Technicity GTA 2020: Stop worrying if remote workers are working and focus on creating a healthier experience, says Microsoft

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is foremost in the minds of CIOs and other business leaders as they consider what comes next. Jason Brommet, head of modern workplace and security for Microsoft Canada, says that heading into 2021, the mental well-being of employees, most of whom are working extended hours from home, is a critical issue that must be addressed.

“We know now that even when we aren’t watching closely, people can do their best work and we can trust them. That being said … it’s not this notion of whether or not they can be productive, but whether or not they’re working in sustainable ways,” Brommet told virtual attendees of Technicity GTA 2020.

The “new world of work,” he described, is here to stay, and organizations have to take a close look at *how* their workforce is working. As more and more people transformed their living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchen into their new offices, remote work splintered into two opposite narratives. One crowd gladly embraced the change; according to a report From the Grossman Group, 48 per cent of employees want to continue working from home after the pandemic. Top tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft all have prepared new policies centred around remote work.

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But another crowd resented the change. Microsoft found that over 30 per cent of first-line and information workers were feeling more burned out at work. Remote workers listed the lack of separation between work and life and feeling disconnected from their peers as the top reason for burnout.

Regardless of personal work preferences, almost everyone missed face-to-face interactions to some degree. Gone were the gossips at the watercooler, a stroll in the park during lunch, or after-work happy hours. 

The feeling of isolation when working remotely has been lurked prior to the pandemic, and social distancing has amplified its outreach. Microsoft Teams has new features to combat the stress from confinement, features like together view that places all video chat participants in one view instead of separate grid boxes. Later this year, Microsoft will be adding more scenes for together mode.

Additionally, Brommet says presenters will be able to choose how to best display their content using custom layouts that transpose the video stream on top of the foreground. Participants will also be able to brainstorm in the new Breakout Room feature, which divides meeting participants into smaller, more intimate groups.

Microsoft Teams will receive wellbeing features and productivity insights powered by MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics. They analyze an employee’s work and communication patterns to provide actionable insights into managing their role better. And because social distancing can adversely impact mental health, Teams will receive emotional check-in experience and integration with Headspace, a meditation guidance app, come next year. Finally, to alleviate the feeling of separation, Teams will make scheduling 1:1 meetings much easier. A new praise function lets team members share their appreciation for each other throughout a project.

One of the marquee benefits of working remotely is eliminating the drudgery of a long commute. While studies have shown that happiness can be impacted by the length of the commute, Microsoft says that it can increase productivity. It has found that self-reflection during a commute can boost productivity by 12-15 per cent. To mimic this effect, Microsoft Teams will get the Virtual Commute feature next year. The feature is centred around providing a structured start and window before and after a workday.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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