How current search trends are predicting the future of remote work

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COVID-19 has taken the way we view office work and turned it on its head overnight. Employees used to seeing their coworkers in person each day were suddenly thrown into a remote work setting. With the abrupt change came not just a change in scenery at the “office”, but a different way of collaborating with teammates throughout the entire work process.

As coworkers exchange face-to-face meetings for virtual check-ins, more people are turning to software to stay connected. One of the most interesting results of using remote collaboration tools is that people have become closer than they were when they worked together in an office.

This in part due to the necessity of staying connected to complete tasks together, but also because the pandemic has enabled teams to invite their coworkers into their homes. Coworkers that wouldn’t normally spend time together outside of business hours are now virtually sharing their personal living space with their teammates.

Social media has been flooded lately with humorous and inspiring interactions between coworkers to confirm this. However, we can learn even more about the new style of team collaboration by examining the search data.

In this post, I’m examining the search trends to see how teams are using collaborative tools, the learning curves to each, and when the tools were adopted.

What will the future of remote work look like?

“As teams become accustomed to remote work, will companies recognize the efficiency of the software and the productivity benefits?”

As someone that has worked remotely for 5 years, I predict that it will be difficult for companies to dismiss the benefits of this work style and turn back to business as usual at the end of the pandemic. I believe companies will become more flexible and you’ll see fewer people returning to a physical office in the future.

For example, a host of tech companies including Slack, Box, Twitter, Square, Google and Facebook have already announced their employees can working from home through the end of the year. These tech giants no doubt have the resources to maintain a digital team and the type of work they do lends more readily to remote work than other businesses. However, as well-known, innovative companies, other businesses are likely to follow their example – even those within different industries.

Employees in a variety of industries have become adjusted to working from home and are acquiring new collaboration and communication skills that benefit not just themselves, but their teams and companies. For this post, we’ll specifically look at search trends that indicate how remote work tools are being used and what this means for new software users as they head back to the office.

Work from home software categories

To gather insights, I examined the search trends and user reviews for some of the most popular remote work software being used. The screenshots below for each tool show Google Search Trend results for specific search terms over 90 days as well as user reviews from Capterra for a more qualitative look at the data.

There is no shortage of software to choose from for remote workers, so I’ve selected examples to represent two main categories of software: video conferencing and team collaboration. Each example within the software categories below is a top competitor in their vertical. I’ve successfully used the majority of them in my own remote-based business for years and can personally attest to their effectiveness.

Note that some of the categories overlap. For example, Slack is categorized here as a team collaboration tool, but it also has a video conferencing option. However, I’ll be examining the trends for Slack based on its common use as a collaboration tool.

Team Collaboration Software

Team collaboration software lets groups of people connect and manage communications remotely. It often includes the ability to share files, attend audio and video meetings, and organize private groups and chat rooms.

Here are two highly-rated tools for team collaboration:

1. Slack

Slack was designed to keep teams connected in one hub, no matter their location. Through Slack, teams have access to a full suite of work communication options. Communications can be organized by channel, shared channels, messages, and voice or video calls.

2. Trello

Trello is a free tool that lets users organize projects visually and collaborate with remote teams of any size. Through the software, you create custom boards and organize content by cards. The cards can include comments, file attachments, checklists, labels, due dates, and more.

Team Collaboration Software Insights

Beginner searches

Early searches for Slack and Trello revealed spikes in terms related to the basics of using the software. These are the types of terms you would expect new remote workers to be searching for. For example, search terms related to Slack in early May with high traffic included:

  • “How to use Slack”
  • “Download Slack app”
  • “Slack for beginners”
  • “Slack how to join a channel”

The search interest scale for “Slack for beginners” alone jumped from 0 to 100 interest at the beginning of the stay-at-home orders.

Though Trello search trends also saw an increase in beginner search terms, there was a key difference: the increase in Trello was minimal. Before and after people started working from home in waves, most basic Trello inquiry searches remained the same. At first glance of these search trends, you might assume Trello wasn’t affected by the work environment changes:

  • “Trello how to use”
  • “Is Trello free”
  • “Trello help”

However, the term “Trello alternatives” saw a spike in searches from late March to early April. Whether people were dissatisfied with Trello or whether they were comparing Trello competitors to gauge their options, the timing indicates remote workers were actively searching for an effective project management and organization tool like Trello.

