DREAMTECH NEWS

WhyLabs brings more transparancy to ML ops

WhyLabs, a new machine learning startup that was spun out of the Allen Institute, is coming out of stealth today. Founded by a group of former Amazon machine learning engineers, Alessya Visnjic, Sam Gracie and Andy Dang, together with Madrona Venture Group principal Maria Karaivanova, WhyLabs’ focus is on ML operations after models have been trained — not on building those models from the ground up.

The team also today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed funding round from Madrona Venture Group, Bezos Expeditions, Defy Partners and Ascend VC.

Visnjic, the company’s CEO, used to work on Amazon’s demand forecasting model.

“The team was all research scientists, and I was the only engineer who had kind of tier-one operating experience,” she told me. “So it was like, ”Okay, how bad could it be?’ I carried the pager for the retail website before it can be bad. But it was one of the first AI deployments that we’d done at Amazon at scale. The pager duty was extra fun because there were no real tools. So when things would go wrong — like we’d order way too many black socks out of the blue — it was a lot of manual effort to figure out why was this happening.”

Image Credits: WhyLabs

But while large companies like Amazon have built their own internal tools to help their data scientists and AI practitioners operate their AI systems, most enterprises continue to struggle with this — and a lot of AI projects simply fail and never make it into production. “We believe that one of the big reasons that happens is because of the operating process that remains super manual,” Visnjic said. “So at WhyLabs, we’re building the tools to address that — specifically to monitor and track data quality and alert — you can think of it as Datadog for AI applications.”

The team has brought ambitions, but to get started, it is focusing on observability. The team is building — and open-sourcing — a new tool for continuously logging what’s happening in the AI system, using a low-overhead agent. That platform-agnostic system, dubbed WhyLogs, is meant to help practitioners understand the data that moves through the AI/ML pipeline.

For a lot of businesses, Visnjic noted, the amount of data that flows through these systems is so large that it doesn’t make sense for them to keep “lots of big haystacks with possibly some needles in there for some investigation to come in the future.” So what they do instead is just discard all of this. With its data logging solution, WhyLabs aims to give these companies the tools to investigate their data and find issues right at the start of the pipeline.

Image Credits: WhyLabs

According to Karaivanova, the company doesn’t have paying customers yet, but it is working on a number of proofs of concepts. Among those users is Zulily, which is also a design partner for the company. The company is going after mid-size enterprises for the time being, but as Karaivanova noted, to hit the sweet spot for the company, a customer needs to have an established data science team with 10 to 15 ML practitioners. While the team is still figuring out its pricing model, it’ll likely be a volume-based approach, Karaivanova said.

“We love to invest in great founding teams who have built solutions at scale inside cutting-edge companies, who can then bring products to the broader market at the right time. The WhyLabs team are practitioners building for practitioners. They have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing AI builders from their years at Amazon and are putting that experience and insight to work for their customers,” said Tim Porter, managing director at Madrona. “We couldn’t be more excited to invest in WhyLabs and partner with them to bring cross-platform model reliability and observability to this exploding category of MLOps.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Yext launches Hitchhikers, a self-serve version of its site search tool

Yext is making its site search product Yext Answers available to a broader set of customers today with the launch of a new program that it calls Hitchhikers.

The company launched Yext Answers in October 2019 with the goal of making a brand’s website — rather than whatever shows up via Google search — the authoritative source of information about that brand. And earlier this year, Yext also introduced a 90-day free trial, which CEO Howard Lerman said was designed to help more partners deliver coronavirus-related answers.

However, Lerman told me this week that Yext Answers has still been constrained by a setup process that requires a Yext employee “to understand our own software and build your knowledge graph,” which meant that the company had to turn away many potential customers. With Hitchhikers, that’s no longer the case.

Chief Strategy Officer Marc Ferrentino said the program is designed for digital marketers, SEO specialists and IT professionals. The goal is to provide everything they need to create their own site search experience — including starter “knowledge graphs” customized to specific industries that customers can populate with their own content.

And there’s an educational focus — Ferrentino said Hitchhikers should be accessible to “someone who is a novice when it comes to technology,” quickly getting them up to speed on topics like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, with different tracks and modules all brought to life with “hands-on learning” and quizzes.

