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New to Office 365 in December—extending human ingenuity with everyday AI – Office Blogs

Today’s post was written by Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office team.

Earlier today in San Francisco, Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft AI & Research, demonstrated how Microsoft is infusing intelligent technologies across our core products to make artificial intelligence (AI) available to everyone, with the simple goal of helping people deliver their best work.

Office 365 is built on Microsoft’s powerful platform for AI that makes advancements in machine learning and AI accessible to every developer and organization. From document translation to intelligent threat detection, AI is already enhancing the productivity experience of over 120 million commercial Office 365 users.

New Office 365 AI capabilities this month help subscribers discover insights from data, leverage organizational knowledge, arrive on time for events, and more. Read on for details.

Automatically unlock rich insights with AI (preview)

Every day, millions of Office 365 subscribers rely on Excel to perform complex analysis and derive value from their organizations’ data with intelligent tools like Flash Fill and advanced data transformation. For many, however, extracting key insights from a new data set can be intimidating. Today, we’re announcing the preview of Insights in Excel—a new service that automatically highlights patterns it detects, which makes it easier for everyone to explore and analyze their data. Powered by machine learning, Insights helps identify trends, outliers, and other useful visualizations, providing new and useful perspectives on data. Insights begins rolling out in preview to Office insiders this month.

An animated screenshot demonstrates Insights in Excel.

Excel will provide automatic insights.

Master company lingo with machine learning

Every workplace is unique, and understanding the internal acronyms in use across an organization can be essential to success. Today, we announced a new Microsoft Word feature called Acronyms. Powered by machine learning, Acronyms helps people understand shorthand that is commonly used in their own workplaces by leveraging the Microsoft Graph to surface definitions of terms that have been previously defined across emails and documents. Acronyms will begin rolling out to Word Online for Office 365 commercial subscribers in 2018.

A screenshot shows the Acronyms feature used in Word Online.

Master company acronyms in Word Online.

Get to events on time with Outlook

In 2017, we rolled out several new capabilities in Outlook that help users automatically detect trips and deliveries, triage email, schedule meetings, and more. Today, we’re expanding this set of AI-powered tools by bringing Cortana to the Outlook mobile app to help users stay on top of their day. When it is time to leave for appointments, Outlook will now send a notification—with directions for both driving and public transit—taking into account current location, the event location, and real-time traffic information. Time to leave in Outlook is rolling out to iOS users this month in markets where Cortana is available.

An animated GIF demonstrates the

Outlook will notify you when it’s time to leave for your next event.

Bring people, ideas, and content together with Microsoft Whiteboard Preview

This month, we also announced the preview of Microsoft Whiteboard for Windows 10 devices—a freeform digital canvas where people, ideas, and content can come together. Microsoft Whiteboard Preview is built for teams who ideate and work together across multiple devices and locations. Unlike traditional whiteboards, the app uses AI to recognize freeform drawings and turn them into standard shapes, so it’s easier to create great-looking tables, diagrams, and flowcharts using only a pen. Users can work together in real-time on shared content and automatically save to the cloud to pick their work up later from another device. Microsoft Whiteboard is now available in preview from the Windows Store.

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Find text in images with intelligent search

Earlier this year, we introduced the ability for OneDrive and SharePoint to automatically recognize the content within images and detect whiteboards, screenshots, receipts, and more. Today, we are expanding this capability to automatically extract searchable text from those images, making it easier to find a wide range of content, including receipts and business cards, using memorable search terms and without needing to know where the images are stored. Text in image search is currently rolling out and will be available to all Office 365 commercial subscribers by the end of December.

Three smartphones display intelligent search in images.

Search for text in images stored in Office 365.

Learn more about what’s new for Office 365 subscribers this month at: Office on Windows desktops | Office for Mac | Office Mobile for Windows | Office for iPhone and iPad | Office on Android. If you’re an Office 365 Home or Personal customer, be sure to sign up for Office Insider to be the first to use the latest and greatest in Office productivity. Commercial customers on both Monthly Channel and Semi-Annual Channel can also get early access to a fully supported build through Targeted Release (Clients, Services). This site explains more about when you can expect to receive the features announced today.

—Kirk Koenigsbauer


  • Insights in Excel is starting to roll out in preview to Office 365 commercial subscribers enrolled in Office Insiders, in the United States this month. Because this feature is powered by machine learning, it will provide increasingly advanced analysis as usage of the feature grows over time.
  • Acronyms will be rolling out to Word Online for Office 365 commercial subscribers enrolled in Office Insiders in 2018.
  • Time to leave is rolling out to Outlook for iOS users in our Insider program this month, and then to all Outlook for iOS users in coming months. We also plan to make it available in Outlook for Android 2018.
  • Microsoft Whiteboard Preview is now available for Windows users in the Windows Store.
  • Text in image search is currently rolling out to Office 365 commercial subscribers and will be available worldwide by the end of 2017.

Teaming up on a hack to help girls – Microsoft Life

It’s human nature: we respond to stories, not generalizations.

Devika Mittal, a corporate strategy manager at Microsoft who grew up in New Delhi and now lives in Washington, DC, knew that child trafficking and violence against women in rural areas in India was a growing human-rights crisis. But for a long time, the fate of at-risk Indian girls far away from her, while distressing, was something she felt helpless to change.

“You know that these problems exist, and you want to help,” she said. “But you also feel lost and like you can’t truly engage or help drive real impact when you’re living far away in DC.”

That all changed when Mittal flew to Microsoft’s Hyderabad office to meet Franz Gastler, the founder of Yuwa, a nonprofit soccer and school academy for girls in Jharkhand, India, whose students face the terrifying reality every day.

