitive that not everyone is working from home more, because not everyone is working more.

Unemployment has spiked to its highest levels in over a hundred years. It just hasn’t affected every part of the economy equally. While some are working more than ever before, others aren’t working at all. While some are working from their couches, others are required to be in the field risking their lives.

No two people are in the same situation these days, which is making empathy and attention to specificity more important than ever.

While digging into our usage data over the last few months, we’ve seen some trends that have surprised us — and others that only confirm what we can see all around us very plainly.

We thought we’d share what we’ve learned.

Why Front might be a handy ‘canary’

At Front, we’re affected by this crisis just like everyone else — but like I said, that just means it’s different for us than it is for everyone else. So we’re using data and specificity to make better decisions. We’re closely tracking product usage and using it to inform our strategy. And that got us thinking, could these learnings be useful for other companies?

In some ways, Front might be a useful “canary in a coal mine” in that we have a very broad user base. We have more than 5,000 customer logos. We have customers and users in almost every industry and vertical, from pure-play SaaS companies to government teams to non-profits to media and entertainment. We have customers in large enterprises all the way to small businesses. Our users include individual contributors, managers, and executives. Essentially, our core user is anyone who uses email for work.

And for most of those people, it replaces their inbox entirely, which means they use it all day, every day as opposed to logging in once a week or once a month or on an ad hoc basis. That means when our overall usage goes down, it usually signifies a meaningful change.

And lastly, the vast majority of our customers are working remotely right now. Some of these teams were distributed as a strategy before Covid-19. Some had to adapt on the fly. But when you add this all up together, it means that Front’s usage data could actually be a bellwether for remote workers in general. Our user base is:

  1. Large enough to be meaningful in aggregate.

  2. Broad enough to encompass most industries.

  3. Overlapping very tightly with remote workers right now.

Toss in the fact that our product is pretty essential to most of our users’ day-to-day work, and you have a formula for making some better-informed guesses about what’ going on with remote work by industry.

Two industries where usage is down

There are two main verticals where our weekly active usage since Week 0 (the week of March 9) has been affected more than the mean:

  1. Travel & Hospitality

  2. Real Estate

It’s pretty obvious why travel and hospitality usage is down. This industry has been quite possibly the hardest hit by the fallout of COVID-19. Around 80 percent of hotel rooms are empty. Air travel is down 95 percent over last year. Airbnb laid off almost 2,000 people. Real estate is in a similar boat, but to a lesser extent. Zillow and other companies suspended some purchasing operations. Opendoor and others announced layoffs and cutbacks. But like this McKinsey analysis shows, real estate is a pretty broad, decentralized industry. It hasn’t been affected flatly either. And our usage data appears to bear that out, too.

Three industries where usage is up

For example, three industries we’ve seen increases in usage since Week Zero are:

  1. Financials

  2. Non-Profits

  3. Food & Beverage (I know, right?)

Our product usage has seen some of its highest gains particularly in the Financial industry. Since borrowing, processing, and operationalizing financial transactions is one of the major intersections for the real estate industry, we can make a guess that the underlying health of the real estate market could be more complex than our first instincts. More research will be required!

Secondly, non-profit usage is way up. A lot of this could be due to our Covid Rapid Response program. We’re offering Front for free for a year to any team working on direct aid or response to COVID-19. One of those teams, Covid Act Now, has created a really cool model that’s helping leaders make better decisions about when to reopen. You can read all about how they’re using Front here.

Lastly (and potentially unexpectedly), Front usage in the food and beverage industry is up as well. Because many restaurants and bars have been hit so hard by the crisis, you might expect usage to be down. But instead, it’s up. This could be because the food and beverage industry is quickly pivoting to delivery and curbside distribution. That means they’re interacting more over digital messaging. They need a way to triage and assign orders at scale, or collaborate with each other remotely.

Limits of this data

Active usage can be both a leading and lagging indicator. If you’re looking at an account and wondering what they’ll do in the future — renew, expand, or churn, for example — usage can be a strong predictor. But it’s lagging in the sense that it doesn’t tell you why it’s going up or down. The market may change, and as a result usage changes. Or you could do something differently and see cascading effects in your usage data.

On top of that, Front is working hard to make our customers successful across every category. Our team is making our product “stickier” all the time with new features and fixes. We’re getting word out about the power of Front to grow our market. We’re doing things to affect usage in ways that could contradict the inertia of these crazy economic forces.

As we all know, “correlation doesn’t imply causation.” Nothing we’ve talked about here is prescriptive. We definitely need to dig deeper when we see these trends, so we can make sense of them. The real value is in knowing where to dig.

What can we take away?

So where should we dig? If your company is serving any of the industries that are possibly shrinking, it’s important to know there may still be opportunities. Like in real estate, we can make a good guess that some sectors of the industry are actually expanding right now: like teams moving to virtual showings, companies that develop property for healthcare use, businesses looking to consolidate financial transactions.

And in the food and beverage space, there are really tough challenges. But perhaps that just means there’s an even greater need for your technology or services.

Our usage is continuing to stabilize, but it could be there’s more hard times ahead. The good news is we get to choose what kind of company — and society — we want to be on the other side of this. At Front, we’re staying positive and digging into the data!

Written by Matthew Klassen

Originally Published: 16 May 2020

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