Azure for Executives

Productivity & Remote Work with Jared Spataro

Episode Summary

This episode examines Microsoft Team and other productivity tools with a special focus on remote work. The conversation includes the value of our partner ecosystem and how they have added tremendous value to Microsoft’s productivity suite of tools.

Episode Notes

This episode examines Microsoft Team and other productivity tools with a special focus on remote work. The conversation includes the value of our partner ecosystem and how they have added tremendous value to Microsoft’s productivity suite of tools.

Learn how Microsoft Teams has become a platform for life, work, and learning. Hear the story of Teams and its use in the NFL Draft.Many customers and use cases are explored around the state of the art in online communications. Learn how to become a partner yourself and add your add-ins and ideas to the platform.

Guest Information

Jared Spataro is Corporate Vice President for Modern Work at Microsoft with a special focus on emerging trends and technologies. He is responsible for product marketing, business management, and go-to-market programs for Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, and next generation productivity products. 

Follow Jared.

Jared’s Blog | LinkedIn | Twitter

Show Links

Your Hosts

Paul Maher is General Manager of the Industry Experiences Team at Microsoft. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

David Starr is a Principal Azure Solutions Architect in the Industry Experiences Team at Microsoft. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Episode Transcription

Welcome to the Azure for Industry podcast, we're your hosts David Starr and Paul Maher. In this podcast, you hear from thought leaders across various industries discussing technology trends and innovation, sharing how Azure is helping transform business. You'll also hear directly from Microsoft thought leaders on how our products and services are meeting industries continually evolving needs.

 

Today, we're talking about with Microsoft's modern work ecosystem with Jared Spataro. Jared is corporate vice president for modern work at Microsoft with a special focus on emerging trends and tech in this space. He's responsible for product marketing, business management and go to market programs for Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams and next generation productivity products. Welcome to the program, Jared. It's great to have you.

 

Great to be here with you. Thanks for having me.

 

As we kind of kick this off, we may as well start off with a topic that's really trending. It seems like every morning I wake up, I go through my feeds and I'm reading my articles, and there's something in there about Microsoft Teams. It seems like we've got a new feature announcement every few weeks. The growth of Teams is just on a tremendous upswing. So with all this visibility on Microsoft Teams, can you give us a glimpse into internal workings of maybe the Team or how the product is defined? For example, how do you guys as a team decide what new features to focus on next?

 

Sure. I'd be happy to. First off, as I think about this extraordinary time that we're in, it certainly has changed the world over the last six months. Teams was always interesting to us, but starting to become very mission critical for many of our customers across government, business and education as we went to a remote work setup. The first few months of that and first few weeks really were characterized by making sure that we could keep the system up and running. So, capacity was really important to us. To be clear, we never really ended up with large scale capacity issues broadly speaking, but what we ended up dealing with specifically were capacity issues that were more closely related to geographic kind of density and where the capacity was being needed.

 

As a very simple example, who would have guessed that Italy and Europe would have been one of the first hotspots. We certainly had not guessed that they would be big users of Teams, much bigger than countries around them immediately. Once we start to clear some of the capacity issues though and we're able to get that sorted across the world, then we start to look at how people were using Teams and how they were just trying to get their work done.

 

What previously had been for us largely a chat-based product with the ability to also have meetings, became a meeting's first product. We recognized that we had some gaps. So, we have been looking very carefully both at the gaps that we had in the product and really trying to work hard to close those gaps versus the competition. In addition to those gaps, we've been trying to advance the state of the art. One very simple example that we introduced a few weeks ago is something called Together mode. That was based off of some research that we were doing around meeting fatigue and how we could really help people with meeting fatigue. So, it's been a great time for us. Very busy.

 

Fantastic. Thank you, Jared. It's amazing to hear about the journey, and what I thought would be interesting just to double click on now is Teams I would say has become much, much more. I think about it as a platform, as an opportunity to collaborate and even sort of an opportunity for, as we think about our partners and sort of our ecosystem, being able to actually hopefully integrate and build upon Team.

 

So with that, I'm going to throw out a little bit of a plug for something that we have here at Microsoft, which is our commercial marketplace. For those of you not familiar with commercial marketplace, it is our e-commerce marketplace that's providing global distribution. So with that and the capabilities of marketplace and then the evolution of the Teams, as I think about the opportunity for our listeners here today, partners and customers, to really think about Teams beyond perhaps the way they viewed it previously, as you said, Jared, the journey we've been on and it's becoming so, so much more. What does it mean and what is the opportunity for our partners and customers to integrate with Teams and 365 more broadly today? I'd love your perspective on it.

