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The Future of Work: Hot New Terms from Satya Nadella’s Inspire 2021 Keynote

With new technologies arising and innovation happening rapidly, we’re seeing some big changes in how people work. Satya Nadella’s Inspire 2021 keynote speech at the partner conference last week highlighted that. He brought up some terms that reflect where we’re at and where we’re headed in our work practices. All of them tend to revolve around flexibility, suggesting the more fluid nature that work is likely to take as we continue to adapt to societal and technological changes.

Collaborative Applications

There’s a new category of apps that Nadella sees as increasingly critical in today’s workforce: collaborative applications. These applications are breaking down the barriers between communications, business processes, and collaboration, fusing them together for a more unified workflow. For example, Teams and Dynamics 365 are now integrated to make collaboration smoother. Teammates can communicate with each other easily within the flow of work. The Power Platform and an organization’s own apps can also be connected in “an amazing reinforcing circuit.” Independent software vendors like Adobe and ServiceNow are among others building collaborative apps to enrich the experience of their customers as well.

The Hybrid Work Paradox

Picture shows a laptop with a collaborative video call.

Based on Microsoft research, a majority of employees want more flexible remote work options. But they also want more more in-person collaboration. This presents the hybrid work paradox. Our new (somewhat) post-Covid era brings the biggest structural change to work habits since the nine-to-five workday began, Nadella says. Flexibility in physical location is a must for health and safety reasons, and many employees have found that they like remote work and want to keep doing it regardless of Covid-19. Yet people still need social interaction. The solutions to this paradox lie in the ability to work either remotely or in-person without it being cumbersome to switch back and forth, or in hybrid models where some meeting attendees are in person and others are remotely connected. Tools that enable these kinds of abilities will fuel the successful work of tomorrow’s employees.

Broad Productivity

Picture shows an employee taking a break to drink some tea.

Just as work options are broadening in terms of location, so must our traditional understanding of productivity. All of us have probably seen in some way or another how last year’s challenges led to shifts that became newly acceptable—things like breaking up the workday, changing workflow habits, or focusing on tasks completed rather than hours clocked. With the stress of work and school changes alongside ongoing public health concerns, allowing for these kinds of adaptations is vital. Nadella suggests defining productivity beyond work completed, to include the learning, collaboration, and well-being that together make healthy and thriving employees. Embracing this well-rounded approach opens up the box to creativity and a workforce that can always keep growing.

Enterprise Metaverse

Image of Microsoft Mesh environment shows a holographic vehicle.

If “enterprise metaverse” doesn’t have a futuristic ring to it (or invoke Star Trek in your mind), then I don’t know what does. This is likely the most revolutionary term of Satya Nadella’s keynote. It refers to “the new layer of the infrastructure stack that’s getting created as digital and physical worlds converge.” It’s a combination of digital twins, Internet of Things (IoT), and mixed reality. A digital twin is a digitized model of anything “physical or logical.” It could be a building, a product, or a more complex environment involving people and their interactions. Bound to its physical twin in real time, the digital twin can be used for inspections, environment monitoring, collaboration, simulations…the possibilities are immense. Furthermore, artificial intelligence can be applied to analyze the data and predict the future states of the physical environment. The enterprise metaverse is also the place you might meet your coworker who lives across the country, with an increasingly “in-person” feel—or even appear at a wedding as a hologram. This interweaving of the physical and the digital is a groundbreaking advancement beyond anything we’ve known in our workplaces before. Some of these technologies seemed impossible not long ago at all. But, as Captain Kirk said, “Things are only impossible until they’re not.”

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