Few people have framed the shock to the business world that has occurred as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic more succinctly than Satya Nadella. “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” the Microsoft CEO said in his quarterly earnings report to Wall Street last spring.

And as bold as the claim may be, it’s not overhyping the dramatic workplace transformation that occurred when millions were sent to work from home in the early days of lockdown. Practically overnight, offices were shuttered and core business activities—from collaboration to the review of confidential documents—all shifted from taking place in physical locations to occurring in the cloud.

The unexpected explosion of cloud services

Businesses were investing in the cloud long before the pandemic. Months before words like “coronavirus” and “social distancing” became common parlance, Gartner predicted that global cloud investment would increase by a reasonable 17% in 2020, with the worldwide public cloud services market increasing from $227.8 billion up to $266.4 billion. 

Of course, such forecasts did not take into account that a sudden surge in remote work would require businesses to be able to provide to offsite employees the same level of access, utility, and security for all work resources, in order to maintain productivity. In the first quarter of 2020, spending on cloud infrastructure alone was up 37%. And the cloud investment spree is bound to continue: nearly 75% of finance leaders say they are planning for a more agile business environment moving forward, with the cloud playing an important role in such strategies.

To prioritize investments, it’s worth considering which cloud services have surged during COVID and why each specific area is proving critical for business success.

1. Cloud communication

Whether it’s sharing status updates with colleagues, talking through a problem or brainstorming an opportunity, or providing vital customer service, communication is the backbone of business. But while it’s easy to take work home, it’s far more challenging to transport a robust communication infrastructure, critical as this may be. 

Enter cloud communications—team messaging, video conferencing, and phone that are accessible from any location and device. Without offices, meeting rooms and hallways to act as connectors, cloud communications allowed employees to connect and collaborate with each other (as well as with external partners and customers). But in a crowded landscape some communications tools are proving more beneficial than others. 

Though it is possible to employ individual dedicated apps for functions such as video conferencing, answering customers support calls, and so on, a unified communications system that combines all functionalities into a single platform can overcome multiple work from home pain points. For example, conducting all communications via a unified solution eliminates the need for each individual to use multiple contact names and apps. These can act as the enemy of streamlining, increasing complexity and wasting time whenever employees need to connect. 

2. Cloud security

When the office is a contained physical space—with walls and physical security and an internal network—it’s easy to protect company data. When the entire workforce goes remote, working from their homes and on their own networks, it’s more challenging to define what needs protecting and to develop a robust security strategy. But mitigating the risk of data theft has also never been more important: according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report for 2020, the average cost of a data breach in the U.S. is now a whopping $8.64 million.

While spending on some types of enterprise cybersecurity, such as firewalls and other centralized tactics, is dampening overall security spending, there’s one notable area where Gartner expects to see a surge: the tech research firm predicts spending on cloud security to grow by a massive 33.3% in 2020, specifically noting the “ongoing shift to a cloud-based delivery model.”

3. Cloud computing

As more and more business activities are driven online, enterprises need greater capacity to ensure fast, reliable access to cloud services. This increased demand has caused some businesses to massively increase their cloud provisioning, fueling huge growth for cloud infrastructure providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, as well as smaller firms.

Preparing for a post-pandemic future

Though there are promises for a vaccine, it’s unlikely the remote work trend unleashed by COVID-19 will reverse itself, even after the virus retreats. Aside from helping to protect employees’ safety while coronavirus remains a risk, many businesses have recognized major benefits from providing a more flexible work environment, including greater productivity, cost control, and employee satisfaction. As such, don’t expect the cloud investment spree to end anytime soon (tech firm IDG forecasts that the cloud will account for a third of IT budgets in 2021).

With that, it remains important for organizations to continue to pay close attention to existing challenges to ensure cloud solutions meet the needs of a work-from-anywhere workforce. With a full suite of communications tools, RingCentral provides seamless, end-to-end communication and collaboration, leveraging the cloud to relieve the greatest pain points of remote work.