 

Sure. I think the best way for me to answer that is to take a step back and trace the history of teams and then give you a sense for where we're taking it, because that will open up, I think, a new way of seeing the opportunities. Three years ago, when we launched Teams, we positioned it as a chat based workspace. That was really our aim was to dig into that market segment and really have chat become the way people start to think about how they got work done. As we built out the other aspects of Teams, including for instance, video conferencing, its handling of files and collaboration, we realized that it was much more than just chat. So, we started to change the positioning of the product into what we call the hub for teamwork, focused on bringing everything that the team needed together, just to get things done.

 

As we look forward, we think of Teams as a platform for work, life and learning. This is a very expansive way for us to think about where we're taking Teams. It's really based on this idea of today we see that comms is becoming a center of gravity for just how people interact in all three of those domains, work, life and learning. Now, what that means from my perspective is that all of a sudden Teams, with this huge surge in usage, is becoming a place that people come to daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes many times during an hour to interact with other people in again all three of those domains.

 

In their work, in their daily life with the new consumer features that we're launching and in learning in a classroom type setting. That gives developers, I think, just an extraordinary opportunity. It means that they have an opportunity to reach people at the moment of their interactions with others and to provide super valuable services and capabilities. That turns Teams not into just an application, but a platform, literally something that you can build on top of. We're seeing that in really significant types of ways.

 

One simple example that people could possibly relate to is how we use Teams to power part of the NFL draft. So of course, chat was important. Of course, video conferencing was important, but they actually used a custom built app to actually run a part of the process associated with the draft. That was just a perfect example of how comms in many ways was the backbone. It was the center of the solution, but there needed to be more built on top of that. We see many of those types of opportunities for our app developers across the ecosystem. Really excited about it.

 

That's great. Thanks so much for that. So, I'm going to tee up a big question and kind of the obvious, so COVID-19. Obviously, it's affecting all of us in our lives, and I think for yourself, Jared and the team, I think that listeners here would love to hear a little bit of two things I'm going to pull out. Number one, so as you think about the roadmap of Teams, and you've talked a little bit about that just shortly before, how has COVID-19 affected the roadmap if at all, and how have you really thought about the backlog, the features and what's needed.

 

Then the second question I'll put to you will be, if we've had the opportunity, David and I, in these podcasts to talk to many of the leaders across Microsoft about how Microsoft itself has been helping with COVID-19. So, the second question I would put you is, as you think about yourself, the team and using Teams in terms of maybe company wide initiatives or working in industry, and maybe you could share some of the initiatives you've been involved in around COVID-19, but let's begin with the roadmap question. How has COVID-19 affected the roadmap?

 

Well, it's just really impacted or accelerated, I would say more than anything else, things that were already on the backlog, already on the roadmap for us to go and do. You've seen that most clearly, if you're a Teams user in our meetings experience, as we moved, kind of tipped ourselves into COVID-19 as a set of businesses and schools across the world. For our meetings capability, we only had the ability, for instance, to show two by two videos, so four total videos. We quickly recognized that that was not state of the art.

 

So, we prioritize first moving from two by two, then we moved bigger to three by three. We announced a few weeks ago, seven by seven. By the time you get 49 people on the screen, you max out your ability to actually have that many video streams that are going to be useful for you. Likewise, we have just looked at a lot of the gaps that we've had versus the competition out there. We have ensured that we are increasing the resources on our dev team to ramp up quickly and to address those gaps, but that is essentially just ensuring that our product does the work that our customers needed to do given the state of the art. It's been really important for us to push the envelope to really move beyond the state of the art.

 

So, as an example, we have been very focused on things like Together mode, where we've done some research to understand what are people experiencing as they meet online and try to get their work done in a hybrid or a remote environment and how can we address those things. The Together mode, for instance, was based off of some work we did literally studying brain scans where we tried to understand what people were experiencing as they were going through the process of working together. So, that's how we're now looking at the future is what can we do to ensure that remote work and this new hybrid environment and a hybrid setup that we'll be in is as effective as it possibly can be.

 

Before you answer the second question, maybe just that any tip that you can share. I mean, what I would assert is you and the team seem to be super nimble at being able to react and bring these features. Is there any learnings you can share? Is it just the focus that COVID's brought or have you changed any best practices? Is there anything you could share with the listeners out there of like say you seem to have just, being able to react super quickly?

 

Well, I think one of the best parts of what has happened for us is it's given us a sense of mission that few teams get. In this particular case, we're involved in really keeping so many different businesses, schools, governments running, that it gives us this sense of purpose that really motivates us. That happened in the early days of us dealing with these capacity issues as I mentioned. It certainly is still ongoing now as we think about new features that people need to get things done. Then in terms of systematically approaching the problem different, I just think that we have been very focused on customers and we really tried to dig in with customers to understand how they're using the product and what's not working for them.