Yext Hitchhikers

Image Credits: Yext

Like Yext Answers, Hitchhikers is available through a 90-day free trial. And if you’re wondering about the name, Lerman said it’s a reference to Douglas Adams’ classic novel “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” specifically the idea of The Ultimate Question. Hitchhikers, then, is designed to help businesses answers their own Ultimate Questions.

One of the recurring themes in my recent conversations with Lerman has been the importance of brands and businesses as a source of knowledge and authoritative information. It’s something he emphasized again when discussing Hitchhikers. For example, he pointed to a Google search about what qualifies as essential travel — the top result was an article from a popular travel blogger, rather than the official definition from the U.S. State Department (a Yext Answers customer).

“The ultimate authority how to claim your gift card from Krispy Kreme is Krispy Kreme,” Lerman said. “The ultimate authority on an internet outage in a certain area is Cox … Getting that information to the user is even more important in this terrible year of misinformation and disinformation.”


By Anthony Ha

Five years after creating Traefik application proxy, open source project hits 2B downloads

Five years ago, Traefik Labs founder and CEO Emile Vauge was working on a project deploying thousands of microservices and he was lacking a cloud native application proxy that could handle this kind of scale. So like any good developer, he created one himself and Traefik was born.

If you go back five years, the notion of cloud native was still in its infancy. Docker has been doing containers for just a couple of years, and Kubernetes would only be released that year. There wasn’t much cloud native tooling around, so Vauge decided to build a cloud native reverse proxy out of pure necessity.

“At that time, five years ago, there was no reverse proxy that was good at managing the complexity of microservices at cloud scale. So that was really the origin of Traefik. And one of the big innovations was its automation and its simplicity,” he said.

As he explained it, a reverse proxy needs to have several features like traffic management, load balancing, observability and security, but much of this had to be done manually with the tools available at the time. As it turns out Vauge had stumbled onto a major pain point.

“Initially I created Traefik for myself. It was a side project but it turned out that there was a huge interest and very quickly a community gathered around the project,” he said. After a few months, he realized he could build a company around this and left his job to start a company called Containous.

Today, he changed the name of that company to Traefik Labs and the open source project he developed has become wildly popular. “Five years later we are at 2 billion downloads. It’s in the top 10 most downloaded projects on Docker. We have 30,000 stars on GitHub. So basically it’s one of the largest open source projects in the world,” he said. In addition, he said that there are over 550 individuals contributing to the project today.

When he formed Containous, he developed an open core-based commercial project designed for enterprise needs around scaling, high availability and more security features. Today, that includes the Traefik Proxy and an open source service mesh called Traefik Mesh.

Among the companies using the open source project today are Conde Nast, eBay Classifieds and Mailchimp.

Vauge certainly was in the right place at the right time five years ago, which he modestly attributes to luck because he was working at one of the few companies at the time who were dealing with microservices at scale. “We had to build a lot of things and Traefik was one of those things. So I was basically lucky because I created Traefik at the right time,” he said.

Not surprisingly a company with that kind of open source traction has attracted the interest of venture capitalists and Vauge has raised $16 million since he launched his company in 2015 including $10 million led by Balderton Capital in January.


By Ron Miller

Daily Crunch: Microsoft launches Azure Communication Services

Microsoft takes on Twilio, Google launches a work-tracking tool and Mirakl raises $300 million. This is your Daily Crunch for September 22, 2020.

The big story: Microsoft launches Azure Communication Services

Microsoft announced today that it’s ready to compete with Twilio by launching a set of features that allow developers to add voice and video calling, chat, text messages and old-school telephony to their apps.

“Azure Communication Services is built natively on top a global, reliable cloud — Azure,” wrote Microsoft’s Scott Van Vliet. “Businesses can confidently build and deploy on the same low latency global communication network used by Microsoft Teams to support 5B+ meeting minutes daily.”

This is just one of a number of announcements that Microsoft made at its Ignite conference this morning. Other additions include a platform for detecting biological threats and the Azure Orbital service for satellite operators.

The tech giants

Google launches a work-tracking tool and Airtable rival, Tables — Tables’ bots help users do things like scheduling recurring email reminders when tasks are overdue and messaging a chat room when new form submissions are received.

Amazon adds support for Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu in local Indian languages push ahead of Diwali — The company said this move should help it reach an additional 200-300 million users in India.

