With empowerment tools designed to make employees and managers more productive, insightful, and balanced, Microsoft is creating a different kind of organization.

microsoft ai, leadershipThe application of data-driven analytics to business decision-making processes has changed the way we leverage business intelligence beyond anything we’ve previously thought possible. Technology, like MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics, is driving organizations to release their death grip on anecdotal evidence and open their doors to an objective source of truth in the data they collect about their employees and the way they work.

When analytics are used to find that truth in the workplace, a tremendous opportunity exists to create stronger and more agile, transparent, and inclusive enterprises. At the leading edge of this push is, quite unsurprisingly, Microsoft. Its tools for creating the truly connected and collaborative workforce include Workplace Analytics, MyAnalytics, Teams, and Skype for Business.

“At the highest level, what we’re able to do with the type of analytics we have access to today is to fundamentally change the learning curve that  people and organizations are on,” explained Natalie McCullough, General Manager of Microsoft MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics.“In a historical context, we have had access largely to anecdotal data about what leads to success in the workplace at an individual level, or team level, or organizational level. But we haven’t had access to very much hard data about what works that gets us to the outcomes that we want.”

Until now. Data not only provides information upon which more reliable decisions can be made, but also offers a feedback mechanism to understand those decisions.

“At Microsoft, we are very focused on building technology that supports a new culture of work, that is about giving people the power to do things that allow them to do their best work,” McCullough stressed.

Doing Better With Microsoft Teams

microsoft ai, leadershipWhen people can work at their highest level and contribute as meaningfully as possible within the organizations they serve, the benefits on a personal level can be tremendous: a sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction of reaching goals, and the confidence that comes with performing well.

Too often, however, many of these contributions come with a painful price tag, namely, the loss of work/life balance.

“The question is, how do you make sure people are using it [technology] in the most optimal ways, and how do you make sure technology is an enabler of work-life balance instead of piling on to the challenges of work-life balance by being something that’s always on?” asked Lori Wright, General Manager of Microsoft Teams and Skype Marketing.

“The power of technology, when used the right way, is to give time back to people’s personal lives while making them wildly efficient in their work lives,” Wright noted.

That wild efficiency comes from programs like Microsoft Teams and Microsoft My Analytics that provide a clearer understanding of how we spend our time at work, how objectively effective our actions are, and whether our actions and approaches help organizations meet their goals.

“MyAnalytics is like a fitness tracker for work. It will tell you as an individual how you are spending your day; it will give you insights, and weave behavioral nudges into your Outlook experience that will help you be more effective with your time and with your network,” McCullough said. “There are a number of powerful behavioral nudges and insights that can help individuals do better at work and achieve their goals.”

At the organizational level, Workplace Analytics helps enterprises understand overall behavior. As McCullough put it, “this program helps answer questions like, ‘how can we have department A work better with department B? How can we increase our speed of innovation or our sales productivity?’

“In those cases we are trying to allow organizations to harness the power of this data at an aggregate level. The tools have been designed so that companies will have access to the data but in a way that respects employee privacy. The data is de-identified, aggregated, and surfaced in a way that will yield insights at the aggregate level.”

To effect real and lasting change, business analytics must be outcome driven.

“It doesn’t work very well as a science experiment—let’s fish around and see what we can find. It’s much more compelling and effective when there’s a compelling business issue at hand,” she mused.

“Maybe an organization needs to raise productivity, or become more nimble and move products to market faster, and they believe internal collaboration is holding them back. That’s a real business outcome with a real set of hypotheses where you can use the analytics to drive faster.

“Productivity is a lens that we start from. One of the very powerful uses of this type of data is to marry the behavioral data that comes out of these systems with outcomes data and use that to study, at a covert level, the behaviors of the most successful people.”

But what of the chilling Big Brother effect? Do analytical tools deliver answers at the expense of privacy? According to McCullough, Microsoft’s approach to gathering worker productivity data “is a very clear privacy promise that each individual is the only one that has access to that data. It doesn’t go to a manager, it doesn’t go to some secret body of people; it is strictly an empowerment tool for that employee.”

She added, “[i]n general, companies are being very careful and thoughtful about the implications of using new data tools. This is one of the areas at Microsoft where I would say unabashedly that we’ve done a really good job of developing these tools so that they allow companies to harness the power of the behavioral data that comes off of our systems while still respecting employee privacy and maintaining their promises to employees.”

Making the Dream Work

microsoft ai, leadershipAs the concept of the distributed global workforce becomes increasingly normalized, tools that create fully functioning, wholly engaged teams will be the cornerstone of organizational success.

“Teams was a product we built out of the recognition that the nature of work was changing. Around the world, how people want to work and how they are working is changing at a radical pace,” Wright pointed out. “We’re seeing the rise of chat-based tools, and there’s a notion that we no longer need to meet in person, that we can come together through technology and get work done wherever we are.

“What we wanted to do with Teams is bring that all together through the lens of teamwork. How do you connect people, wherever they are, and have access to all the applications they need, such as the Office suite, which is designed for productivity and collaboration, and then be able to have this chat environment and move into voice, video, whatever they want to advance in more live conversation? All of that is what Teams is doing.”

According to Wright, such collaboration and connectivity is literally changing the world.

“The trend we’re already seeing is the continual breakdown of barriers through teamwork that has no geographical barriers, no gender barriers, no disability barriers. Teamwork should be about people who are invested in a particular topic coming together and working through that topic.”

Gap-bridging technologies like Microsoft Teams are reshaping the global workforce by helping to create more inclusive and whole work environments.

“Inclusivity comes from people feeling part of the culture,” Wright posited.

“We find when you put a platform out there that makes every individual feel part of the team it breaks down the hierarchical nature. It’s simply a group of people who care about a particular topic, everybody has an equal sized voice on that, whether it’s a matter of the text that you type or the words you say into the computer—everyone is equalized in that conversation, and then we can put expressive content in there through things like emojis,” she revealed.

“What I’ve personally seen across my team is that people who traditionally don’t say much in meetings come to life in Teams. You see their personality, you see their processes, it all comes together. In addition, transparency is one of the critical enablers for an inclusive culture, in terms of having as much information shared as transparently as possible in the organization.

“What gets in the way of building engagement and trust is when people don’t feel valued or trusted with the knowledge to make decisions, and that all changes with the transparency notion: you’re there, you’re equalized with all of your peers, and its about trusting that you are all working together towards the same shared outcomes.”

Enabling teams to create and share information, on platforms like Microsoft Teams, can radically change non-inclusive cultural behaviors such as hoarding information or keeping decision making limited to small groups of people.

Wright said, “That’s much harder to do when there’s an expectation that there will be great transparency facilitated by a tool like Teams.”

For Wright and McCullough, being on the leading edge of workplace reinvention is precisely where they want to be—today and tomorrow.

“The work we’re doing with behavioral data is game changing for companies,” Wright concluded. “What I see in the marketplace is that market leaders are adopting it; they’re eating it up. This isn’t something executives can wait for. This is something they need to start thinking about and get on sooner rather than later, because it can change the shape of the learning curve and change the performance trajectory of a company.”