Many employees in the United States are nearing their sixth full month of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stats reported in June showed that around 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home. It’s fair to assume that most of these workers have become accustomed to new routines. According to a PwC study conducted the same month, 83% of employees were working from home at least one day a week. A majority of employers, 55%, expect to offer that option after the pandemic. Other large well-known companies have made commitments to go fully remote beyond the pandemic.
While companies prepare for the possibility of a longer-term virtual work environment, Microsoft continues to build and develop new features to make remote working a better experience.
Microsoft Teams has been synonymous with remote collaboration for some time now, but the platform recently rolled out new features to make Teams Meetings and video calls more like in-person meetings.
Announced this summer, Together Mode is a new feature that uses AI to create a matrix of meeting participants and superimposes them onto a background of a meeting space (such as an auditorium, cafe, or a conference room) to give the impression of being in the same room together. This also gives the presenter a quicker glance at the faces and body language of all participants, making it easier to pick up on the non-verbal cues that an in-person interaction typically offers.
Another new Microsoft Teams feature is the addition of virtual Breakout Rooms, which allow meeting organizers to split participants into smaller groups for brainstorming sessions or small team discussions. Breakout Rooms help recreate small-team, in-person collaboration that is often lacking on company- or department-wide call-ins.
After a meeting ends, Teams will automatically create a recap that includes the meeting recording, transcript, chat, shared files, and more. These recaps help keep work moving forward for those who were unable to attend live, as well as for those who have cognitive differences and will benefit from reviewing the meeting later. Meeting recap files are also stored in Microsoft 365 so they can be shared easily and in compliance with external stakeholders, participants, and/or clients.
Microsoft has studied the impact of remote work extensively, and has found that it can lead to stress, burnout, mental fatigue, isolation, and a feeling of “always being on.” As a response to this, Microsoft announced some exciting new wellness tools at Microsoft Ignite 2020 last week.
While most people have an overwhelmingly positive reaction to not having to commute long hours on traffic-filled roads, time spent commuting actually does help us transition mentally in or out of our work day. Virtual Commute will provide a structured block of time at the start of a work shift to mentally center and prepare the mind for work. Employees can use their time to organize tasks or even take a thoughtful walk. At the end of a day, Virtual Commute offers prompts for users to reflect on their day, express gratitude or accomplishments, or even meditate.
One of the most exciting new features announced at Ignite 2020 is a partnership with the top-rated meditation training platform, Headspace. Headspace integration will give employees a seamless way to practice mindfulness throughout the day.
“Protect Time” Scheduling
Protect Time is a feature that will allow employees to block off time for focused work, personal commitments, and breaks before anything else gets added to their agenda for the day.
Insights for Managers
Starting in October 2020, manager insight tools will begin rolling out to help supervisors and managers be more in tune with their teams. Data will help identify employees who may be at risk of burnout due to factors such as working too many hours outside of the normal day, or who may be experiencing feelings of isolation due to lack of communication with colleagues.
Reflect Messaging Extension
It’s common knowledge that the well-being of employees is directly linked to business performance and success, but not every manager has extensive training on how to engage. Using new messaging extensions, managers have an easy way to check in with their teams to see how they’re feeling in general or in relation to specific changes the organization might be undergoing.
Your IT admin should be able to install the Reflect extension from GitHub and make it available to employees through the message extension menu. Once installed, managers can access suggested check-in questions and can add their own custom questions. Survey responses can be made anonymous or not, depending on the objective of the check-in. The data from these check-ins can help your team leaders proactively prevent burnout and attrition while learning compassionate leadership skills. This feature can not only help save money in the long run, but make the virtual workplace better and more communicative in the short-term.
Working Towards a Healthier Future
These are only some of the hundreds of new features Microsoft announced that focus on improving the remote workforce experience. While some of the features are beginning to roll out in October, others are slated for 2021.
If remote well-being and employee productivity is a concern for you, contact Windows Management Experts today for a free Microsoft Teams planning road map. Find out which of the new features will be available to your teams and what you need to do to prepare your digital infrastructure. WME can help you train your employees and IT team on how to make the most of the new features in your ecosystem. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 888-307-0133.