Pinterest breaks daily download record due to user interest in iOS 14 design ideas — Following the release of iOS 14, the excitement around the ability to customize your iPhone home screen has been paying off for Pinterest.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Mirakl raises $300 million for its marketplace platform — Mirakl helps companies launch and manage a marketplace on their e-commerce websites.

Pure Watercraft ramps up its electric outboard motors with a $23 million series A — Pure Watercraft is building an electric outboard motor that can replace a normal gas one for most boating needs.

Morgan Beller, co-creator of the Libra digital currency, just joined the venture firm NFX — And yes, that means she’s leaving Facebook.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Despite a rough year for digital media, Blavity and The Shade Room are thriving — A recap of my Disrupt discussion with Morgan DeBaun of Blavity and Angelica Nwandu of The Shade Room.

Big tech has 2 elephants in the room: Privacy and competition — There’s clearly a nervousness among even well-established tech firms to discuss this topic.

How has Corsair Gaming posted such impressive pre-IPO numbers? — The company was founded in 1994, making it more of a mature business than a startup.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

TikTok, WeChat and the growing digital divide between the US and China — Catherine Shu discusses the dramatic shift in the relationship between tech companies in both countries.

Tech must radically rethink how it treats independent contractors — Just as COVID-19 has accelerated the move to remote work, our current crisis has accelerated the trend toward hiring independent contractors.

Bose introduces a new pair of sleep-focused earbuds — The timing of the Sleepbuds II could hardly be better.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.


By Anthony Ha

Microsoft challenges Twilio with the launch of Azure Communication Services

Microsoft today announced the launch of Azure Communication Services, a new set of features in its cloud that enable developers to add voice and video calling, chat and text messages to their apps, as well as old-school telephony.

The company describes the new set of services as the “first fully managed communication platform offering from a major cloud provider,” and that seems right, given that Google and AWS offer some of these features, including the AWS notification service, for example, but not as part of a cohesive communication service. Indeed, it seems Azure Communication Service is more of a competitor to the core features of Twilio or up-and-coming MessageBird.

Over the course of the last few years, Microsoft has built up a lot of experience in this area, in large parts thanks to the success of its Teams service. Unsurprisingly, that’s something Microsoft is also playing up in its announcement.

“Azure Communication Services is built natively on top a global, reliable cloud — Azure. Businesses can confidently build and deploy on the same low latency global communication network used by Microsoft Teams to support 5B+ meeting minutes daily,” writes Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president for Intelligent Communication at the company.

Microsoft also stresses that it offers a set of additional smart services that developers can tap into to build out their communication services, including its translation tools, for example. The company also notes that its services are encrypted to meet HIPPA and GDPR standards.

Like similar services, developers access the various capabilities through a set of new APIs and SDKs.

As for the core services, the capabilities here are pretty much what you’d expect. There’s voice and video calling (and the ability to shift between them). There’s support for chat and, starting in October, users will also be able to send text messages. Microsoft says developers will be able to send these to users anywhere, with Microsoft positioning it as a global service.

Provisioning phone numbers, too, is part of the services and developers will be able to provision those for in-bound and out-bound calls, port existing numbers, request new ones and — most importantly for contact-center users — integrate them with existing on-premises equipment and carrier networks.

“Our goal is to meet businesses where they are and provide solutions to help them be resilient and move their business forward in today’s market,” writes Van Vliet. “We see rich communication experiences – enabled by voice, video, chat, and SMS – continuing to be an integral part in how businesses connect with their customers across devices and platforms.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft brings new robotic process automation features to its Power Platform

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired Softomotive, a player in the low-code robotic process automation space with a focus on Windows. Today, at its Ignite conference, the company is launching Power Automate Desktop, a new application based on Softomotive’s technology that lets anyone automate desktop workflows without needing to program.

“The big idea of Power Platform is that we want to go make it so development is accessible to everybody,” Charles Lamanna, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its low-code platform, told me. “And development includes understanding and reporting on your data with Power BI, building web and mobile applications with Power Apps, automating your tasks — whether it’s through robotic process automation or workflow automation — with Power Automate, or building chatbots and chat-based experiences with Power Virtual Agent.”

Power Automate already allowed users to connect web-based applications, similar to Zapier and IFTTT, but the company also launched a browser extension late last year to help users connect native system components to Power Automate. Now, with the integration of the Softomotive technology and the launch of this new low-code Windows application, it’s taking this integration into the native Windows user interface one step further.

