Microsoft introduces Places to make flexible working less fraught

Hit by a return-to-office mandate? Let the Copilot Company help you find co-workers and a desk to work at

Return-to-office mandates are all the rage, and Microsoft is shoehorning AI into the conversation with Microsoft Places, a service aimed at coordinating employees heading back to their desks on a flexible basis.

The Microsoft Places app "reimagines flexible work," according to Microsoft.

Jared Spataro, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President for AI at Work, said in a blog post: "When employees get to the office, they don't want to be greeted by a sea of empty desks — they want facetime with their manager and the coworkers they collaborate with most frequently."

Forcing tech workers to return to the office after many have discovered the delights of working from home has proven a challenge for the tech industry. Atlassian warned that such mandates could dent morale, and a 2023 survey found that "key" workers might opt to walk rather than obey an order to return to their desks.

The warnings have not stopped the mandates coming, however. IBM, for example, has insisted that workers get back to the office for at least part of the time. Earlier this year, Dell updated its hybrid work policy to require employees spend at least 39 days per quarter in the office.

Which is where Microsoft Places comes in. Currently in preview and eventually to be part of the Teams Premium plan – presently £5.80 per person per month, €6.60 in the EU, and $7.00 in the US due to a 30 percent off promotion – the app's purpose is to let workers share the days they are planning to come into the office and view when their co-workers are planning to come in. Bosses can set "priority" days, and all the data gets fed into Outlook calendars.

There is also a location finder, and the data will feed into Teams to allow an employee to chat with people nearby thanks to a @nearby group.

It all sounds an awful lot like something that employees have been able to do with existing tools and communication for a while. However, simply having a worker tell some pals she plans to come in next Thursday would never do for the Copilot Company. Instead, Places data will make its way into Microsoft Copilot to "make coordination even easier."

"Coming in the second half of 2024, you will be able to use Copilot to understand which days are best to come into the office."

A user will also be able to ask Copilot to pick a good day based on who else will be in the office and adjust their schedule accordingly. ®

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