Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

The market for workplace collaboration software has been growing steadily more competitive over the past year, with tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook moving into the space formerly dominated by the startup Slack. Last week, Atlassian unveiled its new platform called Stride, which integrates with the company’s other enterprise technology offerings and aims specifically at meeting users’ needs in areas where Slack falls short. Both Slack and Microsoft made announcements about their products this week that show they are well aware of the heightening competition and prepared to respond.

On Monday, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, Microsoft released a new feature on its Teams product called Guest Access, which gives organizations “a way to bring in freelancers or consultants on a project and show them everything they need to know, and nothing more”:

Larry Waldman, a program manager for Teams, told GeekWire that guest access has been among the most frequent and long-standing requests from customers. “We knew we needed it because people in companies work with folks outside their companies very regularly,” Waldman said. “That’s something we heard feedback on even as we were developing Teams.”

Microsoft also announced that Teams is now being used by 125,000 organizations, more than double the 50,000 who were using it when it launched globally in March.

Not to be outdone, Slack put out an announcement of its own the next day at its Frontiers conference in San Francisco, Levy’s colleague Monica Nickelsburg adds. The company revealed that it had grown to 9 million weekly active users in more than 100 countries, including 50,000 paid teams, and 2 million paid users, generating $200 million in annual recurring revenue. Slack also unveiled a feature that enables ongoing collaboration between multiple organizations:

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Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

The software company Atlassian, already a major player in the enterprise technology game with its applications like Jira, Confluence, and HipChat, has released a new collaboration platform for employees and teams called Stride, to compete with existing products like Slack. Kerry Flynn at Mashable describes Stride as “all about taking action”:

It cuts down on notifications by letting users put themselves in a “Focus Mode,” and it makes it super simple to switch from text to video. The design is mobile-friendly and easy to use, not unlike its competitor Slack. But it offers features that make it arguably a better product than Slack for actually getting work done. …

One of the core features is letting users set themselves as away. That feature is available in competitors, such as Slack’s emoji statuses, but Stride allows users to actually mute specific channels, share what they’re working on, and more easily catchup once they’re done. … Any room in Stride can start a meeting and allow any user to join in via audio or video. It eliminates the need to move to Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, or another third-party video system and can encourage people to switch to video more often.

Steve Goldsmith, general manager for Stride at Atlassian, tells GeekWire reporter Tom Krazit that Stride is integrated with Atlassian’s other software products and will be available in both free and paid tiers with different features:

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European Rights Court Limits Monitoring of Employee Communications

European Rights Court Limits Monitoring of Employee Communications

In a landmark ruling on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of a Romanian man who was fired in 2007 after his employer determined that he had violated its policy barring the use of company resources for personal matters. Bogdan Barbulescu had created a Yahoo Messenger account for work purposes, and was terminated after his managers looked at transcripts of his chats on the application and saw that he had used it for personal communications. Romanian courts had ruled against Barbulescu, and the EHCR had agreed with those courts in January 2016, finding that the employer was justified in reading his personal chat logs in order to enforce its policy.

According to the New York Times, the 2016 decision courted controversy in Europe, where privacy is seen as a fundamental right. On Tuesday, the ECHR’s highest appellate division, the Grand Chamber, reversed the court’s position and found that Barbulescu’s privacy had been violated as he had “not been informed in advance of the extent and nature of his employer’s monitoring, or the possibility that the employer might have access to the actual contents of his messages”:

It said that only a few countries in Europe — Austria, Britain, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Slovakia — have explicitly regulated the issue of workplace privacy through domestic legislation. Most countries in the region do, however, require employers to give prior notice of monitoring. In countries like Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden, employers may monitor emails marked by employees as “private,” but may not look at the content without permission.

The chamber ruled that countries should ensure that companies’ efforts to monitor employees’ communications, are “accompanied by adequate and sufficient safeguards against abuse.”

The court’s ruling is applicable in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe, including non-EU members Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey—in other words, every country on the European continent except Belarus and Kosovo. Following this decision, employers in the court’s jurisdiction are still allowed to monitor their employees’ digital communications, but not without limits, and not without making employees aware of that monitoring beforehand. TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas outlines the criteria the court created for determining whether monitoring is valid:

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Hurricane Harvey: What Employers Need to Know, and How HR Can Help

Hurricane Harvey: What Employers Need to Know, and How HR Can Help

In one of the worst natural disasters in US history, Hurricane Harvey has dumped more than 11 trillion gallons of rain on the Houston metro area and other parts of southeast Texas, leading to catastrophic flooding throughout the region. While the city of Houston was not ordered to evacuate, most organizations in the city, including major employers like NASA’s Johnson Space Center, ConocoPhillips, and Waste Management, Inc., were closed on Monday and instructed employees to stay home, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some encouraged employees who were safe to work remotely from home. Many local businesses and national firms with a presence in the region, including major retail chains like Target and Walmart have closed their stores in the area and are participating in relief efforts by donating money or emergency supplies.

