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A look at Virtual Commute, one of the new features in Microsoft Teams.

New Microsoft 365 Features Focus on Worker Productivity, Wellbeing

As part of Microsoft’s push to position its services for “the new world of work,” the company is rolling out a host of new upgrades, including a "virtual commute," advanced leader insights and expanded Productivity Score categories.

One of the dominant themes in this year’s Ignite is “the new world of work.” One of the approaches Microsoft is taking is to embody that is to add a new set of Microsoft 365 features centered on analytics for tracking both worker productivity and wellbeing. The goal behind this service is to help employees and managers use the employee metrics as an indicator for how connected, engaged and productive employees can be – and where they might need to ease up.

Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, shared key product updates that are intended to assist Microsoft 365 customers in improving their worker productivity in a challenging work-from-home situation. Here are some of the most noteworthy Microsoft 365 features he announced.

Wellbeing Experiences

Coming in the first six months of 2021, the new virtual commute experience in Microsoft Teams will assist employees with creating transitions at the beginning and end of a workday with the aim of providing a distinct mental shift between home and work modes. For those employees who had not worked remotely before COVID-19, the workday when a work computer is always nearby can be challenging and often extended. A recent study found that once people began working remotely, their workdays lasted nearly an hour longer. Being able to carve out routines for starting and ending the work day can help beat back the encroachment of the always-on mindset.

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Microsoft 365 Virtual Commute interface in Microsoft Teams.

Near the end of the day, a prompt will encourage the employee to close out their work day by reviewing pending tasks, outstanding items in emails, and provide a check in on their emotional status – including an option to spend some time meditating to make a mental break from the workday.

Another aspect of this feature and interface is called the “stay connected experience.” It provides the ability to connect with co-workers by providing prompts to send colleagues positive feedback and schedule one-on-one meetings. In a remote work environment, these are important elements of continued team building and connections. Post pandemic, these features will continue to be useful in a hybrid work situation with some employees returning to the office and others remaining remote.

Manager and Leader Insights

While the virtual commute feature is focused on individual interactions and productivity, the next Microsoft 365 features are focused on helping the managers and leaders of teams keep an eye on team productivity. In another enhancement that will roll out into Microsoft Teams in 2021, managers will be able to see their team’s productivity quantified via insights into work habits, including after-hours collaboration, focus time, meeting effectiveness, and cross-company communication. (The team’s data is anonymized so no one manager is able to pin fluctuations on any specific team members.) This data is presented through averages so the current team can be compared to similar teams.

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Leader Insights in Microsoft Teams.

These managers and leaders can then use this data to tweak the team’s overall productivity with suggested improvements. Some of the actions steps that are recommended include reminders about unplugging at the end of the workday, keeping time available for individual focus, and managing meeting overload. Once the team is engaged, it will receive weekly updates on its progress in meeting those goals.

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Manager Insights in Microsoft Teams.

Just like the virtual commute feature, these Microsoft 365 features will also be helpful during the pandemic and in the hybrid worker distribution between home and office post pandemic. With both features set to be available in 2021, they may be arriving at the height of their usefulness.

Productivity Score

This feature for Microsoft 365, first announced at Microsoft Ignite 2019, adds analytic information about how company employees are collaborating on content, working from the office or remotely, and communicating with their colleagues.

Three new categories of information are being added to this Microsoft 365 feature to further refine reports about company and team activity. Two new employee-focused areas, meetings and teamwork, will track data meant to boost a team’s inclusiveness, consistency, and effective methods of working together.

A new category experience for technology, Microsoft 365 Apps health, provides IT pros with insight into the performance and update status for key company apps that impact employee workflows. By continuously measuring and monitoring the app ecosystem, critical apps can be kept updated and secure – so at least employee workflow won’t be hampered by balky tech tools. A win for worker productivity.

All three information categories join the ones already available in the Productivity Score: content collaboration, mobility, network connectivity, communications and endpoint analytics.

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A view of Microsoft's Productivity Score feature. By monitoring these stats on important line of business applications, managers can see trends that could disrupt a worker’s ability to perform their normal duties. In turn, the team can proactively address the issues with the app to keep it up and running without disruption.

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