At last month’s Ignite conference, Microsoft renewed its emphasis on productivity and collaboration by debuting a wave of Office 365 and Teams features designed to help business users work more efficiently. From “everyday AI” features like Ideas in Word and Cortana-powered Play My Emails in Outlook Mobile, to automation tools like Power Automate (formerly called Flow), many of the new and improved capabilities enable everyone—not just developers—to take advantage of AI and automation to improve the way they get their work done.
Welcome to the no-code/low-code era.
How can business users take advantage of the new features announced at Ignite 2019? The first step is knowing what to focus on. Here are five capabilities—some that use AI and others that are solely focused on productivity and collaboration—you should pay attention to:
- Private channels | Microsoft Teams: It’s not surprising that this feature was a longstanding top request on the Microsoft Teams UserVoice feedback forum. And while the move toward transparency is a welcome shift in business, it’s not always appropriate—especially when dealing with sensitive information. Private channels are useful for a range of situations—to discuss information such as budgets and strategic plans; to create a focused collaboration space without having to create a separate team; and to encourage collaboration among people working on a specific project. Private channels are available now.
HOW CAN BUSINESS USERS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE NEW FEATURES ANNOUNCED AT IGNITE 2019? THE FIRST STEP IS KNOWING WHAT TO FOCUS ON.
- Pop-out chat and meeting windows | Microsoft Teams: For some people, one of Teams’ biggest challenges is that it requires you to adopt a new approach to work and collaboration. By introducing pop-out chat and meeting windows, Microsoft aims to make your transition to the new world of work easier. Pop-out windows will be rolled out in early 2020. Also rolling out early next year: A new tasks pane that will provide a single view of your Teams tasks and those assigned in other apps like Microsoft To Do, Planner, and Outlook.
- Integration | Microsoft Teams and Outlook: This feature will enable you to share and move emails and attachments into a Teams chat channel via a “Share to Teams” button. This feature lets you more easily choose the mode of communication that best suits the situation—whether it’s quick back-and-forth live chat or more detailed and less pressing email. Available in early 2020.
- Play My Emails | Outlook for iOS and Android: It takes the average worker about 26 minutes to get to work—which tallies up to about nine days a year commuting. With the new Play My Emails feature, you can now spend that time catching up on emails—even if you are the one behind the wheel. Play My Emails uses Cortana to read your emails out loud and inform you of changes to your schedule. It also enables you to easily (and safely) reply to emails with simple, natural language voice commands and larger tap targets optimized for mobile use. Play My Emails is generally available now in Outlook for iOS.
- Integration of Power Automate (formerly Flow) into Teams, new capabilities | Office 365: Microsoft rebranded Flow to Power Automate, which, along with Power BI and Power Apps, is part of its low-code/no-code Power Platform. Power Automate is an online workflow service that automates actions across the most common apps and services. For example, Power Automate enables you to create a flow that adds a lead to Microsoft Dynamics 365 and a record in MailChimp whenever someone with more than 100 followers tweets about your company. Another example: Create a flow that automatically records responses from Microsoft Forms to SharePoint. New triggers and actions will be available soon within Teams.
Although technology is much more intuitive today than it was a decade ago, there’s no doubt you will need training and support to effectively use many of the new and existing capabilities. Here’s how to get started:
Find out if you already have access to these new features. If you don’t, find out when your organization will be rolling them out.
Ask about training and support options. Keep asking.
Assess your own workflow and identify areas that could be improved. Look for time-consuming, repetitive tasks that could be automated. Ask your colleagues for suggestions—how do they use Office 365 and Teams to improve their productivity? The features above represent just a fraction of the new ways you can use Office 365 to improve your day-to-day work experience, your productivity and your ability to innovate. The time to start learning them is now.
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.