Microsoft Brings Work Enhancement Features to Outlook and Viva

Microsoft 365 subscribers can now test drive new personal work enhancement features that are currently in preview in the Microsoft Outlook and Viva Insights applications.

The new features aim to improve employee productivity by promoting breaks and adding mindfulness tools. Microsoft announced their release to preview this week to coincide with its latest Work Trend Index report, which looked at how taking breaks can improve employee concentration and reduce stress when they participate in consecutive online meetings.

This report is the second in Microsoft's Work Trend Index series studying the effects of remote work. Microsoft's first report, described last month, consisted of a large survey of employee attitudes and actions based on their shifts to remote work.

New Breaks Feature in Outlook
On Tuesday, Microsoft turned on the ability of Microsoft 365 Exchange Online subscribers to set specific break periods between meetings when scheduled using the Outlook e-mail client. This feature works organizationwide, or it can be set by individual Outlook end users. The preferences set by end users will take precedence over any global organizational settings.

Microsoft described the Exchange Online PowerShell commands to turn on specific break periods organizationwide for Outlook meetings in this announcement.

This Outlook feature, called "shorten duration for events," appears to be derived from Microsoft's Human Factors Engineering group's research findings that regular breaks bring employee productivity benefits.

If the shorten duration for events feature is turned on, Outlook users will get meeting invitations indicating that the meeting will start at a later time. For instance, if the interval between meetings is set to five minutes, then a meeting set for 9:00 a.m. would be scheduled to start at 9:05 a.m.

Viva Insights Preview Perks
Microsoft Viva is Microsoft's new "employee experience platform" that surfaces applications in Microsoft Teams, which is a collaboration service used by Microsoft 365 subscribers. One of those Microsoft Viva apps is Viva Insights, which tracks how employees use their time, based on "signals" from Teams, Outlook and other Microsoft 365 solutions.

Viva Insights is still at the preview stage, but it is getting three new capabilities "starting next week."

One new feature in Viva Insights expected next week is called "Reflection." It tells employees how they've been feeling, aiming to "identify patterns over time." This feature was described as being "personal and private."

Another Viva Insights feature expected next week is called "Send Praise." It aims to make it easier to express appreciation to co-workers.

There's also a "Virtual Commute" feature expected next week in Viva Insights. It provides reminders to employees that they should start wrapping up their tasks before the end of the day.

A new Home tab in Viva Insights will surface those features, showing employee feelings and tasks to do, and letting them send praise.

On top of those feature additions, Microsoft is planning to add a Headspace app within Viva Insights sometime "later this year." The Headspace app is used to facilitate meditation and mindfulness breaks. Microsoft used Headspace as part of its Work Trend Index brain-wave study on the effects of employee breaks.

Viva Branding for MyAnalytics
Microsoft's announcement explained that its separate MyAnalytics solution for tracking employee productivity, part of Workplace Analytics, "will update over time to reflect the Microsoft Viva brand."

In essence, Viva Insights is the encompassing solution, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

"Viva Insights is inclusive of MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics, bringing together insights and recommended actions from Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics with new personal wellbeing experiences, such as a virtual commute and Headspace integration for individuals, into the flow of people's work in Teams," the spokesperson explained via e-mail.

The exact timing for the Viva rebranding of MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics wasn't described.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.