Beginner Team Collaboration Search Trends

“How to use Slack”

“Download Slack app”

“Slack for beginners”

“Slack how to join a channel”

“Trello how to use”

“Is Trello free”

“Trello help”

Advanced searches

As demand increased for work from home tools earlier this year, it makes sense that new users would be jumping on the Slack bandwagon. However, the upward trend for these search terms show a more interesting insight:

  • “Slack sync calendar”
  • “Slack tips”

These phrases indicate remote workers are looking for ways to use the platform more efficiently. They’re likely looking for advanced features, shortcuts, and other tips for getting the most out of the software.

Users are even syncing their calendars with Slack to further integrate the software into their workflow and potentially even their personal schedules. The calendar term, in particular, has seen a consistently high amount of interest since February.

A deeper dive into the search trends for Trello also showed that users are going beyond the bare-bones basics and are looking to get more out of the software. Similar to Slack, search trends are seeing spikes for terms that apply to using the tool more effectively:

  • “Chrome Trello extensions”
  • “Trello board examples”
  • “Time tracking Trello”

Trello software allows users to integrate a variety of extensions of their choosing. The upward trend of users looking for Chrome Trello extensions shows that workers are looking to optimize their workflows.

Additionally, users are looking for board examples to further customize their workspaces. They’re also searching for ways to track their time through the software. All of these terms indicate that users aren’t simply trying to get by with the remote tool they’ve been handed, but they’re trying to customize the tool to make it more effective for them.

Advanced Team Collaboration Search Trends

“Slack sync calendar”

“Slack tips”

“Trello alternatives”

“Chrome Trello extensions”

“Trello board examples”

“Time tracking Trello”

Team Collaboration Software Reviews

Collaboration software in general has seen an increase in posted reviews on sites like Capterra since the start of the pandemic. It’s important to note that these reviews come from people in a wide range of professions from teachers to marketers.

Here are some reviews that reveal how collaborative software is being used and newly integrated into remote work:

Slack Reviews

Capterra has seen an influx of Slack reviews from teams switching to the software due to COVID-19 work arrangements. This confirms the rise in popularity among remote workers. Some even state the pandemic as their reason for using the software. For example, this positive Capterra review:

One of the pros of the software she mentions is that she’s able to quickly get documents from teammates. She can request edits from the chatbox. She even mentions that she didn’t research how to use the software, but found it intuitive and beneficial.

She isn’t the only reviewer that’s noticed improvements in her workflow due to the software. Once teams can meet in person again, it would make sense to keep the communication tools that improve productivity. It will be interesting to see if the new Slack users adopt the software when they return to the physical office.

Trello

Reviews on Capterra reveal a bit more insight into how Trello is being used during the pandemic. For example, this review addresses the search term above about Trello alternatives. The reviewer indicates that while Trello works well, there are less expensive alternatives.

Video Conferencing Software

Video conferencing software allows teams to communicate in live audio or video meetings. Live conferencing can be between just two people or large groups.

Here are two of the most popular tools for video conferencing:

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a collaboration tool that acts as a hub for teams to organize and stay connected in one place. Microsoft Teams supports video chats, screen sharing, and file attachments. Businesses already using Microsoft 365 and its suite of Office apps may already have access to Microsoft Teams. Others can sign up for free without needing to commit to additional Microsoft products.

Zoom

Zoom is currently one of the most well-known video and audio conferencing platforms available. It can be used for video and audio conferencing, webinars, and chats. While there is a free personal use version, most work teams will find they need one of the more robust plans for effective collaboration. Basic plans only let users group chat for up to 40 minutes, which can present a potential bottleneck for teams that rely on virtual communication for work projects.

Of all the tools listed above, many have been used by remote teams for years. Only recently have we seen a surge in popularity as traditional teams have gone remote. As expected, digging into the search traffic has shown an increase in remote work-related software searches.