Gastler told Mittal the story of a student who had come to his soccer program every day for weeks. She appeared to be blossoming in the supportive environment that emphasized self-worth and self-determination. But then one day, she didn’t show up to the academy. She was gone the next day, and the next; she never came back. He had no idea what happened to her; it wasn’t until later that program leaders discovered that the girl had died, allegedly at the hands of an abusive family member.

Mittal was stunned. “Learning about this girl’s story in a real context motivated me to contribute whatever skills I could to help Yuwa’s mission. The work they’re doing is incredible, and I wanted to be a part of the tangible impact they’re making on young girls’ lives in India.”

She got that opportunity to make a difference when Yuwa partnered this year with Microsoft’s annual Hackathon, a three-day, global event for employees. Microsoft Hackathon teams have fun mad-sciencing new projects and ideas, using Microsoft technology to help solve some of the world’s greatest societal challenges.

To help nonprofit organizations such as Yuwa act on their own missions and find solutions, Microsoft invites them to hack alongside Microsoft employees. That’s how Mittal and 15 other employees from five countries came together to work with Gastler to build a tracking and predictive app that would help Gastler in his quest to keep girls progressing through Yuwa’s program and focused on their futures.

Yuwa’s central mission is to empower girls to break the cycle of poverty and abuse they inherited and instead help them discover their worth, through education and team sports, in rural India where more than half the women and girls are illiterate. Gastler had successfully started the organization but now needed more-sophisticated digital tools to help it and girls succeed.

“Jharkhand is a dangerous place to be a girl,” said Gastler. “If you don’t know your self-worth, you’ve got no defense against all the things that might come at you. But when girls know their worth, they’re limitless.”

The statistics do not bode well for girls and young women in the region. Fifty percent of Jharkhand’s girls become child brides, and thousands are trafficked each year as laborers or sex workers.

Two young girls playing soccer in a dirt field in rural India

“When girls know their worth, they’re limitless.”

Madhura Phadke, Mittal’s Hackathon teammate who works at Microsoft in Redmond and grew up in India, said that girls are stripped of their very right to have a dream. In Jharkhand, where poverty is high and education is low, girls often lack the opportunity to further their schooling, and some are at risk for child marriage. These factors make many girls easy targets for criminals.

Through soccer and school, Yuwa helps girls find their purpose and provides a place where they are expected to be every day, somewhere that their absence will be noticed. They learn to read and write and understand their fundamental rights. Yuwa has connected some girls to other programs that have helped them travel outside of their villages to continue their education. But the success of Yuwa depends heavily on the girls’ consistent attendance.

The quicker Yuwa can respond to an absence, the more likely program managers are to bring a girl back if she’s at risk. Before the Hackathon project, Yuwa staff members were recording attendance onto 25 spreadsheets. The time it took to identify who was missing was time that an absent child likely didn’t have to waste. Yuwa staff members also wanted a way to better organize and track other needs, such as soccer shoe sizes, learning materials, and necessities for the school.

In addition to wanting to more easily track students, Gastler thought that the data being captured on their spreadsheets—limited to whether girls were present or absent on any given day—wasn’t as useful as it could be. Maybe, for instance, data could reveal patterns about how the girls’ levels of risk for child marriage and human trafficking might correlate to their attendance. Armed with those kinds of big answers, Gastler couldn’t imagine the impact that Yuwa could make.

Gastler and his Yuwa team knew that any technology they implemented would need to be adaptable for many kinds of devices, as well as take into account that internet connection and electricity in rural India can be sparse and unreliable.

While Gastler had been sitting on the idea to build an app for tracking students for four years, and even had a rendering, he had never found anyone with enough expertise to build it out.

Until he partnered with Microsoft employees at the Hackathon.

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In June 2017, Gastler, a Minnesota native who worked in the corporate world before moving to Jharkhand to teach English, flew from the small village of Jharkhand to Microsoft offices in Hyderabad. For the next three days, he worked alongside Mittal and others to make the app.

Many of the Hackathon members felt a special pull to the Yuwa project because they are from India themselves. “I just knew I wanted to also add my skills to bolster the project, to see if there was anything I could do to help,” said Mittal.

Working via Skype and spanning three time zones, the team produced a prototype to send home with Gastler. The app helped Yuwa staff quickly see how many students were present or missing and could drill down to identify the individual girls and take action if needed that same day.

The Hackathon was just the beginning. Months later, the team is still extremely engaged, said Mittal. It is building out phase two of the app, which has more complex functionality, such as using machine learning to collect and interpret data.

Mobile phone showing how the new app filters information

“With layering Power BI and other analytical capabilities, it could function as a prototype for other organizations.”

And Mittal said the team believes the project could be applicable for other organizations and nonprofits and could scale, especially in rural areas. “With layering Power BI and other analytical capabilities, it could function as a prototype for other organizations.”

Working on the project has changed Mittal. She’s always been passionate about education for women, especially in India, but the issue now hits home in a new way.

“Now that I have seen what a lack of education does to girls in the country and have seen an organization that is making a tangible difference for girls who never thought they would get outside their villages, I am personally connected to it,” she said.

“I’m thankful that I have that opportunity working here at Microsoft.”

Visit yuwa-india.org for more information about how to be a part of Yuwa’s mission.

Accelerating business in a digital financial market—KeyBank trusts Microsoft 365 – Office Blogs

Today’s post was written by Ron Markezich, corporate vice president for Microsoft.

Profile picture of Ron Markezich.

KeyBank logo.

To say that KeyBank is growing is an understatement. The bank just announced that it ranks ninth in the U.S. according to the Small Business Administration. This represents a 43 percent jump in dollar volume from 2016 levels, more than doubling its loan commitment since 2015.

KeyBank accounts for this success by focusing on serving small businesses that help to build prosperous communities across the country. This financial services company is also banking on the Microsoft Cloud platform to provide employees with the highly secure, modern workplace they need to deliver the responsive service that customers expect in today’s digital business environment.

