Microsoft has unveiled a raft of new features designed to promote a renewed focus on employee wellbeing, made all the more important by the pandemic and rise of remote working.
At Microsoft Ignite, Corporate VP Jared Spataro challenged the view that the role of technology is simply to drive greater efficiency and squeeze out every ounce of value from staff.
“Up to this point, technology has been focused on efficiency - and I think that’s a fallacy. Sustainable productivity isn’t just about efficiency, because people need cycles of performance and cycles of recovery,” Spataro said.
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"This moment - and our future - is about getting the best out of our most important asset: our people. In this new digital age, [technology should be about] amplifying human ingenuity and balancing the needs of people.”
Although traumatic for many businesses, the pandemic hasn’t been all bad news where employee wellbeing is concerned. Greater flexibility is often cited as an advantage, while 62% of remote workers say they feel more empathetic towards colleagues, Microsoft claims.
However, according to the firm, the pandemic has also brought about a significant increase in working hours and feelings of isolation, which could be having a negative impact on mental health.
Work day length is said to have increased by 17% in Japan, 25% in the US and 45% in Australia. The most dramatic spike in Microsoft Teams usage, meanwhile, has been outside of working hours and at weekends, which paints a clear picture of the new working norm.
In a bid to safeguard employee wellbeing in this new context, Microsoft is making a host of changes to its Teams collaboration platform designed to prioritize mental health over productivity.
We’re admittedly a little skeptical about the new Together Mode, which does away with the traditional video conference grid in favor of a shared auditorium background, which Microsoft claims more closely replicates the feeling of in-person meetings.
However, more substantial improvements have been made to the service, including an integration with meditation app Headspace that will allow employees to carve out all-important moments to collect their thoughts.
Microsoft Teams is also getting an emotional check-in feature, for use by managers, and a virtual commute option that staff can use to bookend their day, creating a clear distinction between work and play.
From October, meanwhile, line managers and business leaders will gain access to a dashboard - powered by MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics - that will help identify negative trends, such as meeting overload or burnout.
In theory, the new features should help businesses nip issues in the bud before they spiral out of control - and protect employee wellbeing in the process.
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Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.