Microsoft introduces the new Work Trend Index and announces innovative Teams capabilities to improve digital collaboration in response to future trends and productivity challenges
Microsoft has unveiled the new edition of the Work Trend Index and announced a host of new features in the Microsoft Teams cloud platform to optimize collaboration and productivity by seizing opportunities and meeting the challenges of today’s historic moment to guide organizations and people into the future of work.
WORK TREND INDEX – The Future of Work
In recent months the health emergency and the need for social distancing have drastically changed working habits, a recurring question is whether these changes will continue in the future. The new edition of Microsoft’s Work Trend Index tries to answer this question by combining three sources: the trends emerging from the use of Microsoft’s digital collaboration tools; the results of a global survey by Harris Poll that at the end of May involved more than 2,000 people working remotely in 6 countries (about 350 individuals in Italy); and the evidence of more than 30 Microsoft research projects that tried to understand the experience of “remote workers” through surveys, interviews, analysis, focus groups and studies on the human brain. A couple of interesting results:
- The analysis of brain waves shows that the fatigue that is often perceived due to remote meetings has a real basis. In fact, it seems that remote collaboration is more mentally challenging than presence collaboration, as some stress indicators show. At the same time, however, it seems that even returning to collaboration in presence is tiring, because the social and organizational mechanisms of digital collaboration are not exactly replicated on a physical level. In short, the experience of the pandemic is destined to impact even in the return phase, posing some challenges in terms of collaboration.
- Video-meetings generate fatigue, as shown by the study of stress markers that are more significant in cases of video-conferencing than in other work activities such as e-mail management. The high levels of concentration required determine the onset of fatigue around 30/40 minutes and in particularly crowded days of video meetings you start to feel the stress after a couple of hours of work. Among the causes: the need to continuously concentrate on the screen to extrapolate relevant information, the reduced availability of paraverbal signals that typically help to manage the conversation, screen sharing that prevents you from seeing well the people you are interacting with. A tip is to take regular breaks every 2 hours and limit meetings to 30 minutes.
“The current moment in history presents opportunities and challenges and Microsoft, whose mission is to help people and companies realize their potential, is working to rethink a new productivity, constantly improving tools for digital collaboration in the name of simplicity, effectiveness and security. Building on the insights of the Work Trend Index, Microsoft has developed new features and upgrades to optimize the performance of the cloud Teams platform, helping people create a more direct relationship with each other and reduce the fatigue of remote meetings. For example, the new ‘Together mode’ – which leverages AI to position people in a common background as if they were sitting around the same table – has been tested through bio-sensors and has proven less tiring for the human brain. The ‘Dynamic View’ display has also been created for this purpose, to allow people to optimise video and content on the screen in the way that suits them best and according to the flow of the meetings,” commented Luba Manolova, Director of Microsoft 365 Division at Microsoft Italia.
Further evidence from the Work Trend Index:
- The pandemic may have changed the work culture forever, accelerating the interpenetration of work and private life. More than half of parents surveyed, 54% globally, said it was difficult to balance personal needs while working from home. On an international scale, this challenge was particularly perceived by the millenials and the Z generation, presumably because among the under-40s it is easier to trace the duties associated with managing young children and the need to share living space. Italy in this case was against the trend, since most (66%) claim to have managed the work-life balance without difficulty and even between the millenials (65%) and generation Z (67%) was not a problem. In this situation, moreover, greater empathy was generated among colleagues (62% the global average and 54% the Italian figure), each more aware of the personal challenges of the others. Another positive figure is related to the inclusiveness of work. More than 52% of people on a global and Italian level felt more valued or included as remote participants in meetings, since they all found themselves operating in the same virtual room mode. And chat has become more and more a tool for sharing your point of view: chat messages during meetings via Teams have grown more than 10 times from March to June.
- The boundaries of Canonical Working Day 9-18 may fade. Teams usage trends show that people are more active in the morning and evening, but also on weekends. Chats have grown between 15% and 23% in the 8am-9pm and 6pm-8pm range and are depopulated during the weekend where they grew by 200%.
- Physical offices will not disappear: according to Microsoft studies, the work of the future is more likely to be a fluid mix of physical meetings and remote collaboration. 82% of managers globally and even 89% in Italy expect policies more likely to work agile in the post-pandemic phase. In Italy, 72% of managers and employees have expressed the desire to continue working from home at least part-time. However, there are some moles: globally, many (60%) feel less connected to their colleagues and only 35% have a study to work in, so distractions, connection problems and lack of ergonomic environments are frequent. Therefore, while the future of work will be more agile than ever before, it is also true that physical locations with their ergonomic and relationship advantages will continue to play an important role.