Here’s how Keith Silvestri, chief technology officer of KeyBank, describes his company’s decision to work with Microsoft:

“At KeyBank, meeting our clients’ business needs is our primary focus. Key grows by building enduring relationships through client-focused solutions and great service. To meet those needs and to ensure our competitive edge, we have begun our journey to both private and public cloud platforms for select applications. Having met our strict compliance, security, and risk requirements, Microsoft was our choice as a strategic partner in this journey. With its alignment to our digital-first approach, adopting Microsoft 365, which includes Office 365, Windows 10, and the Enterprise Mobility + Security Suite, and moving to the Azure cloud platform, will position us to achieve our technology goals faster. We look forward to offering our clients new possibilities and enhanced capabilities through our partnership with Microsoft.”

It’s great to know that KeyBank trusts Microsoft Cloud services to empower employees, meet its regulatory obligations, and safeguard its customers’ financial data with comprehensive, intelligent cloud protection services.

—Ron Markezich

Nuance global communication and collaboration transform with Office 365

Today’s post was written by Craig Preston, IT vice president of Infrastructure and Operations at Nuance Communications.

Picture of Craig Preston, IT vice president of infrastructure and operations at Nuance Communications.You might not know it, but our technology is embedded in a whole lot of devices and products that folks use every day. There’s a good chance that Nuance developed the predictive texting feature on your smartphone and smartwatch. Our speech recognition software is used by most automakers to transform a voice command into driving directions or to ask your TV remote to change the channel.

What we develop here is people-focused and empowering. Once you start using it, you don’t realize how easy and effortless it can be, nor can you imagine living without it.

Just like Office 365 cloud computing.

We have more than 8,000 employees who need to communicate and collaborate across 63 global offices. When we got to the point where we could put our on-premises solution out to pasture, we wanted something different that simply worked, that employees would use because it was easy and not tethered to certain devices and technologies.

We did a cost modeling exercise comparing Office 365 against our on-premises 2010 Microsoft Exchange, Office, and SharePoint platforms, as well as our Skype for Business solution. It wasn’t hard at all to sort out that Office 365 would save us a lot of money over the next five years. We even considered Google at one point, but we really liked Office 365’s integrated services as part of Microsoft’s cloud offerings.

All employees’ distribution lists and public folders from our on-premises environment were moved over to Office 365 in just 90 days. We used Office 365 ProPlus to acquire the latest Office apps. We deployed Exchange Online, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, and Planner. We’re also using Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business Online, and Yammer.

We planned ahead thoughtfully for deployment and training. As a result, the process was low-impact and practically a seamless migration. In fact, migrating from Exchange and Skype on-premises to Office 365 Exchange Online and Skype for Business Online was so transparent that most users didn’t even notice it happened.

Our Office 365 deployment is just the first phase of moving to the Microsoft Cloud. We are checking out other Microsoft Cloud offerings to see what makes sense and when.

For Nuance, Skype for Business is one of the most popular Office 365 services. We had been using an audio and web conferencing system patched together from multiple vendors. It wasn’t easy to manage, it didn’t always work that well, and compared to Office 365, it cost us several million dollars more a year to operate.

Skype for Business conferencing, with real-time collaborating and screen sharing, is incredibly simple to use. The interface is intuitive and familiar in its design. We’ve had very few requests for help using it, and we are far from nostalgic for what we used to have in place.

Team collaboration and mobility have noticeably improved. I hardly ever use my desk phone anymore. Skype for Business plays nice with other technology in our IT infrastructure. Its telephone and desktop video conferencing are super quick and simple to initiate.

With just one click, I am on a conference call with my colleagues in our office in Germany. There’s no lag time; the connection is clear. And it eliminates a good amount of our former third-party costs. We’re now planning to evaluate our on-premises PBX solution for replacement with the Phone System feature in Office 365.

With this great experience under our belts, we are proceeding to eliminate the need for personal and departmental on-premises file shares and SharePoint sites. We are moving all personal data to OneDrive for Business, and all departmental file shares and SharePoint sites to SharePoint Online.

I don’t even get charged for additional storage or clients to use SharePoint Online because it’s all included in Office 365. We can make it better and easier for employees to access data from anywhere, on any device. I won’t miss on-premises storage and backup costs. I have so many other things to spend my IT budget on.

Folks from around the company have been using SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, and Microsoft Teams to stay productive when they’re on the road. Some employees even prefer to use Office 365 Portal when they are at the office. The other day, I co-authored a document with a colleague from a different office. The content was targeted to a group of employees who travel a lot for work. As soon as we were done with the document, I saved it to a shared team site, which made it immediately accessible from mobile devices. Things like this are really big productivity gains for us.

If something were to go wrong with our email and collaboration systems, I’d be the first to hear about it. I needed something that just works as advertised and won’t make the hair on my head turn prematurely gray. I place a lot of trust in the Microsoft Cloud for good reason—it has earned it. The folks at Microsoft are forward-thinking and built a cloud that IT folks like me will use with confidence.

Here at Nuance, the security of our networks and systems is absolutely critical. As part of our Office 365 subscription, we’re taking advantage of advanced security features that support compliance requirements. Microsoft’s security roadmap is solid and smart. And that’s not very common these days.

Back when we started, we talked about the transitional aspect to the Microsoft Office 365 platform. Now that we have been using it for a while, I’d say it’s been more like transformational.

—Craig Preston

Owens-Illinois sees clear advantage in driving collaborative agenda with Office 365

Logo of Owen-Illinois.

Today’s post was written by Rodney Masney, vice president of Technology Service Delivery at Owens-Illinois.

Image of Rodney Masney, vice president of Technology Service Delivery at Owens-Illinois.My job as the vice president of Technology Service Delivery means that I look at our IT solutions with the same eye to longevity and serviceability that Owens-Illinois (O-I) craftspeople use when they create the 10,000 different glass containers in our portfolio. With Office 365, we found a suite of cloud-based services and apps that are as sustainable and functional as our products.

