This year’s Inspire Conference, Microsoft’s largest annual event for its partners, looked a little different than usual. Instead of flying to Las Vegas with my coworkers, networking onsite, and exploring the tourist hotspots, I joined with my dogs from my home office set up. Although Inspire took place virtually, I still managed to feel connected to the other attendees and have a jam-packed, impactful schedule.
Here are the top three things I learned from Microsoft’s Inspire conference (in no particular order!)
1.Teams is the remote work force application
A lot of airtime was dedicated to talking about the Microsoft Teams app, including how it can be leveraged in today’ remote environment and its new features. In his Modern Work keynote, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro detailed some of Team’s newest capabilities. Soon, Teams’ users will be able to use Together mode, which uses AI to make all members of a meeting appear to be in one room, lowering meeting fatigue. Yes, remote meeting fatigue is real—in a study done by Microsoft, brainwaves revealed sustained concentration in video meetings can lead to burnout. Together mode will boost efficiency and reduce exhaustion by removing background distractions and making collaboration feel more natural by placing the focus back on meeting participants. The app will also soon roll out speaker attributions for meeting captions and transcriptions, allowing users to know during and after a meeting what was said and by whom. These new features, along with its standard end to end meeting, messaging, and file sharing components, will establish Teams as the hub for the workforce of today and tomorrow.
2. The time for diversity and inclusion is now
As I was browsing for sessions to add to my schedule, I noticed a lot of speakers had chosen diversity and inclusion (D&I) as the focus of their talks. From discussing how to create an emotionally inclusive environment to delivering digital inclusion at scale, I was so moved and inspired to see how Microsoft and fellow partners have implemented this initiative. The session “Why diversity and inclusion is good for business” moderated by the WIT Network Executive Director and co-founder Corinne Sharp, was powerful. She invited George Kurian, CEO of Netapp and CEO of AirGate Technologies Inc Nicole Mumford to share their perspectives on D&I. When asked about his company’s efforts and lessons learned in the context of racial injustice, Kurian shared some thoughtful advice. He said, “We won’t make progress on this issue unless the majority is a part of the solution…many of the majority have had as many challenges in their careers as their minority colleagues, so it’s important to [build] a unity of purpose in that we’re all trying to create added access to opportunity”. Kurian and Mumford shared other words of wisdom, including that trust is needed to make change, empathy is an asset, no headway is made without a few stumbles and falls, and that courageous conversations need to happen every day.
3. Innovation is everywhere
Among the many things I’ve learned throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, one is that innovation and revolution are everywhere, including at Microsoft and its partners like us. Although her session focused on the changes happening in AI, Mitra Azizirad, CVP AI & Innovation Marketing at Microsoft shared some compelling insights that are applicable across all fields. She shared that advancements at Microsoft are anchored in “three fundamental tenets—[innovation] should be meaningful, applied, and responsible”. For the first tenant, innovations shouldn’t be “a flash in the in the pan” but should be rolled out with the aim of creating long lasting impact. As for applicability, innovations should be created with real world scenarios in mind, whether that be business transformation or tackling tough international, social issues. For the third principle, innovation that is responsible, Azizirad notes that new products and ideas at Microsoft are developed in a way that earns the trust of its customers. She said that enterprises across the globe should consider “not just what technology can do, but what it should do”.
After the conference was over, I closed my laptop and reflected on the thought leadership, ingenuity, and bravery I witnessed at Microsoft’s Inspire Conference. 2020 has been a tough year, but I am encouraged and grateful to belong to a partner organization that will lead compassionately through change.
Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels.