What Microsoft is doing to ease the tensions of remote working


Culture can eat breakfast strategy; Right now, both need to focus on flexibility, empathy, and leverage the tools that make hybrid work more efficient and less burdensome.

Image: GettyImages / vgajic

The return to the office remains a thorny subject; This month, Microsoft even gave up on predicting a reopening date for its American offices. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and its impact on the world of work is being felt by companies and employees.

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella In other words, people don’t just make choices about when, where and how they work, but even why they work. But business leaders can still be in denial.

Disappointingly, only about half of executives surveyed by LinkedIn said flexibility is good for business and plan to offer hybrid, remote and flexible working options (and only 16% of jobs on LinkedIn are for entirely remote positions). They might need to be more flexible: 39% said they had difficulty finding qualified staff for vacancies.

SEE: Research: Video conferencing tools and cloud-based solutions dominate digital workspaces; VPN and VDI less popular with SMBs (TechRepublic Premium)

For almost two-thirds of IT managers, not being able to hire people with the right skills is more of a barrier to implementing a new technology than the cost of the technology or adds risk. of security ; almost none of them cared about it in the same Gartner survey last year. And don’t count on moving staff to new positions; only one fifth of employees think they can achieve their career goals at their current company.

Many of those want to change jobs to have more control over their schedules, especially younger workers, and at least half of all workers in the same Adobe survey said they were working too many hours because work was bleeding into their evenings and weekends. ends.

Help the hybrid

Part of the problem may be adjusting to remote and hybrid work amid the continued stress of the pandemic, with what Nadella calls “the hybrid paradox”; 70% of people want more human relations and face to face meetings, 70% want more flexibility.

The answer to this isn’t just an RSVP feature in Outlook, so you can tell if you’ll attend in person or remotely, which will improve Teams hybrid meetings with smart speakers and cameras in Teams rooms or by bringing the existing. PowerPoint presentation coach to teams as speaker coach.

Microsoft also teased its virtual reality metaverse with an avatar version of inventor HoloLens and Microsoft technician Alex Kipman presenting in a virtual theater.

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Getting everyone to bring their laptops even to in-person meetings so their video appears alongside remote participants with artificial intelligence-powered speaker tracking that switches to the right video when different people start speaking will certainly help make joint meetings more equitable for large organizations.

But it’s disappointing how complex requirements are for systems of Jabra, Neat, Poly and Yealink, putting them out of the reach of small organizations (which may already have difficulty setting up Team room devices. Unless it’s a Teams Room device running Android, smart cameras must be connected to a Teams compute resource; it could be a small touchscreen system or a Surface with the right kind of docking station from a vendor like Crestron. You will need more Team room licenses for these devices, which is another level of complexity.

SEE: Windows 10: Lists of Voice Commands for Speech Recognition and Dictation (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

For small businesses, the main options are Bluetooth and USB speakers or a new docking station from Logitech, the Logi Dock, which will also serve as a speaker for meetings. You can get the Lenovo ThinkSmart View Teams display as a secondary display with built-in camera, speakers and microphone, but designed for one person rather than a small group. There is a missed opportunity here to simplify the transformation of a hybrid meeting room for a handful of people in small organizations.

Hybrid culture

Adding hybrid features to the technology doesn’t help if coworkers don’t stick to the working hours you set when inviting you to meetings. Corporate culture must make hybrid work healthy.

To standardize hybrid and remote meetings, even Microsoft’s leadership team will continue to have weekly meetings with Nadella remotely. And in the spirit of deleting meetings that could have been an email, the Microsoft Teams Documentation points out that Status Update Meetings could be a SharePoint team site, and you can check past meeting recordings rather than asking someone to have another meeting to catch up with you.

Microsoft piloted a growth and resilience toolkit it was originally developed for students with its own employees (and is now available through Microsoft Learn). Long before the Great Resignation (or the Big reshuffle, as LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky prefers to call it), tech companies struggled to create a more diverse workforce because their work environments weren’t inclusive enough. Working on problem-solving, feedback, collaboration, and learning strategies has proven useful both in fixing bugs and negotiating roles and responsibilities in team projects (especially after the stress of teamwork. Last 18 months).

This builds on the work Microsoft has done in education to support social and emotional learning, including the Reflect tool in Teams for Education. The recent OECD Global Survey shows that students’ social and emotional skills strongly predict the grades they will achieve, and that feedback and encouragement from teachers and peers helps improve these skills. In the workplace that translates into relationships with managers and colleagues.

SEE: Juggling between remote work and child rearing is a colossal task. Here’s How Employers Can Help (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

By examining internal work habits and comparing those who suddenly work from home to the 18% of Microsoft employees who were already working remotely before the pandemic, Microsoft researchers have discovered not only the usual shift to meetings and team discussions, but also changes in contact with employees. Links within existing business groups have been strengthened, which is more effective in circulating information. But there were fewer links between the groups, and if there was no formal link between two different teams, there was less chance of having the kind of informal links that expose people to new information. and fortuitous discoveries.

Part of that relates to managers struggling to enable the types of conversations that are supposed to happen more in the office because people pass each other in the kitchen or walk down the hallway (although these interactions have always been less helpful. for introverts and neurodivergent employees). Jeff Teper, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365 collaboration, told TechRepublic earlier this year how managers should avoid making employees feel like they need to attend meetings just to increase their visibility. This is the kind of approach that is becoming part of Microsoft’s formal policies.

When you attend a meeting, Microsoft research shows that women are more likely to use chat to comment, encourage or add useful resources that men. It’s useful and helps people who might not have otherwise participated to contribute, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t give them as much visibility as it does speaking out, so Microsoft has it too. created a guide to make this type of parallel chat more useful.

In a recent podcast Microsoft CVP Brendan Burns suggested strategies like offering regular office hours and virtual coffee meetings: “Because there is less serendipity, you need to focus on creating opportunities for conversation. “

Tools like Teams, Yammer, and Viva can make these meetings easier, and a smart camera can help managers spot those who don’t speak very often. But there’s a much more fundamental renegotiation of what it means to manage people that technology can’t do for you.

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