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The SaaS response – how companies are responding to COVID-19

Our podcast offering this week takes a look at the wider SaaS community to see how everyone is coping with the current global situation.


Like so many of our peers, we were due to attend SaaStr 2020 a few weeks back, and we’d lined up interviews with some of the incredible speakers who would have been there. Over the past few week’s we’ve been fortunate to be able to have some of those conversations remotely with people and it got us thinking about how the industry at large is responding to what’s going on.

We’ll be releasing those planned interviews down the line, when the time is right. But for today, we’re sharing some of the conversations we’ve had with folks recently about how they are responding, how they’ve adapted their work, and what it means for the future of SaaS. We’ve also chatted to others more directly about their current circumstances. So, in this episode you’ll hear from:

It’s fair to say that so much has changed over the past few weeks for people across the globe. We’re all trying to find our way in unchartered waters – and it can be a challenge, whether personally or professionally. We hope you these conversations with SaaS leaders are of value to you and that it helps to hear how other companies are getting on and forging ahead.

Here’s some quick takeaways from the episode.

  1. Some companies worked quickly to pivot and ensure that their workforce was well supported to work from home while others already had remote workers set up. But one thing everyone shared is that they are now adapting to working at home in a full house.
  2. When we talk about adapting work practices it’s a broader conversation than just creating a remote work infrastructure –  some are finding that their client base has changed dramatically too.
  3. It’s hard not to imagine what the unfolding situation means for the future – how will e-commerce look in a world where Mom and Pop stores are suddenly now online?
  4. As time passes, people are becoming adept at working from home – so what happens when they get to like it? Companies too may see the value in having a wider talent pool and less overheads.
  5. At the heart of all this is a human crisis and that’s not forgotten by any of the companies we spoke with. Worry about the people first and the business later is a mantra many are adopting.

If you enjoy the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.


How are companies coping?

We were curious to hear from peer companies: how are they adapting their work practices? Where are the stress points? How have they needed to change?

Kristen Habacht (Atlassian): I think it’s changing day to day. But generally what I’ll say is that Atlassian has been an amazing partner in all of this and they closed up our offices probably about two or three weeks before a lot of the orders came down from the states to close up the offices. The tone was always that our employees’ health and safety came first. And so they’ve done a lot to make us feel like we are being communicated to and we are being taken care of and that we are important in all of this and mainly, that we stay safe.

And so I think for right now folks are coping pretty well with it. I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s going to be hard to go back to working in the office after doing this. So, I don’t know, maybe check in with me when we have to all go back to work and back to our offices and see how folks are coping then.

Dee: And what measures have you taken to adapt your work practices? I mean it’s not so different for you because you worked remotely anyway, but it is different in that there are more people in the house than there normally would be.

Kristen: At a high level people have been allowed to either buy equipment or take equipment home if they had the ability to do that. Things like giving people an allowance to basically go buy a good chair. You forget how crazy important a good chair is. I had people working at a kitchen table after a day of that you’re done. So, go get a chair, go get something comfortable. Simple things like that.

“It doesn’t matter which generation you’re part of I think it’s a generational event”

In general from a work practices perspective, a lot of people have kids and there’s no way for those kids to be in school right now or to have babysitters or nannies or anyone in the house,  so we’re all posting our hours in Slack. I myself am working  a kind of half day and then catching up again at night because I have infant twins, toddler twins, so I’m taking care of them in the afternoon. My husband’s doing it in the morning. He also works at Atlassian, so he and I are splitting our shifts. But we’re not alone. There’s a lot of people going through that exact same thing. Atlassian’s been really good in asking people to just post their hours, let your team know what you’re doing and get what you need to get. Other than that I think we were set up because we were such a globally distributed team, so we were pretty well set up to communicate regardless of where we were in terms of our tools and our practices.

Atlassian moved pretty quickly to remote working, and seem to be supporting their teams really well in doing so. Other companies had to pivot less – where some of their workforce already worked remotely. 

