Workplace collaboration platforms are already an office staple for professionals working “desk jobs” in fields like technology and media, but these tools are less common among frontline employees in hands-on roles. Nearly two years after its global launch, Microsoft’s workplace collaboration platform Teams has added a series of new features to improve its functionality for workers in fields like retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing. The latest upgrade was rolled out last week, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, including:
- [A] new customizable mobile experience comes with a series of features specifically for workers on the go, such as location sharing, smart camera and the ability to record and share audio messages.
- Teams will now include a template to help IT managers grant individual employees access to the features they need.
- Microsoft is working on a set of APIs, which will debut in public preview later this quarter, that will allow companies to integrate workforce management tools that handle things like scheduling and payroll directly into Teams.
- Coming later this quarter, Microsoft is enabling a Praise feature, which allows employers to call out important contributions from workers.
This announcement comes just a few months after Microsoft showcased a series of new features for “first-line” workers at its Ignite developer conference in September. These included scheduling tools that enable users create and share schedules, swap shifts, request time off, and access announcements from their employers. Microsoft also revealed that it had a secure patient care coordination tool in private preview as part of an effort to bring Teams into the health care field.
Microsoft announced on Thursday that it was launching a free version of its workplace chat and collaboration tool Microsoft Teams for groups of 300 people or fewer, the Seattle Times reported. The move puts the Redmond, Washington-based software giant in more direct competition with Slack, the startup whose popular group chat system operates on a similar “freemium” model. Previously, Teams was only available to subscribers of the Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of productivity software; the premium version remains tied to the 365 suite, but smaller organizations are now able to try out the free version and choose whether to subscribe and upgrade.
Like Slack, the free version of Teams puts some restrictions on what users can do, but the restrictions are different. Slack’s free version allows for an unlimited number of users but limits these groups to 5 GB of storage space and only lets them save and search up to 10,000 messages. Teams limits the number of free users but does not limit how many messages they can save. It also gives them more storage space than Slack: 10 GB for the group, plus 2 GB per user for personal storage. The free version also includes the platform’s built-in integrations with Microsoft Office and unlimited integrations with third-party business apps, TechCrunch adds.
Employees inside Slack's Headquarters in San Francisco (Slack)
The workplace communication and collaboration software startup Slack has garnered attention within the tech sector for its all-in approach to diversity and inclusion, issuing diversity reports at a faster pace and with more detail than their big-company competitors and making a point of giving its D&I commitment lots of visibility. Last month, Slack released its diversity report for 2017. The report touted a few victories, such as a 48 percent female management team and underrepresented minorities making up 12.8 percent of its technical staff, while also stressing the continued work it has to do.
In a profile of the company’s D&I program at the Atlantic on the occasion of that report, Jessica Nordell looked at several aspects of Slack’s approach to diversity that make it stand out from the crowd. One of these idiosyncrasies is that unlike many other tech companies, Slack doesn’t have a Chief Diversity Officer or other designated head of D&I:
While studies by the Harvard University professor Frank Dobbin, and colleagues, suggest having someone overseeing diversity efforts can increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in management, other measures, such as mentoring programs and transparency around what it takes to be promoted, are also important; a diversity chief alone may not be enough to make much of a difference. At Slack, the absence of a single diversity leader seems to signal that diversity and inclusion aren’t standalone missions, to be shunted off to a designated specialist, but are rather intertwined with the company’s overall strategy. As the CEO, Stewart Butterfield, has said, he wants these efforts to be something “everyone is engaged in.” Indeed, as the research by Dobbin and colleagues shows, involving employees in diversity policies leads to greater results.
The first lesson here is not “don’t have an appointed head of D&I,” but rather that there’s no one right way to structurally advance D&I. The Dobbin study makes sense because the D&I chief position ensures there’s always a voice in the room, but if any organization thinks they’ve solved D&I by creating a head of D&I role, they are sorely mistaken. In our work at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen organizations make progress with a large, singularly focused D&I function, or with a small but connected D&I function; with D&I reporting to HR, to the CEO, to the General Counsel, or to the Corporate Social Responsibility function.
Workplace, Facebook’s foray into the workplace collaboration technology market, has already come a long way from its highly anticipated launch in late 2016. As Facebook has added more features to Workplace, a key element of the platform’s evolution has been integrating it with a growing number of commonly used enterprise software tools (also a major selling point of competitors like Slack and Microsoft Teams).
Its most recent integrations reveal that Facebook’s ambitions for Workplace go well beyond intra-office communication. The social media giant has entered separate partnerships with the human capital management systems ADP and Paychex, HR Dive’s Kathryn Moody reports, which will enable employees to access pay and benefit information through Workplace:
Employees using the ADP integration — which links the ADP Virtual Assistant with Workplace by Facebook — will be able to access their pay statement summaries, pay deductions, time-off balances and other pay-related information. They’ll also be able to get notifications on when they’ve been paid, and generally can access this information from anywhere and on any device that supports Workplace.
Slack announced last week that it was integrating its platform with Workday to enable users to access the Workday suite of HR tools from within Slack’s platform. The integration will allow users to request time off and share information about their leave, provide peer feedback, and look up coworkers’ information without leaving the Slack interface. Other integrated features are in the pipeline, including custom notifications and a tool for IT functions to easily assign employees to the right Slack channels. These features are expected to roll out this coming fall, Slack says.
For Workday, the integration is an opportunity to reshape the way employees engage with HR, Chief Technology Officer Joe Korngiebel wrote in a blog post discussing the move:
We believe that the integration of Workday and Slack will be a game changer in terms of empowering employees. Employees will be able to engage with HR in a way they haven’t been able to before. Without having to move to another application, they will be able to resolve many of their questions and issues in an intuitive and familiar way. Slack and Workday are tools people enjoy using and derive significant daily value from. As a result, together we can empower people to work more intuitively and with less friction to more simply get things done at work.
From Slack’s perspective, the partnership is part of its efforts to turn its chat and collaboration platform into an all-in-one enterprise technology tool. Slack has been engaged in a feature war with a growing field of competitors, including major players like Microsoft, over the past year, and last week’s announcement illustrates the degree to which integration with other platforms is a central battleground.
Microsoft on Monday marked the first anniversary of the global launch of Microsoft Teams, the tech giant’s entry into the burgeoning workplace chat and collaboration software market, noting that the platform is now used by 200,000 organizations in 181 markets and 39 languages. Teams is also introducing new features this year, including a cloud recording system for meetings, inline message translation, and integration with Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana.
TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez takes a closer look at the new features and how they fit into the accelerating race to become the ultimate enterprise communication tool:
The added integration with Cortana’s voice assistance could give Microsoft an edge in its battle with Slack, given the increasing importance of voice-based computing in the workplace and within business productivity applications.
Microsoft and Amazon announced last year their voice assistants, Cortana and Alexa, would work together, for example. Meanwhile, companies – including Microsoft – have been working to make their applications and services work well with voice assistants given the potential of voice computing in the workplace. …
Microsoft has rolled out the biggest update to its Microsoft Teams collaboration software since the product was launched in late 2016, adding an array of features “allowing users to better work with apps – something Microsoft Teams accomplishes via integrations, new search and discovery features, commands, and more,” Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch:
Some of the features are, in fact, quite Slack-like. For example, Microsoft Teams now offers a way to search for apps from the new app store where you can browse by category or search by name, category or integration type – like Project Management or BI. … In Microsoft’s case, however, there’s a bit more emphasis on the apps your organization has added and assigned to you, as well as those you regularly work with.
A new “personal space” displays all the items that you’ve been assigned across your apps, like your tasks in Planner or issues in Jira Cloud, plus those from apps you’ve recently accessed, like OneNote notebooks or videos from Microsoft Stream. Microsoft even added its own new app called Who, powered by Microsoft Graph. This lets you search across your organization for people by name or topic. The updated version of Teams also makes it easier to launch apps.
The new update continues the feature war that has been ongoing between Teams and the startup Slack, its chief rival, over the past year: Microsoft first introduced third-party applications for Teams at its Build conference last May, while both services beefed up their features in September to compete both with each other and with new entrants to the increasingly competitive workplace collaboration software market.