 

Been very, very focused on and disciplined I think in getting in, identifying the blockers and the issues, and then just trying to knock those blockers down. At the same time, running parallel efforts to ensure that we have quite a bit of innovation happening. So, it hasn't been anything where I'd say we had this amazing magic, instead I feel like it's been good execution by the team. It's really execution down at the basics level, understanding what customers are doing, looking at how we can help them, and then projecting forward to understand what we think they would want to do if they had no constraints.

 

Yeah, that's great. I mean, I think, and I'll just double down that customer obsessed and sort of business need is great to hear. So, the second question would be, so I'm sure you've been involved like many across Microsoft and lots of initiatives around COVID-19, but perhaps you could share maybe one of your favorite stories about how we as Microsoft and of course, with our products suite and teams, et cetera, have been able to make a difference. Could you share with our listeners maybe your favorite story or initiative we've been involved in?

 

You bet. There a couple that really comes to mind. So as an example, one of the things that was really inspiring to our team very early on was our ability to help people move to remote learning scenarios. So, we found that in Italy, the hard hit area just very early in the crisis, we were able to help the University of Bologna to move all their classes online in a matter of about four days. So, that type of ability to move quickly and really transition from one particular way of getting their work done in education to a totally different one is very inspiring for us.

 

We also saw the same type of thing happened with St. Luke's out on the East coast. St. Luke's recognized that they were starting to deal with the flood of COVID-19 patients and at the same time had to service not only people who thought they might have COVID-19 but other people with medical conditions, and they very quickly moved to a remote medicine set up where with telemedicine, they were able to address a bunch of work that happened and that needed to happen. We're really excited to help out. This has just been one of those places where we have been really inspired by seeing what our customers have done. With each of these customers, we really try to get in and not only learn their story, but learn what worked and didn't work. That has provided fuel for our engine as we've gone.

 

So, we've been talking a lot about Teams, Jared, and that's great. It's a product that's evolving very quickly and making a big difference, but there's another issue at play here that you're very familiar with, and that's just the whole space of modern work. I'm wondering, what are some things that Microsoft envisions in this space as we're moving forward and what are some of our big plays that we're looking for?

 

Well, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to zoom out. Teams is a really important piece of the puzzle, but it's really only one piece to how we think about how work is changing in the future. We've been doing a lot of research on our own. Both our internal staff has been doing a lot of research projects, and then we've been collaborating with customers to really understand where is this going. We think of this moment as a real inflection point for work. We think the future of work's going to be very different than perhaps people envisioned it. If I just point out a couple of things that are top of mind for us, we're starting to see that customers are recognizing that not only is there a digital transformation that they need to drive within their companies, but as a part of that digital transformation, they have to really think about teamwork, culture and what I'd call social capital.

 

That means that they can't just put in these tools and expect the tools to facilitate the old way of getting things done. Those are the old norms, the old cultures that work when people were together all the time. They have to really rethink what that looks like. In particular, one really key concept that's coming to the forefront is this idea of social capital. It's amazing how much those interactions that we had that were very small would add up over time and create social capital that could be pulled on, called on to get things done. So, companies have to really rethink that as they go drive digital transformation.

 

A second big implication of what we're seeing going forward that really I think is at the heart of how we're going to think about modern work going forward will be this idea of wellness and employee wellness. The best way for me to explain this is up to this point I think in many ways we have been dealing with a model of productivity that treated people like machines. We thought the more they're on the better, the more uptime we can obtain the better. It turns out that people are much more of an organism that they are a machine. The way that people perform is by allowing them to perform at their peak and then giving them time for recovery and rest and relaxation. So, that becomes very important in the way we're able to manage people and lead people and ask them to be an important aspect of the way a modern organization functions.

 

Then finally, the last thing I'll say is we're also seeing where everything is becoming digital. We're recognizing that there's much more that AI can do to help our workers cope with what is increasingly a very quick pace to the way that business operates. So, there are many services that we think from the perspective of the modern worker that can help them do everything from managing a calendar, to becoming a better writer. These services are really going to be important to ensure that they can operate at their peak efficiency going forward.

 

I'm wondering now, based on some of the things you've said, if we're studying and finding trends and the work from home culture that sprung up so quickly and what modern work means and entails with regard to it.

