Remote work services companies brace for higher demand due to COVID-19

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Technology companies operating in Canada and specializing in remote work say they’re bracing for a spike in inquiries, sales and users amid an outbreak of a novel coronavirus.

They say their phones have been ringing constantly, sales teams are busy helping new customers and other staff are prepping their systems for higher volumes of traffic as offices across Canada figure out how to bring their workplaces online.

“It is a busy time and we expect to be very busy as this continues to progress,” said Ben Scavuzzo, the head of consultancy at TOPdesk, a company that streamlines information technology systems for businesses.

The Netherlands-based business with a Toronto office counts school boards, universities, manufacturing companies and municipalities among its customers.

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“We have quite a few people calling us asking about finding a workflow tool, how can TOPdesk enable this, or quite a few people just asking, ‘hey, I want to turn on a particular feature so people can log in at home,”’ Scavuzzo said.

But not all businesses are prepared to have employees work remotely. Some are still grappling with how they can enable staff to work anywhere outside the office because it wasn’t previously allowed — or even considered — before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have quite a few customers who have had to cancel planned appointments and consultancy sessions because they need to refocus their energy on just getting everybody a computer,” Scavuzzo said.

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Many companies weren’t dabbling in remote work even before the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 started to spread.

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About 47 per cent of Canadians worked from home for half the week, according to a 2017 survey from workplace solutions company Regus Canada of more than 20,000 businesses from more than 100 countries.

That placed Canada below the global average of 54 per cent, trailing countries including China, India and Mexico.

Remote workers have long been a boon for Slack Technologies Inc., a Vancouver-founded online messaging platform for companies and other organizations that last reported having 110,000 paid customers, primarily corporate accounts, in addition to plenty using free accounts.

Slack released a note amid COVID-19 revealing it has a plan to keep the service running and able to handle “increased volume and load.”

The company said its “pandemic-specific playbook” that it prepared long ago is already in use.

“While no systems can perfectly anticipate every contingency, we watch our systems scale up and down in real time every single day,” Slack promised.

“Because of this, and because we conduct these additional disaster testing scenarios several times per year, we’re confident that the same architecture will scale up to handle any additional demands placed on the system due to heavier general use.”

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Asked about how prepared online teaching platform Top Hat is for a swell of new users, senior director of communications and events Joel Marans similarly said, “bring it on.”

Waterloo-founded Tophatmonocole Corp. offers the ability to create and share textbooks, disperse assignments and administer quizzes, tests and exams. It is used by classes at the University of Toronto, the University of Winnipeg, Concordia University in Montreal, Dalhousie University in Halifax and others.

“The virus has had significant implications for our customers and…daily, if not hourly, at this point. Universities and colleges have decided to shut down their physical spaces and basically deliver classes remotely,” Marans said.

Top Hat decided to waive fees for students and professors new to the platform for the rest of the school year in the wake of COVID-19. A “good” number have already taken advantage, Marans said.

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While Top Hat could be seen as playing the long game by trying to hook customers now and get them to pay for the service next year, Marans said, “our chief priority right now is making sure that our professors feel taken care of and we will worry about that afterwards.”

Canada has reported more than 150 cases of COVID-19, but the global total is much higher.

Most people diagnosed experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low. However for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over and those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe.

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