“Everything still runs in the cloud and still connects to the cloud, but you now have a rich desktop application to author and record your UI automations,” Lamanna explained. He likened it to an “ultimate connector,” noting that the “ultimate API is just the UI.”

He also stressed that the new app feels like any other modern Office app, like Outlook (which is getting a new Mac version today, by the way) or Word. And like the modern versions of those apps, Power Automate Desktop derives a lot of its power from being connected to the cloud.

It’s also worth noting that Power Automate isn’t just a platform for automating simple two or three-step processes (like sending you a text message when your boss emails you), but also for multistep, business-critical workflows. T-Mobile, for example, is using the platform to automate some of the integration processes between its systems and Sprint.

Lamanna noted that for some large enterprises, adopting these kinds of low-code services necessitates a bit of a culture shift. IT still needs to have some insights into how these tools are used, after all, to ensure that data is kept safe, for example.

Another new feature the company announced today is an integration between the Power Platform and GitHub, which is now in public preview. The idea here is to give developers the ability to create their own software lifecycle workflows. “One of the core ideas of Power Platform is that it’s low code,” Lamanna said. “So it’s built first for business users, business analysts, not the classical developers. But pro devs are welcome. The saying I have is: we’re throwing a party for business users, but pro devs are also invited to the party.” But to get them onto the platform, the team wants to meet them where they are and let them use the tools they already use — and that’s GitHub (and Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code).


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft’s Edge browser is coming to Linux in October

Microsoft’s Edge browser is coming to Linux, starting with the Dev channel. The first of these previews will go live in October.

When Microsoft announced that it would switch its Edge browser to the Chromium engine, it vowed to bring it to every popular platform. At the time, Linux wasn’t part of that list, but by late last year, it became clear that Microsoft was indeed working on a Linux version. Later, at this year’s Build, a Microsoft presenter even used it during a presentation.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Starting in October, Linux users will be able to either download the browser from the Edge Insider website or through their native package managers. Linux users will get the same Edge experience as users on Windows and macOS, as well as access to its built-in privacy and security features. For the most part, I would expect the Linux experience to be on par with that on the other platforms.

Microsoft also today announced that its developers have made more than 3,700 commits to the Chromium project so far. Some of this work has been on support for touchscreens, but the team also contributed to areas like accessibility features and developer tools, on top of core browser fundamentals.

Currently, Microsoft Edge is available on Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as macOS, iOS and Android.


By Frederic Lardinois

Mirakl raises $300 million for its marketplace platform

French startup Mirakl has raised a $300 million funding round at a $1.5 billion valuation — the company is now a unicorn. Mirakl helps you launch and manage a marketplace on your e-commerce website. Many customers also rely on Mirakl-powered marketplaces for B2B transactions.

Permira Advisers is leading the round, with existing investors 83North, Bain Capital Ventures, Elaia Partners and Felix Capital also participating.

“We’ve closed this round in 43 days,” co-founder and U.S. CEO Adrien Nussenbaum told me. But the due diligence process has been intense. “[Permira Advisers] made 250 calls to clients, leads, partners and former employees.”

Many e-commerce companies rely on third-party sellers to increase their offering. Instead of having one seller selling to many customers, marketplaces let you sell products from many sellers to many customers. Mirakl has built a solution to manage the marketplace of your e-commerce platform.

300 companies have been working with Mirakl for their marketplace, such as Best Buy Canada, Carrefour, Darty and Office Depot. More recently, Mirakl has been increasingly working with B2B clients as well.

These industry-specific marketplaces can be used for procurement or bulk selling of parts. In this category, clients include Airbus Helicopters, Toyota Material Handling and Accor’s Astore. 60% of Mirakl’s marketplace are still consumer-facing marketplaces, but the company is adding as many B2B and B2C marketplaces these days.

“We’ve developed a lot of features that enable platform business models that go further than simple marketplaces,” co-founder and CEO Philippe Corrot told me. “For instance, we’ve invested in services — it lets our clients develop service platforms.”

In France, Conforama can upsell customers with different services when they buy some furniture for instance. Mirakl has also launched its own catalog manager so that you can merge listings, add information, etc.

The company is using artificial intelligence to do the heavy-lifting on this front. There are other AI-enabled features, such as fraud detection.