Prashanth (Stack Overflow): I think it’s obviously completely unprecedented times and I don’t think anybody has seen anything like this. It doesn’t matter which generation you’re part of I think it’s a generational event. For us, we’re just blessed that 30% of our company was remote to begin with and so it was not a very large shift for us to move 100% remote, so we did that on March 9th. So we went fairly early and we were proactive about it because we just didn’t want to take any chances because we were headquartered in New York and we began to hear some of the reports on the numbers, we just decided to just go very quickly remote, and so we did that I think within a week. It wasn’t very long, where our New York and London and Munich and Austin offices all went 100% remote.

“It’s fascinating just to see the level of resiliency and just the capacity of human beings to be able to adapt very quickly”

So the move to remote was not as, I would say, traumatic or destructive. However, luckily for us of course (and I would say the bigger change of course is just the fact that it’s such an extended period of time so everything) all the cultural elements that were established more in a physical setting have now begin to transition online.

It doesn’t really matter if you’ve been a remote friendly company or a remote first company, as we’ve been for many years. After a certain point in time, especially after three or four weeks, I think it does weigh on you individually, and especially in this circumstance where I think the macro global situation is where you’ve got kids at home and you have elderly parents you’re worried about, all that infused with the day-to-day of having to make sure that you’re also operating in the company. That has probably been the most interesting challenge. So I think it is a work in progress and I hope for everybody’s sake that we return to normalcy pretty soon, but all things considered our company has weathered through the storm and adapted.

The last thing I’ll mention I think it’s fascinating just to see the level of resiliency and just the capacity of human beings to be able to adapt very quickly and in this case I’ve seen that not only at Stack Overflow but all the other companies in the world that have moved to this mode and tried to do the best they can.

Adapting to new customer demands

Resilience and the capacity to adapt are certainly useful attributes at the moment. We asked companies to share what changes they’ve seen to their business – and how they’ve responded in turn.

Josh Nielson (Zencastr): We’re a fully distributed team and we’ve been that way from the beginning. And so for us we’re aware of the things that are going on but we didn’t have to change much procedurally inside the business to kind of handle this. Our bigger problem has been that we’ve had so much demand on our product that we weren’t expecting so we’ve been scrambling just to keep our servers up and everybody’s just coping and many are working around the clock.

What’s interesting about this situation for us is that it’s not just podcasters who have these problems. I think most of the veteran independent podcasters already knew about us. But the people who didn’t or just weren’t on the market for a product like this were companies like yourself that had studios where  you did your recording. If you’ve got a studio, you’re going to use it, right?

“So now anybody that needs to record anything is within our market and has a need for a remote recording tool”

So what we’re finding is that our client base has opened up. For instance, we’re in the process of onboarding a very major sports broadcasting company. We haven’t totally sealed the deal, so I won’t say the name. They came to us and they were saying, “We’ve got 15 studios that we were recording all our content and now we can’t use them anymore and we don’t know what to do.” And we were like, “Hey, we’d love to help you.” But then there’s also other things likevwe’ve now got video game companies using Zencastr to record voiceovers because they can’t go into the studio and do their normal studio thing. So now anybody that needs to record anything is within our market and has a need for a remote recording tool.

Remote is very much the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. Many companies in our sphere have their infrastructure set up in the cloud already so they’re focusing their energy on supporting customers and staff.

Loren (Shopify Plus):  We’re in a very dynamic world right now and things are changing almost daily. So the nice part about Shopify is we have built a business from day one to be effective in this kind of environment. What that means is we are a SaaS application and so all of our infrastructure, everything that runs the stores of a million merchants around the world is remote. We’ve managed it remotely from day one. So we can manage the platform and the software totally remote. We’ve been doing that for years and so all of our customers can and should expect the platform and their software to continue to operate regardless of where the humans at Shopify are working.

“We’re trying to be very flexible and say to our employees, all right you tell us what your new work reality is going to be”

Now we are also very focused on the long term. So our first priority is our own team members and their families, and ensuring that they’re safe, and that everyone is adapting with the changing nature of people working from home and especially schools closing, we have a lot of families who have kids at home now. We’re trying to be very flexible and say to our employees, all right you tell us what your new work reality is going to be. Is that a different schedule? Are you going to be offline at different times? We’re going to work with you to make it work. So we have our merchants covered in that the platform and our services, and the support teams are all there. We have our employees covered.

