As knowledge workers, you have been at the heart of this unprecedented remote work experiment. You are learning first-hand what it means to be resilient, resourceful, disciplined, and diligent.
By now—a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic—you probably have settled into a work routine. You know what works and what doesn’t—which tools enable you to do your best work, which ones drag you down, and how, with little tweaks, some of the tech you rely on could enable you to be even more productive.
Microsoft and other software companies have been listening. They have used insights from employees like you to make quick-turnaround improvements to apps that have become indispensable.
For example, Microsoft’s April update includes a handful of changes that are aimed at improving your remote work experience. Among them:
- Natural language queries in Excel. Many people are intimidated by Excel formulas, and don’t know how to use them to find the stories in their data. With Excel’s new natural language queries feature, you can type a question in the search box at the top of the Ideas pane, such as “What are the top five sales categories last year?,” and Excel will answer with relevant charts, pivot tables and formulas. Natural language queries are now generally available to Microsoft 365 subscribers in Excel for Windows, Mac, and Excel for the web.
- Easily schedule meetings to end early in Outlook. The shift to remote work has revived a longstanding debate about meetings and productivity. Do you really need an hour-long meeting, or can you accomplish just as much in 40 minutes? Can weekly catch-ups be bi-weekly? Because priorities are different during times of crisis, Microsoft has rolled out a new Outlook feature that lets you easily shave five to 15 minutes off meetings and appointments you are scheduling. Major productivity gains from a minor tweak.
- Vertical tabs in Edge. Microsoft will soon add the ability to stack Edge browser tabs vertically, enabling people who have 16:9 monitors and laptops to improve usability with just a few clicks. Goodbye stretched websites and wasted vertical space.
- Collections in Edge. This feature is aimed at people who spend considerable time researching online. It lets you save text, images, references, and other resources from websites with one click, or by dragging and dropping. It also enables you to quickly pick up where you left off in a previous session and to export your collections to Word or Excel with automatically generated citations.
In addition to the April update, Microsoft announced numerous changes and improvements at its mid-May Microsoft Build developer conference, which was presented online due to COVID-19. The focus was on team workflow and cross-functionality, and highlights include:
- TEAMS will soon be getting improvements to app search, including personalized suggestions for apps in the Teams store. Changes coming later this year include the ability to open apps in a separate window and customizable templates.
- This summer, Microsoft will roll out a new app, LISTS, which will enable you to track issues, manage inventory, create event agendas, onboard new hires, and more, from Teams, SharePoint and Outlook. Using SharePoint lists as the foundation, this new app will include customizable views, smart rules and alerts, and templates for common scenarios.
Some of the changes from the April and May updates were planned long before the pandemic, while others are a direct response to workers’ changing needs. No matter the origin, these changes represent the new pace of business. Keeping up with frequent tech changes was already a challenge before COVID-19. Now that a majority of knowledge workers are remote, the need for both employees and organizations to stay nimble is even greater.
The pandemic has shifted responsibility a bit. You must now do more to ensure you can keep up with tech changes, including learning about training and support resources, and asking for help when you need it.
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.