O-I is a global company, with 79 factories in 23 countries. We were using an on-premises Lotus Notes platform, but it was a struggle to keep the regionally autonomous locations of our large company in sync. To boost efficiency, we needed to perform better as one interconnected organization. The wide range of integrated capabilities for communication and collaboration within Office 365 aligns better with the goals of this workplace transformation. And we are driven by a desire to connect our workforce, standardize manufacturing processes, and collaborate better with customers.

The importance of collaborating and sharing best practices across the company comes back to our passion for creating superior products. When our employees use Office 365 to work together, they are empowered to enact that passion. In a simple, streamlined way, mobile employees can stay productive with anytime, anywhere access to the data they need, and dispersed teams can collaborate in real time.

Today, we use SharePoint Online and Yammer to fuel our Manufacturing Fundamentals initiative. Employees can upload and collect best practices for a range of manufacturing processes into SharePoint team sites. Here the information is made available across the company. Employees add comments to the documents, connect directly to engineers, and turn to Yammer to post their findings back to the company at large. From the beginning, we knew collective insights had to involve the shop floor to include our Firstline Workforce, so we added Office 365 Enterprise F1 to empower our shop floor workers with a highly secure digital platform to offer their unique perspectives and expertise to enrich our enterprise.

Thankfully, cloud-based computing doesn’t make us feel that our security profile is any less robust. It makes sense to let a technology company do what they do best, so we can focus on our 115 years of expertise making great glass products for our customers. For instance, we’ve used Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection to address concerns over phishing emails that were targeting certain accounts within the company, with positive results.

Surface Hubs make a great addition to our boardrooms and meeting rooms at several key locations. Engineers, designers, and developers use Surface Hubs to facilitate global, collaborative design work. It’s incredible to think that in the past, engineers would have to mail physical copies of designs to colleagues and wait for their response.

As important as it is to provide our internal workforce with the right tools to communicate and collaborate, we also wanted to facilitate conversations with external stakeholders. Using Skype for Business to gather feedback from partners and customers, we’re creating more impactful products to sustain our competitive advantage. As we evolve into a more global, connective organization, it’s clear the real value of a rich, integrated set of applications like Office 365 is that it’s collaborative and it standardizes manufacturing operations. Innovative products produced more efficiently means we can expand our business and continue to satisfy our customers and shareholders. It’s a great formula for success.

—Rodney Masney

Read the case study for more on the Owens-Illinois digital transformation.

FedEx delivers on modern workplace vision with cloud computing

FedEx logo.

Today’s post was written by Robert Carter, CIO and executive vice president of information services at FedEx.

Profile picture of Robert Carter, CIO and executive vice president of information services at FedEx.Strategic technology is part of FedEx’s heritage and its key to our continued innovation in the future. In 1978, our founder and CEO Fred Smith said, “The information about the package is as important as the package itself.” This established a culture where technology functions as the central nervous system behind every single business process at the company. It’s behind every one of the 13 million shipments that we process each day. It supports our more than 400,000 team members working in 220 countries and territories as they connect 99 percent of the global GDP through our transportation, e-commerce, and business services.

This heritage of custom-built, innovative, end-to-end systems of record and engagement—including our invention of modern package tracking—enabled the business to expand globally while maintaining our focus on process quality control. However, as FedEx entered the modern computing era with a wake of legacy technologies, we had to re-evaluate the strategic IT that we need to move forward in an internet-enabled world. In 2009, we began a modernization journey that we called Project Renewal. It’s our ongoing vision for cloud computing where we are standardizing on today’s internet protocols—the scalable X86 datacenter platform and the “tap-into” world of software as a service.

Whether related to the logistics business or not, there’s a massive amount of disruptive activity in today’s e-commerce world, with venture capital pouring into both first-mile and last-mile solutions. So, we need to refactor our systems to stay competitive. On the infrastructure side, we have a hybrid compute environment where we burst containerized transaction traffic between our on-premises implementations and the public cloud. With Microsoft, we found a vendor that’s compatible with our approach to multi-cloud and platform services and the protection of our data through intelligent security services. For our same-day service for retailers, we built an API-first, cloud-native application using Microsoft Azure. This competitive, last-mile solution extended our business—with fewer IT resources required.

And when we talk about our renewal journey and software, we’re moving from a legacy of deep vertical applications toward a world where we can tap into and integrate software services to meet our needs and stay connected with customers. This is the essence of “everything as a service,” which dismantles the complexity of constant upgrade cycles, versioning, and patching. Now, instead of installing software across the many thousands of places where we operate, we are taking a different approach. We chose Microsoft 365 so our more than 400,000 team members can take advantage of the cloud in ways that make us more collaborative and creative, driving a new era of innovation.

The diversity of cloud-based business solutions that we can deploy to meet our associates’ needs, no matter where they work, is a huge advantage for FedEx. Now, frontline workers such as our mechanics can take their tablets and access the engineering diagrams they need while they’re seven stories up on a scaffolding, servicing the tail engine on one of our aircraft. We see it as key to our future to provide this modern “tap-into” world, where everything is accessible and where we operate as collaborative virtual teams in highly secure digital environments.

And at FedEx, we’ve always promoted a culture of empowerment because we believe it’s the wellspring of innovation. We got where we are through our heritage of technology innovation, but we cannot afford to rest on that reputation. Since 2009, we’ve been working diligently to stay relevant, re-engineering our legacy software for the cloud so we can engage with next-generation fulfillment systems. Whether you are shipping apparel, or flowers, or car parts from the other side of the world, FedEx will continue to innovate in a cloud-based computing paradigm, so we can make good on our promise to move everything to everywhere—just as we’ve always done.