 

Yeah. The way I think of it Sasha said something a couple of months ago in an earnings statement where he talked about this idea that, gosh, the pandemic has brought two years of digital transformation in two months. I think that that sentiment has continued largely unabated. What I mean by that is we're seeing essentially a year of digital transformation each month, and at this point, we're five, six going on seven months into the pandemic, in some places in the world, we're essentially seeing what would have happened if you had fast forwarded the evolution of work six, seven, and over time, eight months. What it has done to me as I've observed what's going on is that we have just started to really recognize that you just can't continue to wring more out of your employees.

 

Instead, you have to take a step back and be very thoughtful about how they are going to interact together. That becomes a cultural statement. It becomes a process and workflow statement. It becomes an organizational structure statement. So, I think it's very fascinating how over the course of the last few months, we have seen, well more than half a decades worth of continuation of the pressures that were already building and the tearing at both organizational fabrics and the tearing, a kind of an employee's own wellbeing. So, I think that what we are observing from this remote work situation is just the acceleration of those trends. It's really led us to this idea that we've got to really rethink how we organize ourselves, how we lead people, how we use digital tools more effectively.

 

Now, let's take a moment out to listen to this very important message.

 

Did you know the Microsoft commercial marketplace allows you to find and purchase leading Microsoft certified solutions for Microsoft partners? The Microsoft commercial marketplace includes Microsoft AppSource and Azure marketplace. Each storefront serves unique customer requirements and different target audiences, so publishers can ensure solutions are available to the right customers. For applications that integrate with Microsoft 365 products, visit appsource.microsoft.com. Get solutions tailored to your industry that work with the products that you already use. For B2B Azure base solutions, visit azuremarketplace.microsoft.com. Here you can discover, try and deploy the cloud software solutions you want.

 

Hey, Jared, a couple of questions now, put my partner hat's on, because of course we at Microsoft look to our partner ecosystem and we're looking to embrace that ecosystem to drive for new innovation. So, I have two questions for you, really. So one, if you look back and think about our partner ecosystem, how they helped us be successful and think about what are some of your favorite scenarios, maybe you can reference a few different industries and what are the scenarios that you're seeing our partners help drive innovation.

 

Then the second question I have for you would be really looking at the opportunity to build on and innovate as a partner ecosystem on Teams. What's point of mind for you that you'd love to talk to our partner ecosystem and see them starting to work with you and your teams driving new innovation on top of Teams? So, first of all, let's start with what are perhaps some of your favorite stories. Maybe you can reference a few different industries, scenarios of how our partner ecosystem has helped us.

 

You bet. There have been so many over the last couple of months because of the scramble to the new setup for work. One of the most innovative that I have really appreciated has been our partnership with RealWear. This would be one that many people wouldn't think of, but when it comes to what we're doing with Teams, we do think of it as this communications platform very broadly and RealWear has done some really incredible work. Essentially what they do is they, if I were to turn it into layman's terms, they make it possible for you to use Teams oftentimes hands-free in equipment that you wear and take with you onto the job.

 

So, one of my favorite examples of this is Teams integrated into a safety helmet were essentially presented in front of you in the form of a glass or glasses is a screen that you activate and use the Team software entirely through your voice. It even you to project on to what you're seeing someone else who's there guiding you through things. So, we see some great applications of this type of hardware innovation that allows you to take Teams into some pretty amazing scenarios and use the remote work setting to be able to get access to some amazing individuals who can help you get your work done.

 

Beyond that, we've seen some continued innovation with hardware partners across different scenarios. So, we increasingly we'll see as people go back into what we think of as a hybrid environment where some people will be remote, some people will be in a shared location. It's going to be really important for us to rethink how that all works. When we all scramble and all into our homes, that's one setup. It's a different setup again when some people are in their homes and other people are not.

 

So, these hardware partners have done some amazing work with things that we call collaboration bars that allow you to turn any screen into essentially on the fly and just by plugging in into a collaboration device, which is really powerful. They're continuing to do really interesting work with us on second screens that allow you, for instance, to augment a current screen with a screen where you can put content and/or video, and you have this really nice setup as you work together. So, some really great opportunities there.

 

Then finally, as I think about what I've seen, Teams is a fantastic platform and provides the fantastic four of a value proposition with meet, call, chat, collaborate. That's how we think about it's center of gravity, where we've really been investing, but as you take it into scenarios, healthcare scenarios, government scenarios, courtrooms, it needs to be adapted and integrated into the way work flows. Here, we have seen some tremendous partners go in and do some great work in creating solutions.

 

Then in terms of your second question of like, what would I like to see? Well, we're excited about this platform continuing to be a way that people get their work done. What I would love to see is partners who are identifying the needs as we continue to move into a hybrid environment that we think will persist over time.

