We have learned quite a lot about remote work over the past two months—that children/pets and meetings generally don’t mix, that wearing pajamas all day can smother motivation, and that 40-minute meetings can be more productive than hour-long ones.
These insights haven’t been ignored, either. Microsoft and other software companies have used this knowledge to make lightning-fast improvements to the remote-work apps people rely on heavily today.
Specifically, Microsoft’s April update includes many changes that are designed to improve remote work. Here are four new/notable changes:
- Natural language queries | Excel For many Excel users, formulas can be intimidating. They know their data has a story to tell, but they don’t know how to write the formulas that will provide those insights. Enter Excel’s new natural language queries feature, which is now generally available to Microsoft 365 subscribers in Excel for Windows, Mac, and Excel for the web. Users can type a question in the search box at the top of the Ideas pane, such as “What were the top three sales categories in December?,” and Excel will answer with relevant charts, pivot tables and formulas. Quick and easy.
- Vertical tabs | Edge In the coming months, Microsoft will add the ability to stack Edge browser tabs vertically. While this new feature represents only a minor change, it is nevertheless significant. Its utility lies in its simplicity—for people using 16:9 monitors and laptops, websites can appear stretched and vertical space is often wasted. Vertical tabs can enable users to greatly improve usability with just a few clicks.
- Collections | Edge For people who spend considerable time conducting researching online, this feature is invaluable. Collections enables users to save text, images, references, and other assets from websites with one click, or by dragging and dropping. This feature lets users easily pick up where they left off between sessions—which saves time and frustration. What’s more, the feature enables users to export their collections to Word or Excel with automatically generated citations.
- Easily schedule meetings to end early | Outlook The shift to remote work has radically changed the way people hold meetings and has even created new terms and social norms. It’s also brought attention back to a longstanding debate about the relationship between meetings (both the number of and length of) and productivity. That debate may never end, but advocates of shorter meetings will welcome this new Outlook feature, which adds a button that enables users to easily shave five to 15 minutes off the meetings and appointments they are scheduling.
Some of these tweaks were already in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic, while others were a direct response to rapidly changing needs—regardless, they highlight the increasing pace of business and underscore the importance of agility.
This is the new normal—to succeed, organizations must stay on top of frequent updates, communicate those changes regularly to employees, and provide the right amount of training, support and resources to ensure everyone can keep up.
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.