—Robert Carter

Meet me in the trees – Microsoft Life

Wi-Fi? Check. Power for your tablet or PC? Yep.

Bird calls? All around.

To get to Microsoft’s most unexpected new meeting space, embark on a leisurely outdoor stroll up a planked, accessible switchback ramp. At the top, a secure wooden gate swings open to reveal a deck suspended by timber beams and cables. A minty pine perfume infuses the air. Two angled cedar awnings jut out from tree trunks, protecting employees from the elements.

But the elements are why people come here—up into a majestic Pacific Northwest Douglas fir, where a collaboration room is built inside a treehouse.

Aloft, the usual corporate sounds of clicking doors, conference calls, and heels on concrete melt away. A fall wind sweeps through emerald branches. Every 10 or 20 seconds, a pinecone drops to the deck with a soft thud. A sudden ruckus breaks the gentle morning hush: a squirrel scrambling for breakfast charges across the arms of nearby hemlock and western red cedar.

Welcome to a new kind of workspace that’s helping employees benefit from what science shows is the powerful impact of nature on creativity, focus, and happiness.

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An audio description version of the above video is also available. 

The treehouse is one of three new branch-based meeting spaces created by renowned builder Pete Nelson of the TV show “Treehouse Masters.” Nelson kicked off the project by spending his first day on the site “connecting with the trees” for hours, said Bret Boulter, who works in Real Estate & Facilities on Microsoft’s Redmond campus and who headed up the project.

The treehouses are part of a larger new system of technology-enabled outdoor districts connected to buildings around campus and empowering employees to work in new ways. On a recent sunny day, an employee perched, legs crossed, on a soft grassy knoll below a treehouse. For several minutes, she sat with her hands on her knees, eyes closed, head tilted toward the sky, breathing deeply. Then she grabbed her laptop and typed furiously. After a spate of work, she set her computer aside, rested her palms on her knees, gazed up, and then closed her eyes again.

While under construction this summer, the outdoor meeting spaces, which include two enclosed treehouses and one elevated roost called the Crow’s Nest, created a wave of curiosity.

“It beat out all rumors,” said Shanon Bernstine, a business manager who helped plan the spaces. “People didn’t believe it was really happening: there was a lot of excitement.”

Twelve feet off the ground, treehouse number one features charred-wood walls and a soaring ceiling with a round skylight that lets in just a bubble of blue. It’s more Hobbit than HQ, with cinnamon-colored shingles and a gingerbread-house feel.

A hand-carved arched double door glides open at the swipe of a badge. The almost mustardy fragrance of rough-hewn cedar is instantaneous. Inside the small room nests a simple farmhouse table with rust-red seats. Box benches line the reclaimed-wood walls, dark as campfire smoke.

There’s no AV system or calibrated climate control. But what happens when people enter is a kind of magic.

“The first thing when you walk into the space is that everyone is really quiet. You stop talking and are just present,” said Boulter. “It’s fascinating. People absorb the environment, and it changes the perception of their work and how they can do it.”

Winding wooden staircase against a backdrop of trees and sunlight

“We don’t have to bring nature to urbanity—we are in nature. It’s at our back door.”

Scientists have found plenty of connection between exposure to outdoor spaces and people’s well-being. Nature “stimulates reward neurons in your brain. It turns off the stress response, which means you have lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improved immune response,” wrote Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, coauthor of Your Brain on Nature. Exposure to nature has been found to increase positive feelings, creativity, and focus and to restore the mind from the mental fatigue of work. Forests have a particular impact on people. “Trees and plants secrete aromatic chemicals that impact our cognition, mental state, and even our immunity,” Selhub wrote.

The treehouses are part of a larger redesign that makes working in nature easier than it’s ever been. When it set out to renovate the spaces outside Buildings 30–32—the first in a series of similar campus projects planned—the design team surveyed employees to see what they cared about most.

“People said, given the opportunity, they would work more outside,” Boulter said.

While some companies have moved toward the trend of creating green indoor spaces that function as proxies for the outdoors, Microsoft has something unique that most companies located within large metropolitan areas don’t have: a 500-acre campus nestled in the woods, with greenspace and wildlife galore.

“We don’t have to bring nature to urbanity—we are in nature. It’s at our back door,” said Boulter. Many employees who come to the region from elsewhere are drawn to the eco ethic and recreational opportunities; longtime Pacific Northwest residents feel a kinship with and comfort in nature that can be summed up by this fact: we barely see the need for umbrellas in the rain.

That relationship to nature is rooted in the company’s history. Four years after it was founded in New Mexico, Microsoft made the jump to the Pacific Northwest, filling a series of buildings in the region while realizing it needed a long-term strategic plan for growth. A guiding document laid out five criteria for a headquarters, including this: provide an attractive “park-like” location for employees.

The evolution of outdoor meeting space emphasizes this long-ago envisioned connection to the environment while increasing opportunities for workers to collaborate—all while maintaining the reliable connectivity of a traditional office. A broad outdoor Wi-Fi network allows employees to range; every bench is weatherproof and contains a hatch that reveals electricity sources. The indoor cafeteria is extended outside, with a barbecue restaurant built into a shipping container. Tactile surfaces help people who are blind or have low vision navigate. The space has rust-proof rocking chairs; an outdoor gas fireplace that brings the warmth of a ski lodge and attracts an after-work crowd; and a weatherproof awning that, when the sun shines, stencils the Microsoft logo onto the manicured lawn. Many materials are local or reclaimed, and with its abundant wood canopies and steel accents the space pays homage to the site’s history as a former sawmill.

It’s all to help employees work seamlessly and better interact with one another, including via spontaneous encounters. “We want to bring more human touch back into the workplace,” Boulter said. “For people to be the most productive and create the best products, we want them to have that opportunity for collaboration. Any employee can take their device outside, have a meeting—even in a treehouse—and be just as productive.”