Given that Mirakl is a marketplace expert, it’s not surprising that the company has also created a sort of marketplace of marketplaces with Mirakl Connect.

“Mirakl Connect is a platform that is going to be the single entry point for everybody in the marketplace ecosystem, from sellers to operators and partners,” Corrot said.

For sellers, it’s quite obvious. You can create a company profile and promote products on multiple marketplaces at once. But the company is also starting to work with payment service providers, fulfillment companies, feed aggregators and other partners. The company wants to become a one-stop shop on marketplaces with those partners.

Overall, Mirakl-powered marketplaces have generated $1.2 billion in gross merchandise volume (GMV) during the first half of 2020. It represents a 111% year-over-year increase, despite the economic crisis.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand across all areas — same features, same business model, but with more resources. It plans to hire 500 engineers and scale its sales and customer success teams.


By Romain Dillet

Microsoft updates its Endpoint Manager with improved macOS support and more

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced a number of new features for the Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the company’s unified platform for managing and securing devices in an enterprise environment. The service, which combines the features of the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager with the cloud-based tools of Intune, launched just under a year ago. Today’s updates build on the foundation the team created at the time and add improved macOS and iPad support, as well as new tools for connecting mobile devices to on-premises apps and additional productivity tools based on the date the company gathers from the service. The company is also making it easier for corporate IT departments to provision devices for employees remotely.

If anything, the pandemic has only accelerated both the growth of this business for Microsoft and the need for companies to manage their remote devices.

“It really is about bringing this cloud and all the intelligence that we had in Intune together with Config Manager and making it act as one,” Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate VP for the Commercial Management Experiences team, told me. “And it’s been so fascinated to see how the pandemic accelerated people wanting and needing to use that. When the pandemic first hit – and as I go back to March 8th or 10th, in the US, the calls that I was having almost every day with CIOs centered around, ‘my VPN is overwhelmed. How am I going to patch on keep all my systems updated?’”

Today’s announcements build on the work Microsoft has done on this service over the course of the last year. After launching support for scripting on macOS earlier this year, for example, the company today announced a new “first-class management experience on macOS” that brings deploy scripts, but also improved enrollment experiences and app lifecycle management feature to the platform.

Endpoint Manager now also supports Apple’s Shared iPad for Business functionality and will help businesses deploy iPads to their users and allow them to log in with Azure Active Directory accounts. This gives users two separate portions on the device: one for work and one for everything else.

Another new feature is Microsoft Tunnel. This gives businesses a VPN that can cover the entire device or single apps to ensure that their employees’ devices are secure and compliant with their internal policy to access their networks.

“The key thing [with Microsoft Tunnel] is that this is all integrated into our conditional access,” Anderson explained. “And so when that VPN comes up, before access is granted to the data or to the apps, the conditional access engine that we’ve built inside of Microsoft 365 has that point of view on the trust of the identity and the trust of the device. That really is the key differentiator on that. I’ll tell you, between you and I, that one feature is probably the single feature that customers who are running another MDM and then the Microsoft Endpoint Manager — that’s the one they’re waiting for.”

Endpoint Manager now also supports the Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) environment. That’s been a massive growth area for the company — one that has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Anderson told me, the company saw 10x growth for WVD through the pandemic. “Now, Windows Virtual Desktop is that first-class citizen inside Microsoft Endpoint Manager. So you can manage your virtual endpoints just like you manage your physical endpoints. All your policies are applicable, all your apps are clickable. And it just makes it easier to be able to use that as one of the tools you have to empower your users,” he said.

Another area of Endpoint Manager, which may only seem tangentially related at first, is Microsoft’s Productivity Score. There are two aspects to this service, though: employee experience and technology experience. Productivity Score is meant to help businesses better understand how their employees are working — and identify areas where companies can improve. On the technology side, that also means understanding which apps crash, for example, or why laptops slow down.

“Here’s one of the key scenarios,” said Anderson. “We’ll get a call every once in a while that says, like, ‘hey, my users are all having a great experience with Office 365 but I’ve got a handful of users for whom it’s slow.’ More often than not, that’s a networking issue. And so every time a user, for example, opens a file or saves a file, opens an attachment, we get telemetry back that helps us understand the operations of that. We probably know when an ISP in the south of France sneezes, because Office 365 is so ubiquitous now.”

