Microsoft: For God's sake, people, cut down on the meetings!

With a nudge and a wink, a spy in the mailbox will tell you stuff you probably already know

Microsoft yesterday squeezed out a couple of technologies aimed at encouraging teams to adopt a healthier approach toward meetings and, you know, maybe think a bit before firing off that midnight email.

Helpful hints or management monitoring? You decide

The first, Workplace Analytics solution for teamwork (now in preview), slurps data from a variety of Office 365 sources, including calendars and mailboxes to gauge just how much time users are spending doing actual focussed work as opposed to trying not to be noticed in meetings.

Microsoft reckons the results of the not-at-all-creepy monitoring can then "empower" teams to better innovate and collaborate. A cynic might suggest a canny Human Resources (HR) department might use that information to "innovate" underperforming employees right out of the door.

To be fair, an enlightened management could also use that information, coupled with survey results, as part of a change process. Workplace Analytics can dump out action plans to help enrolled teams understand where changing habits would lead to better productivity. Stuff like bringing an agenda to meetings and sticking to it, m’kay?

As ever, nothing is new under the sun, and there are plenty of HR analytics platforms out there that do similar stuff. However, those who are fully bought into the Office 365 platform and ecosystem may welcome the tech to keep an eye on empower their perhaps not so hardworking employees.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, maybe don't send that email?

The second technology aimed at nudging users toward a happy world of terrific teamwork is MyAnalytics Nudges.

Geared toward fostering better habits while users do actual work (rather than the reporting-based output of Workplace Analytics), MyAnalytics Nudges will surface tips in Outlook when it spots behaviours that it considers unhealthy. Sadly, this does not include sharing thoughts on last night’s episode of whatever is the current reality show de jour.

Due to hit later this summer, the functionality will make four basic types of suggestions (or "nudges" as Microsoft insists on calling them) appear discreetly in the interface as users work. To be fair to Redmond, these are probably all good ideas, if one can get over the AI monitoring going on behind the scenes to make them work.

MyAnalytics itself was announced back in 2016 and was an evolution of the Delve product. It claims to help employees see how they spend their time. Nudge makes things a bit more in-your-face.

Two types of nudges are calendar-related, and keep an eye on how full your calendar is getting. A day rammed full of meetings is not going to be a productive day. Sadly, the nudges simply pop up a suggestion that maybe you delegate someone else to attend, or perhaps block out time for focussed work. The Register reckons that a picture of the kids from Grange Hill saying "Just say No"* would have been more effective (and also utterly baffling for anyone not immersed in 1980s British kids TV.)

The second two are email-related, with one nagging users about things they'd promised to do over email but not yet done (pointing to some interesting AI technology at work deciphering email text) before users accept new tasks. The other is aimed fairly and squarely at that one person who always insists on firing off emails at anti-social hours.

Whether such a person would pay any attention to a message imploring them to not be a dick is up for question. ®

* Grange Hill was a children's school-based TV programme in the UK that ran from 1978 to 2008. In 1986 the cast recorded the song "Just Say No" as a warning against substance abuse. ®

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