The remote working shift spurred by COVID-19 continues to drive explosive growth for companies providing the tools and platforms to connect people across distances.

The latest evidence of this trend comes from Microsoft, which today announced that Microsoft Teams set a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes, up 200% from the 900 million minutes it recorded on March 16, when many lockdowns were just going into effect.

The company had previously reported that Microsoft Teams, which launched worldwide in March 2017, topped 44 million daily active users in mid-March, after having just passed 32 million DAUs earlier in the month. Back in November, the company had 20 million DAUs. Microsoft didn’t update the DAU number in this latest report.

The surge has caused some functionality issues for Microsoft Teams, though those issues seem to have been resolved.

The latest numbers come as Microsoft finds itself facing intense competition from Zoom, which last week disclosed that its daily users increased to more than 200 million in March from 10 million three months ago. However, there are growing signs of a backlash against Zoom, owing to some questionable security and privacy practices.

While Zoom has vowed to address those, that may create a competitive opening for Microsoft.

Late last month, Microsoft unveiled several new consumer-oriented features for Teams. Today, it announced a few additional ones designed to improve meeting management and close the gap with some popular features already available on Zoom.

Microsoft said custom backgrounds are now generally available in Teams and that the ability to upload custom images is coming in November. The “raise hand” feature should be introduced globally this month. Meeting organizers can now end a session for everyone with one click. And organizers will also be able to download reports that track participation, such as when each person enters and leaves a meeting.

Later this year, Microsoft expects to introduce AI-driven real-time noise suppression to reduce background noises.

Future of work

Microsoft also released a new report dubbed the Work Trend Index. The index draws on signals the company is tracking across its products, including Microsoft 365, Bing, LinkedIn, and other productivity tools, to monitor changes in work habits and productivity.

Among the initial findings, users are now twice as likely to turn on video in Teams as they were a month ago, indicating a desire to feel more connected. Microsoft said total video calls rose 1,000% in March. While people in Norway and the Netherlands used video for 60% of their calls, India only saw 22% video use, likely to do with differences in available connectivity.

Microsoft has also seen big increases in the number of streaming events on Teams and the amount of usage on mobile phones. And it has recorded a bigger gap between the first and last calls of the day, likely due to greater flexibility in people’s schedules.

How permanent any of these shifts will be when the coronavirus crisis ends is an open question. But the current lockdowns are certainly exposing a far greater number of people to remote work and learning options.