The other new feature here is what Microsoft calls Endpoint Analytics. With this, Microsoft can now provide businesses with details information about when apps on their employees’ devices crash – no matter whether that’s an internal app, a third-party service — or a Microsoft app.

In addition to these technology scores, Productivity Score is also getting new categories like meetings, so managers can see how many meetings their employees have, as well as a new teamwork category.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft Teams gets breakout rooms, custom layouts and virtual commutes

Unsurprisingly, Teams has become a major focus for Microsoft during the COVID-19 pandemic and so it’s no surprise that the company is using its annual Ignite IT conference to announce a number of new features for the services.

Today’s announcements follow the launch of features like Together Mode and dynamic view earlier this summer.

Together Mode, which puts cutouts of meeting participants in different settings, is getting a bit of an update today with the launch of new scenes: auditoriums, coffee shops and conference rooms. Like before, the presenter chooses the scene, but what’s new now is that Microsoft is also now using machine learning to ensure that participants are automatically centered in their virtual chairs, making the whole scene look just a little bit more natural (and despite what Microsoft’s research shows, I can never help but think that this all looks a bit goofy, maybe because it reminds me of the opening credits of the Muppet Show).

Image Credits: Microsoft

Also new in Teams is custom layouts, which allow presenters to customize how their presentations — and their own video feeds — appear. With this, a presenter can superimpose her own video image over the presentation, for example.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Breakout rooms, a feature that is getting a lot of use in Zoom these days, is now also coming to Teams. Microsoft calls it the most requested feature in Teams and like in similar products, it also meeting organizers to split participants into smaller groups — and the meeting organizer can then go from room to room. Unsurprisingly, this feature is especially popular with teachers, though companies, too, often use it to facilitate brainstorming sessions, for example.

Image Credits: Microsoft

After exhausting all your brainstorming power in those breakout rooms and finishing up your meeting, Teams can now also send you an automatic recap of a meeting that includes a recording, transcript, shared files and more. These recaps will automatically appear on your Outlook calendar. In the future, Microsoft will also enable the ability to automatically store these recordings on SharePoint.

For companies that regularly host large meetings, Microsoft will launch support for up to 1,000 participants in the near future. Attendees in these meetings will get the full Teams experience, Microsoft promises. Later, Microsoft will also enable view-only meetings for up to 20,000 participants. Both of these features will become available as part of a new ‘Advanced Communications’ plan, which is probably no surprise, given how much bandwidth and compute power it will likely take to manage a 1,000-person meetings.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft also made two hardware announcements related to Team today. The first is the launch of what it calls ‘Microsoft Teams panels,’ which are essentially small tablets that businesses can put outside of their meeting rooms for wayfinding. One cool feature here — especially as business start planning their post-pandemic office strategy — is that these devices will be able to use information from the cameras in the room to count how many people are attending a meeting in person and then show remaining room capacity, for example.

The company also today announced that the giant Surface Hub 2S 85-inch model will be available in January 2021.

And there is more. Microsoft is also launching new Teams features for front-line workers to help schedule shifts, alert workers when they are using Teams off-shift and praise badges that enable organizations to recognize workers (though those workers would probably prefer hard cash over a digital badge).

Also new is an integration between Teams and RealWear head-mounted devices for remote collaboration and a new Walkie Talkie app for Android.

And since digital badges aren’t usually enough to improve employee wellbeing, Microsoft is also adding a new set of wellbeing features to Teams. These provide users with personalized recommendations to help change habits and improve wellbeing and productivity.

Image Credits: Microsoft

That includes a new ‘virtual commute’ feature that includes an integration with Headspace and an emotional check-in experience.

I’ve always been a fan of short and manageable commutes for getting some distance between work and home, but that’s not exactly a thing right now. Maybe Headspace works as an example, but there’s only so much Andy Puddicombe I can take. Still, I think I’ll keep my emotional check-ins to myself, though Microsoft obviously notes that it will keep all of that information private.

And while businesses now care about your emotional wellbeing (because it’s closely related to your productivity), managers mostly care about the wor you get done. For them, Workplace Analytics is coming to Teams, giving “managers line of sight into teamwork norms like after-hours collaboration, focus time, meeting effectiveness, and cross-company connections. These will then be compared to averages among similar teams to provide managers with actionable insights.”

If that doesn’t make your manager happy, what will? Maybe a digital praise badge?


By Frederic Lardinois