 

One of the great piece of research that we've done recently is just to try and understand what will happen post pandemic with the setup that we have now. We've seen that a large percentage of managers expect there to be more flexibility in the way they organize their workforces and where people physically are at. Most employees, in fact, well north of 70% of employees are expecting that they'll be able to work remotely at least part of the time, and this is across industries. So, we would love to have partners work with us together, industry by industry, solution area by solution area to really be looking at how Teams can be integrated into, again, the way work flows in these different areas.

 

As we look at China, Korea, New Zealand, those places that have gone back to being a little bit more open, what we've seen is that their Teams usage increases. That's a great signal from our perspective that we really have a winner here, that's creating value not only for customers, but creating opportunity for partners to really embed Teams within the way business happens. I'd love to engage more on that. That's a real opportunity.

 

That's awesome. Thank you. Just the, I'll throw it out there. We're talking a lot here about, of course, the awesomeness of Teams and thinking about our partners and obviously from a business lens, but let me throw it out there, whether it be business or just consumer or in our lives, what's your current most fun story that you've had people using Teams for? Is there one that brings a smile to your face of "Gosh, we've seen lots of diverse uses." Any fun stories you could share?

 

Well, I think my very favorite use of Teams right now is to provide the virtual fan experience for the National Basketball Association, for the NBA. Now, that was a partnership that we did with the NBA. It used Teams out of the box. It used Together mode that we talked about earlier in our conversation, just a few small tweaks, not many at all. We were able to provide real fans. I like that experience much better than what I've seen from other sports leagues, where they have cardboard cutouts, and we're getting great reviews. It allows there'd be some energy. It allows for our fans to participate in a way that's really pulling for their team. I just think it's a generally nice way to demonstrate that the technology is very malleable, that it can do a lot. So, that's my favorite. There are many others that are very high value I would say in different industries, but that's one I think that everybody can see and relate to.

 

That's awesome.

 

Well, I have to ask from more of a nerdy perspective, really, to back up just a minute. You were talking about RealWear just a moment ago, and if I understand the scenario you were laying out, that's an augmented reality solution with Teams at its center. Is that correct?

 

Yeah. That's a way to think about it. I mean, the coolest thing about RealWear is that they provide essentially a computer in a helmet is the way to think about it. I've put the helmet on before and run through the scenario with the team and you have out of your left eye or right, depending on how you set it up your screen, you entirely interact with the Teams software out through a really cleverly designed set of menus that you can navigate with voice. Then you can bring people in and just talk to them as you're there.

 

You can actually share your screen or in other words, you can share what you're seeing in front of you. They can even comment on it and mark it up just as they would in a real Teams meeting and interaction. So, it is like, for me, it's the perfect combination of three things. You've got this hardware, you've got an app running on hardware, and then you've got a cloud service altogether. It just, it's kind of like magic. To me, I remember the old movies we used to watch in the '70s and '80s, and think, "Man, we finally gotten to a point where the tech is doing some pretty amazing things."

 

That is just so cool to hear about. I just love stories like that. You're right. It's scifi come to life almost. Isn't it? Well, we're kind of winding down here on our discussion. What I would ask is if there are any calls to action that you would ask of our listeners and we'll certainly post resources and things like that, links to resources on the show notes, but is there something that you would ask of a maybe a potential partner to help them get started?

 

Well, as you think about where we are and how we're thinking about things, and I know this will come up in your resources, I really highly encourage you to track the Microsoft 365 blog. We've spent a lot of time there trying to publish not only case studies of how customers are using the technology, but also our own research. We've been doing a lot of research into the future of work and the future of education. We've been using that as a central point. As I think about what I would love to do with potential partners, we are so appreciative of partners. We can't go to market without our partners, and I would love to stay in touch with those folks.

 

One of the easiest ways for us to do that is to connect on LinkedIn and for you to watch the posts that I do there. We are increasingly ramping up how we're talking about the partner opportunity and opportunities going forward. Then just watch this space. As we indicated previously, we've got a lot coming with Teams over the coming months and we're very ambitious about what we think we can do together with our partner network, as we continue to perfect the underlying tech and then partners take it and use it to solve real world problems.

 

That's fantastic. Of course, we will have links in the show notes to your blog and also to your social handles on LinkedIn and Twitter, so people can follow you there. With that, I just really want to thank you for coming on the show. It's been an absolutely wonderful conversation.

 

My pleasure. Thanks for thinking of me and for having me here today.

 

Thank you for joining us for this episode of the Azure for Industry podcast. The show that explores how industry experts are transforming our world with Azure. For show, topic recommendations, or other feedback, reach out to us at industrypodcast@microsoft.com.