“We made sure we were intentional about how we made the space,” said Genise Dawson, an executive business administrator who helped plan the outdoor district for Buildings 30–32. “And people love it. Even though it rains, they still sit out there.”

Two of the three treehouses, which are accessible to all employees, are open. The cedar meeting room takes reservations, as with many of Microsoft’s more traditional meeting spaces; the Crow’s Nest is first-come, first-served. The third, a sheltered lounge space, will be ready later this year. The building is already taking shape in the boughs of a tree Pete Nelson selected—”Nothing formal,” said Dawson. “A place you can chill inside or out of, sit, work.”

Group of employees sitting around a table inside a wooden treehouse

“We were intentional about how we made the space. And people love it.”

Curious employees are coming from around campus to see the treehouses for themselves. “One employee who booked it for a two-hour meeting told me, ‘We got a lot done in a very different way,’” Bernstine said.

With their workspace turned inside out and meetings taking place up in the foliage employees are figuring out how to rethink what working looks like.

“A lot of people are like, ‘where’s the AV?’ And I’m like, it’s a treehouse,” said Boulter. “We wanted people to intentionally unplug, because they are sitting in front of screens all day long.”

The buildings are made to flex and expand as the trees grow, and while they will hopefully last at least 20 years, said Boulter, they will have a finite lifespan, “like any living thing.”

As workers see what nature has to offer, Bernstine said, horizons are already being expanded.

“Being more creative and flexible with our workspace allows us to be more creative and productive in our work and the products we create. It’s like a little getaway.”

Widening the spectrum – Microsoft Life

For technology to truly help people achieve their potential, it has to be able to help everyone. And the people creating that technology must reflect the people who will use it. Technology needs to work across what Jenny Lay-Flurrie calls “the spectrum of being human.”

“By having people with disabilities in the fabric of our company, [we’re] building in a diverse workforce that then represents the one billion people with disabilities out there,” said Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer. “We’re going to be building better products, better services, websites . . . anything we do will work across the spectrum of being human.”

That spectrum includes many types of people who have talent and passion and who can help change the world. People like Joey Chemis, who came to work at Microsoft through the company’s program to recruit and hire people with autism, a program that started two years ago.

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Researchers estimate the unemployment and underemployment rates for people on the autism spectrum are 70–90 percent. That was the frustrating reality for Chemis: he had advanced skills in math and was excited to put them to use, but he couldn’t get interviews. While he was working minimum-wage jobs, he knew he was “destined for something more.”

To connect with candidates like Chemis, recruiters first focus on the “front door,” explains Jen Guadagno, senior inclusive hiring program manager. Standard recruiting practices are not always accommodating for people on the autism spectrum. Recruiters receive training and guidance on how to best engage and interact with people based on their communication styles. For example, a candidate might have a tendency to answer questions exactly and succinctly, so learning to drive the conversation deeper and ask more questions is important for the employees and hiring managers who conduct the interviews.

Through Microsoft’s efforts to hire employees on the autism spectrum, recruiters and hiring managers also put an emphasis on looking at a candidate’s background holistically. For instance, someone might have advanced degrees but be working at a big-box store. “Because of that, there might be this perception of why someone doesn’t have a job in their field,” Guadagno said. To better assess experience, recruiters also look at technical projects and relevant volunteer work. “Just because you’re not working in your desired career, it doesn’t eliminate you.”

Joey Chemis

“I could feel that I was destined for something more.”

Once the candidate is invited to a hiring event, a process that includes team-building exercises and mock interviews with feedback helps them feel supported. A technical skills assessment “helps to drive more insight into someone’s skills and experience and puts more focus on their ability to do the job,” Guadagno said.

The program is part of Microsoft’s broader inclusive hiring for people with disabilities.

Being inclusive means support like interview accommodations based on people’s needs and educating interviewing teams on disabilities and etiquette. “We want to set a candidate up for the best possible experience to showcase their skills,” Guadagno said.

Inclusive hiring helps bring talented employees such as Chemis, Amos Miller, Jessica Rafuse, and Swetha Machanavajhala to Microsoft. Being inclusive not only reflects our culture and our mission of empowerment, but it also makes good business sense, says Lay-Flurrie.

“A diverse and talented workforce brings new perspectives that help advance our ability to delight all of our customers,” she said.

Elevators with Inclusion signage

Messages of inclusion appear around Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

From the beginning of his interview process, soon after the program was launched, Chemis felt that people at Microsoft were really interested in getting to know his strengths and passions. “You played with a bunch of tools. You had an assignment where you had to demonstrate your coding skills . . . you had some informal interviews called chats to figure out if you’d be a fit for the company.” The process allows people with autism to “shine and show their true colors and abilities,” he said.

Chemis still feels the same commitment today that he felt during his interviews, from the work he now does talking to new recruits going through the program to the way the Redmond campus regularly reminds him of how Microsoft supports employees. “I love the fact that it’s an inclusive culture and that inclusion is written all over the elevators and all over the walls,” he said. “You’re going to come here, you’re going to try things, you’re going to experiment. Some of the experiments won’t work out, but it’s OK because the end goal is for you to learn and develop and make great stuff.”

If Chemis could somehow go back and advise his younger self about the future, he says that he would say this: “You’re going to do really cool things. You’re going to end up getting a really cool job at Microsoft.”

A new vision for intelligent communications in Office 365 – Office Blogs

Today’s post was written by Lori Wright, general manager for Microsoft Teams and Skype product marketing.

Today at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, Florida, we introduced a new vision for intelligent communications, transforming calling and meeting experiences for people and organizations around the world. Intelligent communications go beyond traditional unified communications, enabling you to complete tasks more efficiently with minimal context switching, participate in more productive meetings that cover the entire meeting lifecycle, and better manage your everyday communications overload.

