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Microsoft Outlines Remote Work Trends, Delays HQ Reopening

Microsoft on Thursday shared more information about remote work trends, while also indicating that its planned Oct. 4 Redmond, Wash. headquarters reopening is getting indefinitely delayed.

No future date was given for the reopening of Microsoft's headquarters or other U.S. facilities.

"Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we've decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our U.S. work sites in favor of opening U.S. work sites as soon as we're able to do so safely based on public health guidance," stated Jared Spataro, Microsoft's corporate vice president for modern work.

New Work Trends Index Report
Spataro gave those remarks while introducing results from Microsoft's latest Work Trends Index report, which was announced on Thursday.

The report follows up on Microsoft's own efforts to keep its teams working following the physical isolation that occurred with the COVID-19 pandemic response. Microsoft's first Work Trends Index report was described back in March.

This latest report was also highlighted on Thursday in an online talk, titled "The Future of Work," by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Ryan Roslansky, CEO of LinkedIn. (LinkedIn is a jobs and networking company that's owned by Microsoft.) They introduced the concepts of "the great reshuffle" and "the hybrid work paradox" in describing the report's results.

The great reshuffle is the shift to remote work for organizations, which brings a need to meet employee expectations. Microsoft depicted experiencing a rather successful shift in that respect. It had 160,000 employees working from home and also "remotely onboarded 25,000 new employees" while maintaining a feeling of inclusion among employees. The latest Work Trends Index report found feelings of employee inclusion were rated at "an all-time high of 90%."

The hybrid work paradox notion comes from survey results cataloged in the Work Trends Index reports. The first report found that 73 percent of Microsoft's employees wanted the remote work option to continue, while 67 percent also said they wanted more in-person engagement.

This latest Work Trends Index report found similar seemingly contradictory opinions about office work versus remote work, and employee well-being notions.

"In short, some employees cite work-life balance, focus time, and meetings as reasons to go into the office, while others cite those same considerations as reasons to stay home," Microsoft's Work Trends Index announcement explained. "Through polar opposite work styles, they're seeking the same benefit."

That benefit appears to be work flexibility for employees, which Microsoft is touting for its organization, as well as for others. Microsoft's Work Trend Index reports aren't just intended for internal Microsoft consumption, but are offered as ideas for other organizations coping with the same remote-work issues.

Ironically, Microsoft employs software engineering talent to create products that promise to reduce the employee counts at other companies as a selling point. Flexibility can also mean low-paid gig work in the minds of many company executives. However, Microsoft's reports assume some sort of more benevolent stance in the employer-employee relationship.

During the online talk, Nadella particularly cited Microsoft's implementation of a managerial approach called "model, coach, care" to stay engaged with employees. This approach was briefly described in the Work Trends Index announcement as follows:

We train managers to model flexibility, well-being, and self-care; act like a coach, helping employees set priorities, removing roadblocks, and asking questions to help employees find solutions; and, finally, care for employees' unique needs in and outside of work, as well as their career aspirations and goals.

Microsoft introduced this managerial approach about two years ago, but otherwise didn't describe it.

Hybrid Workspace Improvements
Microsoft is applying its flexibility notions to office workspaces and "hybrid meetings" (online meetings with internal and external participants) and described some common practices to adopt in a Thursday announcement by Nicole Herskowitz, general manager of Microsoft Teams.

To conduct hybrid meetings, organizations will need access to a Teams-certified speaker in a room, or they should bring one, which is called a "puck." Online meetings should be joined with cameras turned on, but microphones turned off. A meeting facilitator should be appointed to ensure "participation and collaboration."

Herskowitz also described using "intelligent cameras" for these meetings, which she described as "the next wave in Teams Rooms innovation." These cameras use artificial intelligence to track speakers, based on "audio, facial movements, and gestures." Speakers get identified via a text display and put into a video pane.

Other Product Advancements
Microsoft described a bunch of Teams, apps and device capabilities that will soon be arriving to improve collaborations.

Microsoft Teams users are getting the ability to use third-party and Microsoft apps during meeting sessions. Apps can be shared using Microsoft "share-to-stage" feature for Teams. The share-to-stage feature "not only allows you to share a Teams meeting app's content onto the meeting stage for everyone to see -- but also lets them interact with the content in real-time," Microsoft explained in this Thursday announcement. Third-party apps from MURAL, Miro, Lucidspark and Freehand will be arriving initially.

For home users, Logitech will be coming out with a new Logi Dock docking stations in "winter 2021." It lets users plug in multiple devices, but also lets them join meetings with a button press, and includes a built-in speakerphone.

Apple Car Play will support Teams, starting sometime this month. Participants can join meetings and make hands-free phone calls by invoking Apple's Siri digital assistant.

Teams will be getting a "lighting corrections" capability "in the coming months." It's automatic and puts meeting participants into proper lighting conditions, "even in low-light environments."

Viva Connections, a Microsoft Viva product that provides a central portal for company news and resources, will be available as a mobile application. The mobile app is expected to reach the preview stage "in the upcoming weeks."

Microsoft is updating "companion mode," a capability in Teams that lets users share a Teams session on another device, such as a mobile phone, or a room device, such as a Microsoft Surface Hub. Microsoft is planning an update to companion mode "in the next few months" that will make it easier to access meetings and use various controls, as well as access "features like chat, live reactions, and Microsoft Whiteboard."

Herskowitz also described some Outlook collaboration improvements that will be coming "early next year." Outlook's "working hours" feature will be able to show "work schedule specifics" in its Calendar. A new RSVP feature used with meeting invitations will let people specify whether they will meet in person or online.

Teams Displays devices are getting a "hot desking experience." It allows Teams Displays devices to be reserved in Outlook or Teams as a workspace in an office. The hot desking experience is expected to arrive first for Lenovo ThinkSmart devices, Herskowitz indicated:

Teams displays can be used as a standalone device or as a second screen when hot-desking and upon signing out, all personal information will be removed from the device. This experience is expected to be available on Lenovo ThinkSmart view by the end of 2021.

PowerPoint will be getting a "Cameo" feature "in early 2022" that lets presenters put a camera feed of themselves within a presentation.

Microsoft is also planning to add a "speaker coach" feature in Teams in "early 2022." It uses artificial intelligence to gauge the pace of presentations, offering advice. It also assesses whether there have been interruptions during a meeting, showing the speaker a notice to that effect.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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