The world has starkly changed over the last two years. The pandemic has seen businesses re-evaluate their investments as people consider how to live under new stresses.
During this time, working remotely has become commonplace and this has led to a focus on employee experience, learning, and wellbeing.
Microsoft has taken on these initiatives and invested in the education of staff and put off returns to the office.
Trends in the workplace
Nadella identified two trends that are changing the landscape of workplaces. The first is the frequently discussed area of hybrid working.
In terms of hybrid working, Nadella commented: “I don’t think we have settled on the new norms. These norms have to settle.” Only then, can the productivity gained from flexible working can be assessed, Nadella added.
The second trend is the ‘Great Reshuffle’, and he explained this is about: “People talking about where, where and how they work, but also why they work.
He expanded on this point: “People are re-evaluating what is their relationship with the company they work for, and the relationship [they have] with their immediate set of co-workers and their manager. ”
Discussing how connections in the workplace have developed, Nadella noted: “Unfortunately, in this pandemic, what we have noticed is…strong ties have gotten stronger, the weak ties have gotten weaker, but our job through a variety of software tools is to make those weak ties even stronger.”
Nonetheless, Nadella remained hopeful that chat functions on video calls can give fresh insights and encourage greater innovation across weak ties and people who don’t often speak.
Technology and Microsoft
As the conversation continued, Nadella discussed AI and noted its ability to improve how data is used.
Nadella stated: “The power of AI is really to take all of the data that we have and have more, I’ll call it, analytical and predictive power, without analyzing data in silos or predicting outcomes in silos.”
There was also a discussion of a future where virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are combined in a virtual workplace.
Firstly, Nadella commented that in physical reality, through Microsoft Teams, it is possible to click on a profile of a remote commenter or guest and see their projects and social media channels.
This function can be used to get insights and form relationships.
However, in terms of more extreme examples of virtual reality, he added that you can “go into an immersive meeting where you have an embodied self as a hologram, or as an avatar, and can with spatial audio even relate to others in that space.”
The prospect of virtual face-to-face meetings will undoubtedly excite those who have been used to video call meetings. Although, technology doesn’t appear to be the answer to everything.
Managing the hybrid workplace
Nadella emphasized the importance of good managers: “I’ve learned throughout my career that being a great manager [requires you to] learn every day something about great management and leadership.”
He explained that as a result, Microsoft came up with a Model-Coach-Care methodology. While modeling workforce plans and training staff may seem a natural part of a manager’s job, Nadella explained that the care aspect of this method was more complex.
The CEO claims that care “is the real currency” and it has been amplified by a lack of human connection. Care encompasses empathy and understanding what the workforce is going through. This is highlighted as important because it can help workers get through difficult times.
Microsoft has introduced prompts to help managers in this area, and Nadella uses the examples of a prompt to ask if an email should be sent over the weekend. This kind of functionality is designed to improve empathy in a time when burnout has been seen across industries.
Of course, Microsoft is using technology to improve HR systems, but this webinar effectively highlighted the importance of managing people and keeping a human connection.