Microsoft Teams is core to our vision for intelligent communications—bringing together conversations, meetings, files, Office apps, and third-party integrations—to provide a single hub for teamwork in Office 365. Teams is now being used by over 125,000 organizations across the world in just six months since its launch. Its strong momentum has proven that teamwork is essential to the way work gets done today.

To achieve our vision for intelligent communications, we are bringing comprehensive calling and meetings capabilities into Teams, along with data and insights from the Microsoft Graph, and a strong roadmap of innovation to empower teams to achieve more.

All of this is being built on a new, modern Skype infrastructure for enterprise-grade voice and video communications. Our next generation, cloud-born architecture is already powering communication experiences in Teams, and is evolving rapidly. We are excited about this new infrastructure because it will provide both speed of innovation as well as higher quality communication experiences.​

As we build out these capabilities, Teams will evolve as the primary client for intelligent communications in Office 365, replacing the current Skype for Business client over time.

The future of business meetings

Combining communications, collaboration, and intelligence in this way will make new things possible across the lifecycle of a call or meeting:

  • Before a meeting, Teams will surface relevant documents and rich information about the participants to help you prepare.
  • During the meeting, the conversation can be captured, transcribed, and time-coded, with closed captioning and voice recognition for attributing remarks to specific individuals.
  • After the meeting, the cloud recording and transcript can be automatically added to the relevant channel, so conversations, documents, notes, and action items can be reviewed, indexed, and searched by the entire team.

Image of a Teams meeting with four participants.

Introducing calling features and meeting enhancements in Teams

Over the past six months, we’ve continued to enhance the communications capabilities in Teams, with new features like scheduled meetings, Outlook calendar integration, and meetings on mobile. Also, earlier this month, we began rolling out guest access—so you can use Teams to collaborate with people outside your company. In the coming months, we will begin adding calling features in Teams—including inbound and outbound calls to PSTN numbers, hold, call transfer, and voicemail.

We are also introducing new enhancements to Teams meetings, including audio conferencing (available in preview today)—enabling participants to join a Teams meeting by dialing a telephone number—and interoperability between Teams and Skype for Business, including universal presence, and messaging and calling interoperability.

This is just the beginning of a big wave of feature releases that will bring the core set of meetings and phone system capabilities into Teams.

We remain committed to bringing the familiar Skype experience into any and every meeting room. We have seen strong customer momentum with Skype Rooms Systems. Today, Lenovo announced they will bring to market a new Skype Room Systems device, Smart Hub 500, expanding on the current portfolio of Skype Room Systems with Logitech, Crestron, and Polycom. In addition, Polycom, Pexip, and Blue Jeans Networks will deliver cloud video interop capabilities within Teams. This adds to the existing video interop capabilities for Skype for Business delivered by Polycom’s RealConnect for Office 365 and Pexip’s Infinity Fusion product.

What’s next

Office 365 customers can take advantage of the capabilities in Microsoft Teams starting today. We are committed to providing visibility into the Teams product roadmap, so our customers can assess when Teams is right for them. We intend to make an updated roadmap for Teams available in October.

We plan to continue to offer and support Skype for Business in Office 365 and Skype for Business Server on-premises. For customers who are not yet ready to move their PBX and advanced calling capabilities to the cloud, we will release a new version of Skype for Business Server targeted for the second half of calendar year 2018.

Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business clients can be run side by side to evaluate and explore what’s best for your organization.

We encourage every Office 365 customer to begin using Teams today. Office 365 customers currently using Skype for Business can find guidance and resources on the intelligent communications page in the FastTrack portal.

—Lori Wright

Advancing intelligence, management, and security to empower the modern workplace

Today’s post was written by Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office team.

Building on our vision for the modern workplace, today at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, we’re announcing the expansion of Microsoft 365 as well as a number of new product capabilities that empower everyone to be creative and work together, securely.

Expanding Microsoft 365 to new audiences

In July, we announced Microsoft 365, which brings together Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security, delivering a complete, intelligent, and secure solution to empower employees. It represents a fundamental shift in how we design, build, and bring our products to market to address customer needs for a modern workplace. Starting October 1, 2017, we are bringing Microsoft 365 to several new audiences.

Microsoft 365 Education—A new offer that combines capabilities across Office 365 for Education, Windows 10, Enterprise Mobility + Security, and Minecraft: Education Edition, to provide students, faculty, and staff everything they need to create and work together securely in the classroom. Microsoft 365 Education is offered in two plans—Microsoft 365 A3 and Microsoft 365 A5. In addition, we’re excited to announce a new Microsoft 365 plan for non-profit organizations.

Microsoft 365 F1—A new Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan designed to maximize the impact of the Firstline Worker. Numbering two billion worldwide, these are the individuals behind the counter, on the phone, in the clinics, on the shop floor, and in the field who form the backbone of many of the world’s largest industries. This new plan helps foster culture and community, train and upskill employees, digitize business processes, and deliver real-time expertise while minimizing risk and cost. We’re also adding new product capabilities to StaffHub and Windows 10 to keep everyone connected, automate device deployment, and manage single purpose devices.

We also recognize the importance of providing Firstline Workers with streamlined and secure devices that reduce total cost of ownership. Today, we’re announcing new commercial devices with Windows 10 S from our OEM partners HP, Lenovo, and Acer, with availability starting later this year. Starting as low as $275 (ERP), these devices benefit from cloud-based identity and management and are ideal for firstline environments.

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New capabilities to unlock employee creativity

Work today has quickly shifted from simple execution of routine tasks to creative problem solving. Microsoft 365 provides the tools people need to express their ideas effectively, build on the work and expertise of others, and create compelling content.

