Remote work changing the game for Australia’s startups, Zoho’s chief strategy officer says

- July 10, 2020 3 MIN READ
Occasionally, something seismic occurs that either entirely alters an established construct or rapidly accelerates a previously gentle trend.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has done exactly that to the world of work, forcing millions of us to set up temporary workspaces in spare bedrooms and lounges across Australia. Whatever our location, industry and business size, we’re now bound by a heightened exposure to remote work. For many of us, it’s something we’ll have to get used to.

To stay connected and negate the challenges, businesses have relied on technology more than ever before. Once fearful of its potential threat to human jobs, intrepid workers have hosted meetings using video conferencing, had water cooler conversations over instant messaging platforms and managed entire projects and teams through cloud software and shared documents.

While some workplaces are gently reopening, thousands of businesses have learnt that they can work just as effectively remotely as they could from a centralised office. Powered by technology, in the ‘new normal’ a job is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do.

Vijay Sundaram, chief startegy officer, Zoho

Indeed, Zoho’s Remote Work Revolution research found that half of Australia’s 2.35 million small businesses intend to remain remote, even after lockdown restrictions lift entirely. What’s more, many larger companies have signalled their intent to either work remotely indefinitely or provide each employee the flexibility and autonomy to decide where they work.

For these businesses to make such a significant shift long-term – or indeed permanently – the demand for SaaS solutions is likely to skyrocket.

In March, for example, as the pandemic intensified globally, we released Remotely, a suite of 11 applications to help businesses manage the transition to remote work, entirely free. Over 25,000 new businesses worldwide are now using the platform, relying on it every day as they evolve and adapt to the new normal.

For Australian startups, supplying that demand and empowering the post-pandemic economic recovery is an immense opportunity, and one they cannot afford to miss. If startups can provide the tools with which to empower our businesses and capitalise on the comparatively favourable conditions here, that could disrupt the technology status quo and see Australia join the established elite like Silicon Valley, London and Tel Aviv at technology’s top table.

To survive an economic recession, Australia needs a robust and dynamic economy in which entrepreneurialism is encouraged, the stigma of failure is squashed and everyone, everywhere, is encouraged to contribute. To achieve this, Australian’s need to be supported by the crucial software to help them start or scale in the post-lockdown climate. Whether it’s a simple app that helps an entrepreneur send invoices to a client or a holistic suite of integrated solutions that digitise every aspect of a business, software has the power to change businesses and the communities around them for the better.

Thus far, Australia has had success flattening the curve and easing restrictions, and with the Federal Government’s three-step plan to revitalise the economy well underway, Australia’s startup community should be ready to empower and digitally transform businesses in every industry across the country.

More than ever before, businesses are awake to the potential of digital transformation. And while technology was already changing the way we live and work long before the pandemic struck, the ‘digitise or die’ warning that once felt distant to many, is an imminent, existential consideration now.

Understandably business’ budgets are tight and high cost or scope creep are two of the commonly sighted barriers to technological adoption for businesses. Not only must the software be affordable, accessible and intuitive, the startups providing it must prioritise long-term customer relationships and business empowerment over a short-sighted pursuit of short-term ROI. In volatile times, if too few businesses can access crucial technology, the results could be alarming and our journey out of the financial crisis becomes infinitely harder.

There will be challenges, of course, particularly with record unemployment and budget cuts already threatening key university startup programs and incubators. But with great challenge comes not only great responsibility, but great opportunity. In the post-lockdown ‘now normal’ why can’t Australia be the innovation nation?

If we’re to become the best place in the world to start and scale a business in the new normal, our startup community must seize this immense opportunity.


  • Vijay Sundaram is Zoho’s Chief Strategy Officer