Microsoft Ignite 2020: Our reflections

New features of the Microsoft tech stack are set to breathe life into home working, promoting both productivity and wellbeing

By Owen Smith, Sales Manager, Cloud Cover IT

Two weeks ago, I tuned in to the first ever fully online and free-to-attend version of the annual Microsoft Ignite conference. During the event, Microsoft launched several brand new features that are designed to empower users and organisations as we navigate the new world of work in the COVID-19 era. Never one to blindly follow the crowd, myself and the team here at CCIT have taken some time to consider these new features and to identify what we think will benefit our customers the most. 

Supporting employee wellbeing

We’ve been through a lot this year. According to a survey by healthcare charity Nuffield Health, around 80% of British people working from home feel lockdown has impacted negatively on their mental health, whilst a quarter of those surveyed said that they were finding it difficult to cope with the emotional challenges of isolation. Microsoft has made tackling this issue a priority, introducing a set of experiences designed to mimic those aspects of in-person working that many of us (myself included!) are missing.  

The daily commute may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering what you miss from pre-COVID-19 times. But studies from Microsoft Research have shown that a commute is an important bookend of the working day; an opportunity to process, relax, and recharge. 

With this in mind, Microsoft has partnered with Headspace, a global leader in mindfulness and meditation, to develop a virtual commute experience for smoother transitions between work and home life. Morning ‘commutes’ will give time to plan out your day or even go for a walk, whilst evening commutes can be customised with prompts to reflect emotionally, celebrate accomplishments, and even partake in meditation sessions  to fully disconnect.

Set to go live natively within Teams in the first half of 2021, this will ensure that everyone can make time and space for their wellbeing.

Monitor your mood

Personally, I’m really missing the collective buzz of being surrounded by talented people and working on exciting projects in the same physical space. I pride myself on being a high-energy, positive person but at times I’ve felt my mood and productivity dip as a result of reduced face-to-face interaction. So I’m a big fan of the new ‘emotional check-in experience’, which allows you to log and track your mental wellbeing at work, as it will give greater visibility of your mental state and signal to your colleagues that you could benefit from some support. The ‘stay connected experience’ will make it easy to collaborate and catch up with colleagues, as well as to praise each other for strong work, encouraging a positive mindset and combating feelings of isolation.

Bring meetings to life in Together Mode

Microsoft have also set their sights on adding value to daily team meetings, as well as bringing in a bit of fun. Together Mode, arriving October 2020, will give a choice of scenes for meetings, including coffee shops, conference rooms, and even outdoor spaces, setting a custom tone depending on the meeting type. This tool promotes engagement and team spirit, creating an immersive and realistic experience, so participants in meetings feel like more than just a face on a screen. I’m looking forward to trying this one out for myself.  

Also available this month is the much-anticipated Breakout Rooms, which allows meeting organisers to divide participants into smaller groups, facilitating focused discussions and work groups. Where appropriate, organisers will be able to drop into the breakout rooms and make announcements to return attendees to the main meeting.  

These were just some of my highlights from Ignite 2020 – to find out more about how Microsoft 365 can facilitate the new way of working for you and your team, get in touch with a member of the CCIT team.