Microsoft was one of the first companies to warn other businesses that the pandemic would forever change work habits. Two years later, Microsoft has embraced remote work both in its products and in practice with regard to how and where its employees get work done. Today it’s announcing changes to Microsoft Teams, Outlook, PowerPoint, and even Surface hardware to improve the hybrid realities of remote and office work.
As more businesses return to offices and contemplate a mix of remote and office work, Microsoft is updating Outlook to make it easier to see if colleagues are planning to attend meetings in person or not. A new Outlook RSVP feature will appear in public preview in the web version of Outlook in Q2 that allows meeting attendees to select if they’re joining virtually or in-person.
“This is just one piece that I think will really help employees understand who will be in the office and how to optimize those meeting experiences,” explains Nicole Herskowitz, vice president of Microsoft Teams, in an interview with The Verge. It doesn’t appear to be quite as comprehensive as Gmail’s work location feature, but Shiraz Cupala, general manager of Microsoft Teams, tells The Verge the company is thinking about “how do we surface that at a glance view across your day or your week.”
Once people are in a Microsoft Teams meeting, there are a variety of improvements arriving to better accommodate remote participants. A new Front Row layout is launching in Teams today, which moves the video gallery to the bottom of a screen so people physically in meeting rooms can see remote colleagues face to face. Microsoft has been promising this new layout for nearly a year, and it has been a big part of the company’s vision for the future of meetings.
Similarly, Microsoft is updating the companion device experience for Teams Rooms so in-person attendees can join meetings with their own device and be prompted to enable their video so remote participants can see them more easily inside a meeting room. “There are over 90 million conference rooms around the world, and less than 8 percent are actually video-enabled,” says Herskowitz. So this is a key change for most businesses.
Speaking of video meetings, Microsoft is also introducing a new Surface Hub smart camera. You can read all about that right here.
Another big part of Microsoft’s vision for the future of work is Loop components. Microsoft Loop components are blocks of collaborative Office content that can live independently and be copied, pasted, and shared with others. Imagine taking notes in a Teams meeting and then copying those notes into an email, but the notes continue to update as other people edit them inside emails and Teams.
It’s a powerful concept, known previously as Fluid, that Microsoft has been promising for a couple of years now. After appearing in Teams in January, Loop components are now making their way to Outlook mail, linking together Microsoft’s main communications tools.
Microsoft’s take on hybrid work wouldn’t be complete without some improvements to PowerPoint. The new cameo and recording studio features of PowerPoint are now being combined together. Cameo lets you integrate a Microsoft Teams camera into your presentation slide deck, and recording studio lets you record yourself speaking to any slide. They’re both designed to improve the meeting experience for remote colleagues, and the combination will be available in Q2.
Also arriving in Q2 are some improvements to Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams. If you’ve never used Whiteboard, it’s essentially a blank canvas for brainstorming, but it can be difficult to contemplate how to visually represent your ideas. Microsoft is now adding more than 50 templates so it’s quicker to start jotting down ideas, and there are new contextual reactions for instant feedback from colleagues.
All of these product changes are influenced by Microsoft’s own research data from more than 30,000 people at businesses around the world. Microsoft’s latest work trend index data provides insight into employee thoughts on hybrid work.
“We are seeing from our data that over 50 percent of people are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic,” says Herskowitz. Microsoft’s data also reveals that 18 percent of people quit their jobs last year, and many say work-life balance, flexibility, and wellbeing are key over even salary considerations.
The problem for businesses now is to make offices worthwhile and to further embrace flexible working. “Leaders need to make sure the office is worth the commute,” says Herskowitz. Many will face the choice of attending an office when it makes sense and otherwise working from home, so Microsoft’s changes to how Teams functions will be a welcome improvement to ensure remote colleagues feel just as important as those attending in-person.
Microsoft is now getting ready to show us how it will shape Windows for hybrid work. The software maker is holding an event on April 5th that will focus on new productivity and security improvements to Windows 11 that reflect the new reality of office and remote work that many now face.