For example, broad searches for video conferencing tools have shown a large, expected increase since early March. However, the trends are also showing that it’s not just possible to work from home, but that many teams are thriving with the new structure.

Video Conferencing Search Trend Insights

Beginner searches

As a robust communication tool, people working from home are turning to Microsoft Teams to connect. Looking at the trends in Microsoft Teams shows a predictable jump early on in basic user help searches like these:

  • “Microsoft Teams how to create a team”
  • “How to use Microsoft Teams”
  • “Microsoft Teams how to add to phone”

However, in most cases, this jump occurs up to a week before the other remote software in this post gained traction. This likely means it was one of the first remote work tools utilized when the stay at home orders started to go into place. This could be due to users already having the software through employers but not yet utilizing it, or they could have become new users to the software early on because of Microsoft’s reputation and credibility.

Zoom has seen perhaps the largest jump in usage of all remote software. Around March 21st we see a spike in basic Zoom related searches, such as these:

  • “Do you need to download Zoom”
  • “How to join a Zoom meeting”
  • “Zoom how to share screen”
  • “Zoom how to set up a meeting”

These search trends indicate an influx of new users. It’s important to note that this tool has seen an increase in use for not just business calls, but for personal use as well.

Beginner Video Conferencing Search Trends

“Microsoft Teams how to create a team”

“How to use Microsoft Teams”

“Microsoft Teams how to add to phone”

“How to join a Zoom meeting”

“Zoom how to share screen”

“Zoom how to set up a meeting”

Advanced searches

Advanced search trends for Zoom and Microsoft Teams revealed more intriguing insights. For example, even with Microsoft Teams being searched for and potentially used sooner than Zoom, people began looking for how to customize their backgrounds at the same time for both software platforms. This could indicate that background customization began as a social trend with less to do with the comfort levels of the software itself.

Regardless, the background search trend still indicates that people are becoming more familiar with the software and feel comfortable communicating with their coworkers through it. This term, and the additional one listed below for Teams, shows that users are looking to personalize and optimize their experience:

  • “Microsoft Teams how to change background”
  • “Best headset for Microsoft Teams”

The jump in searches for headsets shows that people are willing to invest in equipment to improve their use of the Microsoft Teams. Whether it’s personal or company funds that pay for the headset, this could indicate users are seeing this as a long-term solution rather than a short-term bandaid.

Zoom also experienced search trends that went beyond covering the basics. Here are some of the most interesting Zoom search term that saw a spike in traffic:

  • “How to change Zoom background”

We can assume from the timing of the upward trend in “How to change Zoom background” that it took approximately one to two weeks for users to feel comfortable enough with Zoom to look into customization. It’s also possible that it took about that long for the majority of users to notice a coworker with a unique background and look into it for themselves. Or potentially for users to feel comfortable enough with their coworkers to want to show their personalities with a fun background change.

This search trend result reveals that yet again, remote workers are looking to become more efficient, productive, and effective with the software.

Video Conferencing Software Reviews

Like collaboration software, video conferencing software has experienced a jump in user reviews posted on sites like Capterra in recent months. Again, these reviews come from people in a variety of industries and professions.

Here are some reviews that show the way video conferencing software is now being utilized in remote work settings:

Microsoft Teams Reviews

The Capterra reviews for Microsoft Teams indicates that the necessity for regular communication has brought workers closer together than ever. For example, the review below is one of many that commented on how Microsoft Teams has improved collaboration. The software even brought together multiple departments in this case.

Zoom Reviews

As more companies turn to Zoom or use their existing Zoom software more frequently, we’ll see the software become the norm of team communications. Many are using it to bring their employees closer together as a team, such as in the review below where the staff engages in meetings, events, and happy hours through Zoom.

Like the user in this review, teams that adopt the software now will likely continue to use it as a communication tool once businesses shift back to the new normal.

***

From the trends above, we see that workers are continuing to learn and optimize remote software. In many cases, the software have brought teams closer together than they were before the pandemic when they worked in physical offices together.

We’re entering a future where companies have seen the benefits of utilizing a remote-based team. A future that I predict will have more and more teams working remotely not out of necessity, but by choice.

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About the author

Jessica Malnik

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