New intelligent capabilities in Excel—We’re harnessing the power of AI to make Excel more powerful. Coming in early 2018, Excel will understand new data types, beyond text and numbers, and augment that data based on public and enterprise information. For example, Excel will know that “India” is a country and “MSFT” is a stock. Insights—a new service coming to Office Insiders this year—also uses AI to find and recommend patterns, helping you derive additional insights from complex data.

Intelligent, personalized search—New search capabilities enable you to discover people and information from across your organization and beyond. We’ve made improvements to help you quickly find the content and expertise you need across SharePoint and Office.com, and you can even search for people and content directly from your Windows taskbar. Bing for business, now in private preview, brings internal sites and content into Bing search results to help you find the right information and resources. Wherever you start your search—you get consistent, personalized results powered by the Microsoft Graph.

LinkedIn profile integration—Today, we’re announcing the ability to view LinkedIn profiles in Microsoft apps and services. This new experience, rolling out now to first release customers, provides rich insights about the people you’re working with—inside and outside your organization—right from within Office 365.

LinkedIn profile information shown from Outlook, on both a phone and tablet.

See LinkedIn profile information from Microsoft apps and services.

The universal toolkit for teamwork

One of the hallmarks of the modern workplace is the shift from individual productivity to dynamic teamwork. Microsoft 365 addresses the complete set of needs you have across your organization by providing a universal toolkit for teamwork with a broad set of purpose-built apps, all on a secure platform.

Intelligent communications with Microsoft Teams—Today, we’re announcing a new vision for intelligent communications to transform calling and meeting experiences by bringing comprehensive voice and video capabilities into Teams, along with cognitive and data services, and insights from the Microsoft Graph. As a result, Teams will evolve as the primary client for intelligent communications in Office 365, replacing the current Skype for Business client over time.

Enhanced content sharing with OneDrive and SharePoint—The new unified sharing experience, now in Windows, Mac, web, and mobile, will come to the Office apps in the coming weeks. The new experience provides a simple, consistent, and secure way to share and control access to files across Office 365. And you can now securely share files with people outside your organization who don’t have a Microsoft account. In addition, you can customize the look and layout of SharePoint pages, add dynamic content from over 100 new web parts and connectors, as well as share those pages on SharePoint sites or as a tab in Teams.

Cross-org connections with Yammer—We continue to invest in Yammer as the best way to connect with people across your organization. Today, we’re announcing deeper integration with SharePoint, new group insights for community managers, and enterprise-grade compliance with local data residency.

A tablet displays Yammer group insights.

Yammer group insights show trends for group members and non-members.

Simplifying IT management

In the modern workplace, the role of IT has never been more important. Microsoft 365 is designed to meet business needs and minimize total cost of ownership across the IT lifecycle, from deployment to management and ongoing servicing. Only Microsoft delivers a complete solution for your entire productivity infrastructure.

Simplifying management—Beginning in early 2018, Lenovo, HP, Panasonic, Fujitsu, and Toshiba will join Surface in supporting Windows Autopilot on new Windows 10 devices, automating new device deployment and configuration. This fall, we’ll also introduce new capabilities in Microsoft Intune to manage Windows 10 devices with Office 365 ProPlus, configure Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, and deploy Win32 apps.

New migration capabilities—To help customers on their transition to the cloud, this fall, we’ll introduce co-management, a new set of capabilities to help customers migrate to cloud-based management of Windows 10 devices with Microsoft Intune. We’re also announcing FastTrack for Microsoft 365, which provides planning, guidance, and assistance to help IT professionals drive adoption and usage across Microsoft 365.

New proactive insights—Office 365 Usage Analytics, generally available in early 2018, will enable IT professionals to analyze and visualize service-wide usage data in Power BI. On the desktop, we’re updating Windows Analytics this fall with new update compliance and device health capabilities to help proactively identify and address new issues that may impact user experience and productivity.

A tablet displays the user analytics dashboard in Power BI.

The new usage analytics dashboard uses Power BI to unlock rich insights about service adoption.

Intelligent security and compliance updates

As employees embrace a new culture of work across devices and cloud apps, their interactions can become more difficult to secure. Updates to Microsoft 365 provide broad security capabilities, powered by Microsoft’s Intelligent Security Graph, to help protect people and sensitive data from new, sophisticated threats, and to help you meet compliance obligations.

Expanding conditional access—To help you better secure the “front door” of your organization, we’re expanding conditional access capabilities. To secure sessions inside SaaS apps and protect sensitive documents, we are integrating across Azure Active Directory, Microsoft Cloud App Security, and Azure Information Protection as well as extending multi-factor authentication to include third-party support.

A tablet displays the Cloud App Security dashboard.

The Microsoft Cloud App Security dashboard.

Information protection—Microsoft 365 helps you detect, classify, protect, and monitor your data, regardless of where it is stored or shared. Today, we’re announcing the integration of Azure Information Protection with Office 365 Message Encryption, which makes it easier to send protected emails and documents to recipients using consumer email services such as Outlook.com and Gmail.

Phishing protection and automatic remediation—Today, we’re unveiling new threat protection capabilities built on the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph. New Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection features help mitigate content phishing, domain spoofing, and impersonation. We’re also announcing a limited preview of Azure Advanced Threat Protection to help detect attacks on user identity sooner, and the integration of our recent Hexadite acquisition into Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection to automatically help investigate, assess, and remediate threats.

Compliance Manager—We’re also announcing the upcoming preview of Compliance Manager, a tool to help organizations meet compliance obligations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It performs a real-time risk assessment with a score that reflects your compliance position against data protection regulations when using Microsoft Cloud services, along with recommended actions and step-by-step guidance.

A tablet displays the Compliance Manager dashboard.

Compliance Manager helps organizations meet compliance obligations.

With over 700 sessions at Ignite this week, there’s plenty more news to come. If you didn’t register before the event sold out, you can still be part of Microsoft Ignite online.

—Kirk Koenigsbauer