Microsoft develops a ‘virtual commute’ for remote workers

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Microsoft Silicon Valley Center.
Microsoft Silicon Valley Center.

Millions of employees now commute from their bed to a desk at home. After the initial euphoria of skipping smog-filled traffic jams and cramped train compartments, a new reality has dawned in which the work day blends into the rest of life, like a never-ending video conference call. Microsoft has a solution for this.

The company’s Teams collaboration software is adding the ability to schedule a “virtual commute.” It won’t start your car or ride the subway for you, but it will remind users about the end of the work day, suggest tasks to help workers wind down and create a little mental space before kids’ homework, dinner, laundry and other obligations come crashing in. 

For example, Teams will prompt users to list tasks as completed or add them to tomorrow’s to-do list, while asking workers to rate how their day went and suggesting guided meditation, through an integration with the Headspace app.

Pandemic-related burnout and difficulty separating work and personal life has become a surprisingly common concern among Microsoft’s corporate customers, according to Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela. “The thing we didn’t predict that we’ve learned is now at the top of customers’ mind is really the well-being of their employees,” he said.

Companies initially worried about employees having the right technology to work from home. “Now it’s getting to be much more about ‘hey how do I know if an employee is burned out, how do I know how they are doing — if they are working too hard?’ All of the things around the emotional well-being or the mental health of employees has risen to the top faster in a way that we didn’t really predict,” he added. 

Microsoft will also enable its workplace analytics software to help employers spot and support workers who are at risk of burnout. The software looks at things like after-hours collaboration by an entire team and how that compares with similar teams. New features coming next year will let employers run programs that remind team members to avoid undue overtime. 

The new features will be announced at Microsoft’s virtual Ignite conference on Tuesday. One more pandemic-era tool from Microsoft: the company’s artificial intelligence software is adding a new Spatial Analysis service that will help clients map and measure physical spaces, which Microsoft said will come in handy for figuring out how to keep customers and workers 6 feet apart. 

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