“To enable people to better manage their time, Teams offers tools such as ‘focus status’ that signal the need for time for concentration work. You can also set hours or days of quiet, silencing notifications. The new ‘Reflect messaging extension’ will also allow managers to explore topics such as work-life balance with their teams, through questions on various topics that can probe emotional well-being. In Microsoft’s vision, new technologies must mitigate any problems related to the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and private life, so we are committed to continue to innovate in terms of analytics and tools for organizational well-being,” added Luba Manolova.
THE NEW FEATURES OF MICROSOFT TEAMS
In recent months, the social distancing measures needed to cope with the COVID-19 emergency have completely transformed the ways of collaboration, encouraging a more hybrid working and learning model. Thanks to the analysis of the scenario and trends, Microsoft has developed a series of new Microsoft Teams features designed to foster productivity and learning, for business and education users, in order to improve relationships and reduce fatigue, make virtual interactions even more natural and engaging, streamline processes and optimize time. The main news of Teams that Microsoft will make available during the year:
- Together mode: is a new mode that leverages Artificial Intelligence to digitally position all participants on a shared background to increase the sense of proximity, as if users were sitting in the same meeting room or classroom. This new experience also helps to focus on facial expressions and body language, facilitating the understanding of non-verbal signals, fundamental in human interaction processes.
- Dynamic view: gives the user greater control over how the shared files are displayed and the ability to show content alongside specific participants, allowing the user to customize the meeting display according to their needs and to segment it into groups.
- Video filters: through the filters available on Microsoft Teams it is possible to adjust the brightness and soften the focus of the camera to control its appearance before the start of a meeting.
- Reflect messaging extension: Available starting in the coming weeks, it will give managers, executives and teachers the opportunity to check the sentiment of their team or students by installing the Reflect extension from GiftHub. It will allow you to ask your team questions, suggested by the software or customized according to your needs, with the ability to keep the answers anonymous and to probe the emotional state of the group / class.
- Live reactions: it will allow to interact during a meeting using the emoji that will be displayed on the participants’ screen in reaction to the interventions. In the future also PowerPoint Live Presentations will come on Teams.
- Chat bubbles: To make even more functional the use of chat within Microsoft Teams, without manually opening the conversation window to view the exchanges between users, the software will allow you to view the chats sent during a meeting on the screens of all participants of the meeting, making the chat conversation even more central.
- Speaker attribution for live subtitles and transcription: live subtitles are already an option, but soon Microsoft Teams will also include the ability to attribute them to a specific speaker so that no confusion can arise between who says what. In addition, real-time transcriptions, coming this year, will give the user an extra opportunity to keep up with the conversation and at the end will be automatically saved within the meeting.
- Interactive meetings for more than 1000 participants: to make meetings even more interactive, including the ability to chat, reactivate audio to speak and activate video for real-time collaboration, Teams is growing to support up to 1000 participants. For view-only presentation experiences that do not involve interaction, Teams welcomes up to 20,000 participants.
- Microsoft Whiteboard Updates: The Whiteboard will soon be updated with new features including faster loading times, added sticky notes, lyrics and drag and drop.
- App Task: The Task app, to be launched this month, will offer a new unified view of Microsoft To Do, Planner and Outlook tasks.
- Response Suggestions: Response suggestions in Teams chat leverage AI to create short responses based on the context of the previous message.
- Touchless meeting experiences: Teams already allows people to connect and share content on meeting room tools through their mobile device or PC. By the end of the year Teams will also allow people to share content on Surface Hub through the new “room control” in the mobile app that will offer additional control capabilities such as the ability to mute, activate the camera, adjust audio and leave the meeting. During the course of the year, the voice assistant and the possibility of wireless projection will also be integrated.
Available by the end of the year in the U.S. only, the new Microsoft Teams display devices, a new all-in-one category with an environmental touchscreen and a hands-free experience enabled by Cortana, and integration with Cortana as a voice assistant, which will be activated in the coming weeks for Microsoft 365 Enterprise users in US.
For more information and charts on the Work Trend Index, see this blogpost.
For details, videos and images on the new features of Teams you can learn more here.