As 2020 draws to a close, Silicon Reef Managing Director Alex Graves looks to the future and highlights his top picks for emerging trends in employee engagement tools in 2021. 

Well, that was fun! What a year it has been. Although 2020 threw issues aplenty in our way, we have seen so many businesses tackle seemingly impossible challenges with innovation, bravery and optimism – and come out on top.  

The year of the pandemic has thrown the spotlight on the vital role technology plays in employee wellbeing. We think this is just the beginning – 2020 has changed the way we are all going to work, forever. 

Over the next twelve months I can see three main themes emerging in the way that businesses are going to be using Microsoft technology to engage and support their employees.  

1) Personal Productivity 

In the past, M365 tools have been largely focussed on group collaboration, giving teams of people the tools to work together to get stuff done. Innovative technical hardware such as white boards were built for collaborating when we are physically together but have been reflected in Teams virtual boards for when we are working remotely. 

Where workforces are increasingly working away from their colleagues and project teams are relying on individuals to be more self-sufficient and self-motivated, we will all need to use more personally targeted tools to organise our thoughts, or tasks and our days.  

Over the last 18 months we have seen an emergence of personal productivity tools from Microsoft and specifically, in the M365 space, the MS ToDo app. Where Planner is a group tool for managing time and activities, ToDo is a personal time and task manager. It’s completely cross platform and integrates with Planner and Outlook, automatically flagging appointments in your email and allowing you to port them into ToDo.  

Coming soon, Outlook Spaces – Microsoft’s newest feature in preview – provides people with a new way to organise projects. Known as Project Moca while in development, Spaces is a highly anticipated tool for the MS communityBehaving as a personal mood or noticeboard this canvas-style app will give us a dynamic space to combine notes, files, tasks, emails and cards for weather, contacts and locations and organise it all into buckets. Like ToDo, Spaces is geared towards the individual allowing them to organise their information and tasks into a context that makes sense to them, to support them in the way they want to work.  

2) Wellbeing in Isolation 

The last year has shown the value that technology can bring in keeping remote workers connected, in providing mediums for praise and collaboration and in giving managers and individuals the tools to see patterns in their behaviours.  

As more people are choosing to work remotely as we return to a new normal, the long-term impacts of working in isolation need to be considered.  

Over the coming year – and beyond – individuals and leaders need to be looking to technology for additional tools to help support individuals and leaders in caretaking personal wellbeing.  

MyAnalytics empowers employees with information about their own activities, calling out patterns in the length of time they are working – and when – and providing suggestions to change behaviours and avoid burnout. Workplace Analytics provides similar, macro information for managers, showing levels of employee engagement and acting as an early warning system for those keeping an eye on their employees’ workload. 

Technology companies are also acknowledging the need by developing functions and tools to support individuals in managing their own wellbeing. Microsoft have responded with a simple but effective commute time function in Teams – where those working from home can set aside time at the beginning or end of the day to do the thinking they would usually do in the car, train or bike, gearing them up for the tasks ahead of them, or helping them wind down before they dive back into family life. 

Microsoft have also recently announced more updates to Teams specifically geared towards managing wellbeing – including integrating those personalised My Analytics and Workplace Analytics recommendations into the platform. There is also an exciting Headspace integration coming in the first half of 2021 where personally targeted mindfulness experiences and meditations will be available through Teams, to help employees relax and focus before a big meeting or unwind after a busy day. 

At Silicon Reef our partnership with People Matter will continue to bring the Okina app – which measures wellbeing and surfaces potential issues – into the digital workspace for employers and employees alike.  

3Video 

2021 is going to see the demand for effective, consolidated intranets continue to rise as businesses sharpen their focus on their core comms channels, remote employee collaboration and secure and efficient information sharing. 

A large part of any successful intranet is offering an effective response to the increasing dependence on video.  

As 2020 forced so many in front of the camera, people are naturally becoming more comfortable with the medium. The added benefits of video over voice only or even email – including increased engagement and improved personal efficiency – have meant that video meetings, calls and even one-way comms are becoming the norm. 

MS Stream is perfectly placed to meet the requirement for one-way video communication to employees en masse and gives the added value of providing the capability to play back recorded Teams meetings for those who are unable to attend in person. Stream also has the invaluable function of auto-transcribing and auto-captioning, meaning that video no longer has the downfall of being unstructured content and can now be searched for, stored and managed as well as any data file.  

Live events broadcast over Stream can become more interactive allowing remote, store and office-based staff alike to submit live responses, and demonstrate audience reaction – not unlike Instagram’s IGTV, or Facebook Live. Tools such as Stream make video an even more social medium, improving employees’ sense of connection to the core purpose of the business, as well as to the business community as a whole 

2021 is definitely going to be a year of recovery for many, and there’s even more change coming from January 1st with Brexit completing at the end of this year. But there is much positivity emerging from the way that businesses and individuals have responded to the challenges of the year behind us.  

With a sustained focus on employee engagement, continued improvements to collaboration and communication channels for our remote teams, and a prioritising of the wellbeing of the individual, businesses can feel optimistic about the year ahead and – like us – look forward to embracing the technology that is emerging to support them in their journey.   

To find out more about MS Tools and Silicon Reef get in touch.