Every week, it seems Microsoft is offering up something that’s worth a look and this week is no different. In fact, after throwing around dates for the return to the physical workplace over the past few months, the Redmond, Wash.-based company seems to have thrown the towel in and admitted that it just can’t predict when a return to the physical workplace might actually be.

“Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our U.S. work sites in favor of opening U.S. work sites as soon as we’re able to do so safely based on public health guidance,” Microsoft said in a statement.

Hybrid Work Model

In response to this, and other market pressures, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Ryan Roslansky, the CEO of Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, got together and outlined where they see the workplace at the moment and what Microsoft intends to do about it.

After discussing a lot of different elements and research, they concluded that hybrid work models are the way forward — not exactly a surprise at this stage — with people adopting better online meeting practices to make it sweet for everyone. And technology can help. 

In response to the rise of the hybrid workplace, Microsoft is introducing a bunch of Teams Rooms innovations, along with new Teams features. Among them is Cameo, a new PowerPoint experience that integrates the Teams camera feed into a presentation to allow the presenter to customize how and where they want to appear on the screen with their slides. There will also be better planning for meetings through Outlook.

Viva Mobile App

Microsoft will also be pushing a Viva mobile app out into public preview. The Microsoft Viva Connections mobile app, which will be available later this month provides a single employee app for company communications, news and announcements — all in a personalized feed right in Teams, powered by Microsoft 365.

Finally, among the other additions, to help employers and hiring managers adapt to this new world of work, LinkedIn is rolling out new fields within job postings where organizations can now signal if the open job is remote, hybrid or on-site, helping job seekers search and discover jobs that align with how they want to work.

This is an enormous move for Teams and one that will really place it at the center of the hybrid workplace.

Google Workspace Offers Everyone Spaces

Meanwhile, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google just keeps doing what it has always done. It adds and builds things into its Workspace productivity offering, formerly G-Suite, and keeps enterprises and SMBs happy by offering them the tools they need. 

This week, it updated Gmail and Google Meet in an effort to better enable hybrid work and ensure collaboration between in-person and remote workers. It rolled out redesigned functions on Gmail that better connects Gmail to Google Workspace with the ability to “ring” another Google user with Google Meet — but from inside the Gmail mobile app.

It has also introduced Spaces, or group sharing between Google Workspace users, which allows hybrid workers to see the full history, content and context of conversations regardless of their location.

While the long-term impact is creating a situation where workers can connect with all the apps they need from inside Gmail, in immediate terms this is about offering enterprises the ability to equip their teams on-site and remotely with the tools they need to get things done.

"We've seen a radical transformation, and a lot of that transformation is here to stay," said Google product management director Dave Citron during a briefing on the new Workspace offerings. "But I think it is too early to say that the 40-hour work week in a cubicle is permanently dead across all industries and regions."

It’s clear that is the case. We saw only last week, for example, that Apple, Microsoft, Google, Lyft and other major tech companies have postponed the return to the physical workplace despite developing tools themselves that are designed for remote working.

Google also announced enhancements to its Workspace portfolio that integrate the tech giant's apps for meetings, email, calendars, documents and chat among other things. Among the other new additions is a dedicated online venue for working on projects and interactive Series One displays designed specifically for conferencing. An all-in-one desktop model of Series One was priced at $2,000, while a larger model designed for conference rooms was priced at $7,000.

Xerox Pulls CareAR, DocuShare and XMPie Together

Also this week Norfolk, Conn.-based Xerox Holdings has announced the formation of a new company and a $700 million post-money valuation following a $10 million equity investment from ServiceNow, a digital workflow company.

This move will pull CareAR, DocuShare and XMPie under a single holding company named CareAR Holdings. The new company will be headed up by Xerox president and COO Steve Bandrowczak.

Learning Opportunities

By combining DocuShare's content management system, XMPie’s cross-media platform, and Xerox’s PARC Alto AI artificial intelligence engine, the expanded CareAR service experience platform will support service workforces with the visual tools and provide access to data for service employees and end-customers.

The backbone of the new CareAR platform is the augmented reality technology Xerox gained earlier this year through the acquisition of CareAR, which integrates with ServiceNow Field Service Management and allows service technicians to tap into the knowledge of more experienced technicians through live, AR-assisted instruction.

Automation Anywhere for IPO?

Also, this week, San Jose, Calif.-based Automation Anywhere, a robotic process automation (RPA) software company, is preparing for a potential initial public offering that could happen in late 2021, according to reports from Bloomberg.

The time is propitious as the RPA software market is expected to reach $13.74 billion by 2028, up from $1.57 billion in 2020 according to Grand View Research.

RPA software allows businesses to write code and create bots that automate formerly manual tasks across multiple departments, from IT service desks to HR, finance, customer support and more. In addition to Automation Anywhere, key RPA software companies and bot software tools include Blue Prism, Microsoft Power Automate, Salesforce, ServiceNow and UiPath, among others.

Google Joins SRT Alliance

Also, this week, Canada-based Haivision which develops real-time video streaming and networking solutions, announced that Google Cloud has joined the SRT Alliance, a collaborative community of over 500 product, service and solution providers supporting the adoption of the Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) open-source video streaming protocol.

This announcement marks a significant milestone for the SRT open-source community and the media and entertainment industry. According to Haivision, SRT support in Google Cloud helps media companies better contribute secure, reliable video streams to Google native cloud services for global collaboration, production and distribution.

Originally developed and pioneered by Haivision, SRT enables the delivery of high quality and secure, low latency video across the public internet. In 2017, Haivision made the SRT protocol and supporting technology stack open source and formed the SRT Alliance to support its adoption. Since then, many major streaming services, cloud platforms and broadcast solution providers have supported and adopted SRT. Google is just the latest.

WhatsApp Gets Hit With a $250M Data Fine

There is one final note for this week and it concerns Menlo Park, Calif.-based WhatsApp. It is a kind of warning to enterprises that don’t follow the rules when it comes to data and data management. In fact last week, the data protection commissioner in Ireland imposed a record €225 million fine on WhatsApp for “severe” breaches of privacy laws after European regulators directed her to radically increase the penalty.

The general data protection regulation (GDPR) has been cast as a game changer in the drive to control how big tech companies use consumers’ personal data.

Criticizing WhatsApp for a “very significant information deficit,” among four violations of the GDPR, regulators said the company provided only 41% of the prescribed information to users of its service and none to non-users. “All four infringements are in my view very serious in nature,” the commissioner said in a 266-page ruling.

There are many lessons to be taken from this. However, what is significant for enterprises operating in Europe is the fact that Europe’s central regulator asked the regulator in a European country to increase the fine, and the national regulator complied. It indicates that the data regulations will not be interpreted in national circumstances, but in the wider European context and there is no getting away from consequences of failing to comply anywhere in Europe. If anyone had any doubts about that just look what has happened Google in Europe.