Adapting your business strategy to the current situation can also be as simple as approaching your communications through a different channel.

Tom Ronen (Monday.com): We find ourselves really in the forefront of this transition to remote work as a whole. And the first thing that we’ve done has been around leveraging our experienced customer base. So, using our community of users and leveraging their knowledge, going out there and asking them, how have you done this transition? What are the best practices that you’ve uncovered? So, we’ve done a lot of case studies and and posted these on our blogs.

We’ve facilitated a lot of internal forums. So, we would invite a group of 15 of our users to just talk. And our customer experience team has been facilitating these forums to talk about remote work transitions, and this really allows our customers to empower one another through our community or through our webinar platform as well.

“It’s been an incredibly enlightening experience to learn from our customer base, and to then leverage our voice to amplify these lessons that we’ve learned”

And then all of us internally collecting and coming together; our marketing team and our customer experience team coming together and creating these materials, and distributing them. It can be a salesperson around shaping how the pitch of Monday.com now sounds in this new age, but it can also be a customer success manager that’s now working with one of our larger clients on conducting that transformation to remote work. It can be a best practice as we learned in one of these remote forums from a small marketing agency that we now implement with a bigger client of ours that is using Monday for hundreds and hundreds of users. So, it’s been an incredibly enlightening experience to learn from our own customer base, and to then leverage our voice and our megaphone in this time to amplify these lessons that we’ve learned.

Looking to the future

We chatted to our guests about what these seismic shifts mean for their business going forward.

Loren (Shopify Plus): I think we’re definitely going to see an impact on commerce in a variety of ways. Physical retail is going to struggle as we social distance, and social distancing is absolutely the right thing. We need to do it and so there’s not an argument here. This is what we do for society, which trump’s business, and that’s going to be hard for physical retail. The beneficiary of it will be digital retail, the delivery services and eCommerce are going to be there for people. There will be a lot of people that have been sitting on the fence for a long time wondering about whether they should buy things online and what they should buy online that now are in a bit of a forcing function, where there is no real other option. So you’re going to see a huge new group of people coming into eCommerce as a primary source of shopping.

“We are human beings. We like interaction. We like experience, that will continue”

My gut tells me that’s going to persist. I think people are going to realize that e-commerce and shopping online is much better than they think it is in their heads, and they’re going to get used to it. They’re going to realize it is convenient and they’re going to do it a lot more. But that doesn’t meant that once we bounce back that physical retail dies. We are human beings. We like interaction. We like experience, that will continue. So there will still be physical retail, but I do think eCommerce is going to increase greatly over this period and we’ll probably maintain that even once things go back to a quote unquote normality.

It’s not just the buying and selling that will be affected but the making too. People can use this time to get creative. Down the line, there’s going to be a welcoming audience for their output. 

Josh (Zencastr): I think that there’s lots of different ramifications of what’s going on right now. One that I’ve been thinking about today, which is kind of interesting is that we’re seeing a big boost in people wanting to create. But at the same time, people’s routines have been messed up and podcasters themselves are starting to see a dip in listenership.

Now, this is something that I actually do think is going to be temporary. People aren’t commuting right now. People aren’t going to the gym for example, and their schedules and their routines are messed up. So that’s having its effect. But think about what’s going to be like in a year from now, every TV show or movie that was supposed to come out is probably now canceled. There’s going to be a huge cliff in content.

“I think this is a real big opportunity for independent content creators because there’s going to be a lot of people looking for content and less professional quality content being made”

And I think this is a real big opportunity for independent content creators because there’s going to be a lot of people looking for content and there’s going to be less and less professional quality content being made, a lot less being made in the next year. So it’s a chance to really step up and catch some of those audience members.

A remote possibility

These times are proving to be an opportunity for self reflection – for businesses as well as individuals. As people take stock of the value of remote workers and working practices, we may see a huge shift in workers going permanently remote.

Kristen (Atlassian): I think that it’s going to be really hard for people to go back to the office. I think you’re going to see a lot of people who want to remain working from home either part or full-time. I think you’re going to see companies come out of this and realize that the world didn’t stop just because folks weren’t in the office. And I think it’s going to open up a lot of people’s eyes to remote and to that flexibility. Before now, I think some folks who had never experienced it tended to be scared of the unknown. If I can’t see what somebody is working on, how do I know they’re working? And I think this is going to show people that not only did they work when they were home, but their teams worked too.

“If we can get to the place where more people can be open about remote work… It opens up the ability to scale without having to worry about office space and location and recruiting pools and things like that”

And so we can do this and if we can get to the place where more people can be open about remote work, it opens up diversity of candidate pools. It opens up diversity of locations and the kind of folks that you can get. It opens up the ability to scale without having to worry about office space and location and recruiting pools and things like that. And so I think this is a huge step, if it really does change people’s opinion on remote and flexibility, to potentially change the way that a lot of companies look at remote working. Because they’re going to have this completely different pool of resources available to them. That’s my optimistic view of it at least.

Prashanth (Stack Overflow): I certainly think it’s not going to be a temporary phenomenon where this happens people go back to their normal lives. I feel this event is not going to be a one time spike and it disappears. I think people will think about remote work a lot more as a fundamental part of their culture and their hiring practices and how they operate as a business, and realise there are actually many benefits of working remotely in that you’re gaining great access to talent, you’re providing a tremendous amount of flexibility, and you’re trusting your employees to do the right thing and do the work, versus having to  show up just for face time and so on. So there’s an element of this becoming a cultural transformation that is almost inevitable in my mind and that’s probably the shining light of this entire crisis.

SaaS supporting the community

One of the truly inspiring things to observe over the past few weeks has been how fast the SaaS sector has moved to support their wider community – wherever in the world they are. 

Tom (Monday.com): There’s many companies out there that I’ve been seeing that have been more proactive in terms of educating the general user base or potential user base that they can have now with so many businesses moving to remote work around how to best utilize their services, and doing that for free. It’s really showing us how right now is not really the time  to monetize your solution and ask for payments for these services.

“Right now it’s important that if we’re in a position to give, we will give”

What we’re seeing all across the board (I can just speak for Monday.com) is how thankful is our user base right now that we’re providing all these services for free. I think it’s something that’s  may benefit us as a business later on but right now it’s important that if we’re in a position to give, we will give. If it’s education on how to best use our platform and how to benefit from our services, so be it. Maybe we’ll benefit from it down the line and I’ve seen many, many other tech companies adopt the same approach. My LinkedIn feed is filled with these examples.

Loren (Shopify): It is really amazing to see communities come together, whether they’re local communities or global communities to support each other. In Shopify’s case, we are spending a lot of our internal resources on consolidating information for entrepreneurs. What are the different government funding programs that are being announced? We’re creating websites where that’s easy to get access to. We’re opening up more capabilities and pushing that to our customers so that they can do more things and shift their businesses more rapidly. We’re holding more educational seminars, we’re putting teams of merchants together to talk about how they can do things, and we’re working with our partners to find innovative ways to support businesses and entrepreneurs through this. I think you can see companies throughout the industry (and other industries) trying to lean in as best as they can to support their own employees, their own local communities and their own the global communities.

“I think the more we focus on the human side of this and that we are all together in this, one global community, the better off we’re all going to be”

A really great example I keep seeing pop up on Shopify and in the community is, people spinning up websites that identify and support the local businesses, the restaurants, the shops, the stores who you may not be aware of who have delivery and gift cards, and things that you can buy while we’re socially distanced that will support those and ensure that they also survive this, because they’re going to be the hardest hit through all of this. So I’m encouraged by all those activities and people sharing the local community stores who we can all lean in and support.

We are humans, we are in this together and so profiteering is just not cool. You have got to recognize that now is not the time to be pushing a bunch of crap into the world. You’ve got to take a human first approach and say, what would you want someone to do with you? And then do those things. And so I think being very cognizant of the people that you’re talking to, the emotional states they’re in, the mental states they’re in and looking for ways to be near term supportive. We’ll worry about longterm later, but like we need to figure out how to adjust and help people adjust both personally and from a business perspective to the near term realities, and then how to build sustainability through that. I think the more we focus on the human side of this and that we are all together in this, one global community, the better off we’re all going to be.

Are you fighting the spread of COVID-19 or helping those affected? Intercom can help – find out more.