For organizations whose employees are affected by the hurricane, the first priority in the coming days and weeks is to communicate with employees about the status of their workplaces and projects, as well as benefits and resources available to them, as Amanda Eisenberg highlights at Employee Benefit News:

“The most important thing to communicate is what the employers are doing for the employees and the community,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health. “First of all, that help is on the way.”

Employers also are going to have to be flexible, she says. Employees need to know if they are expected to come into the workplace, and if they can’t, whether they can work remotely. Schools are likely to be closed, and relatives might have been relocated from nursing homes or hospitals to shelters. Employees might need access to childcare or eldercare, and companies should be in constant communication to relay those benefits, Heinen explains.

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Why Psychological Safety Matters for High-Performing Teams (and How to Achieve It)

Why Psychological Safety Matters for High-Performing Teams (and How to Achieve It)

Psychological safety is increasingly seen as a key factor in maximizing the performance of teams: When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more capable of taking risks, communicating candidly, and thinking creatively. Drawing on the lessons Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, learned during the tech giant’s two-year study on team performance, Laura Delizonna looked at some ways managers can foster psychological safety at the Harvard Business Review last week:

1. Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. We humans hate losing even more than we love winning. A perceived loss triggers attempts to reestablish fairness through competition, criticism, or disengagement, which is a form of workplace-learned helplessness. Santagata knows that true success is a win-win outcome, so when conflicts come up, he avoids triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”

2. Speak human to human. Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors. Santagata reminded his team that even in the most contentious negotiations, the other party is just like them and aims to walk away happy. …

3. Anticipate reactions and plan countermoves. “Thinking through in advance how your audience will react to your messaging helps ensure your content will be heard, versus your audience hearing an attack on their identity or ego,” explains Santagata.

Psychological safety is a topic of particular interest to diversity and inclusion professionals, as its benefits are especially important in building and managing diverse teams. In our latest research at CEB, now Gartner, we discuss why creating these spaces and having these conversations can be so hard:

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Barclays London Installs Sensors to Track Employee Desk Usage

Barclays London Installs Sensors to Track Employee Desk Usage

The British multinational financial firm Barclays is using tracking devices at its London headquarters to monitor how much time employees spend at their desks, Bloomberg reported on Friday. The OccupEye devices, made by the UK company Cad-Capture, are designed to let companies analyze traffic patterns in the workplace as a way to identify underused space and figure out how to reduce their overall office footprint:

There was a “phased roll-out” of the devices, and Barclays staff and the Unite union were notified before they were installed, although the bank did not send out a specific memo about them, according to spokesman Tom Hoskin. The Barclays employees said they don’t remember being informed about the boxes, but spokespeople for the bank said there have been no official human-resources complaints. …

“The sensors aren’t monitoring people or their productivity; they are assessing office space usage,” the bank said in an emailed statement. “This sort of analysis helps us to reduce costs, for example, managing energy consumption, or identifying opportunities to further adopt flexible work environments.”

As remote and flexible work options become available, “hot desking,” which eschews assigned desks and allows companies to operate with fewer than one workstation per employee, is becoming increasingly popular among London banks and other companies operating in high-cost areas as a way to save money by reducing the size of their offices. Some proponents of hot desks say they enable greater collaboration, but critics counter that they limit employees’ autonomy and control over their space, while making it more difficult to form workplace relationships because the people they sit next to change from day to day.

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Does Googler Fired Over Controversial Memo Have a Wrongful Termination Case?

Does Googler Fired Over Controversial Memo Have a Wrongful Termination Case?

James Damore, a senior software engineer at Google who was fired from his job on Monday after circulating a ten-page memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts and making disputed claims about the biological differences between men and women, has said he is exploring his legal options for challenging his termination, and will likely take action against his former employer, the New York Times reports:

“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Mr. Damore said. … Before being fired, Mr. Damore said, he had submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Google’s upper management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” He added that it was “illegal to retaliate” against an N.L.R.B. charge.

However, it’s not at all clear that Damore has a legal leg to stand on, Reuters adds:

Nonunion or “at will” employees, such as most tech workers, can be fired in the US for a wide array of reasons that have nothing to do with performance. The US National Labor Relations Act guarantees workers, whether they are in a union or not, the right to engage in “concerted activities” for their “mutual aid or protection.” Damore, though, would most likely face an uphill fight to seek that protection based on his memo, said Alison Morantz, a Stanford University law professor with expertise in labor law.

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