Teams – The saviours in tough times for leading companies: Rajiv Sodhi, Microsoft

Microsoft has a mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Here, Rajiv Sodhi, COO, Microsoft India and Ms Ira Gupta, Head-HR, Microsoft India, talk about the future of work and Microsoft Teams. Excerpts from an interview:

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DQ: How are you dealing with the Covid-19 situation? What plans have you put in place?

Rajiv Sodhi: As we have embraced the new world of remote work and focused on keeping our families safe, lines between work and working from home have blurred like never before. At Microsoft, we moved thousands of employees to remote work overnight. At the same time, helping our customers and partners cope with the impact of Covid-19 outbreak and keep their businesses running has been a top priority for us.

Here is how we are supporting customers:

Working from home
Organizations of different sizes and complexities across sectors are facing a variety of issues as they grapple with the situation. Transitioning employees to work from home in the initial days was a big challenge in the initial days. To support this, we made Microsoft Teams available free of cost in early March, including for organizations that don’t have Office 365.

Leading Indian companies have placed their trust in Teams, and are now using it for daily calls, meetings and collaborating virtually. We are also working with them to integrate their internal apps to Teams to make administrative processes absolutely seamless. Teams also helps deliver the advanced security and compliance capabilities our customers need – with the native built-in security and management capabilities of Office 365,

Access to business applications and processes
Businesses also need access to their applications to stay operational. Traditionally, sectors such as BFSI, ITeS and manufacturing have not equipped their employees to access work related content or systems remotely. Our team has worked round the clock to help ITeS giants deploy Azure Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) This has allowed large workforces to access internal apps, develop and even publish solutions through a desktop hosted on Azure.

They are doing so using different browsers from home PCs, laptops and personal mobile devices in an absolutely secure manner. Moving to Azure WVD also did away with the need to scramble for new devices, a relief at a time supply chains are broken, and retailers are shut.

We are also focussing on helping pharmaceutical companies and their partners stay productive and keep medicines and critical supplies available. Intas Pharmaceuticals, a leading Ahmedabad-based drug manufacturer, uses Office 365, our collaboration platform, and our team helped them in rapid and successful usage adoption in the current situation. They have also adopted Windows Virtual Desktop, allowing their critical workforce to access internal content from home and support the company’s operations securely.

Learning from home
As educational institutes across the country moved to online classes, they were looking for secure collaboration tools to ensure that learning doesn’t stop. Over the last few weeks, we have imparted training to over 4000 educators and students across 100 schools and higher education institutions to adopt remote learning tools.

The British School moved to Microsoft Teams even before the COVID-19 lockdown started to enable its teachers collaborate and interact with students for online learning. Amity University, Noida, on the other hand, has moved 80% of courses online to Teams in two weeks.

Uninterrupted care for patients
We are humbled to be able to support healthcare professionals in this situation. Microsoft engineers are spending time with doctors and management at healthcare institutes to understand their challenges and requirements.

Healthcare Global Enterprises (HCG), which specializes in comprehensive cancer care, has launched a Virtual OPD on Teams for 23 centers across India to provide uninterrupted care to its patients. We are also helping Fortis Healthcare pilot a virtual consultation service powered by Teams.

Staying secure
It isn’t about productivity alone – we are focused on ensuring that our customers and partners are working as securely as possible. An unprecedented number of people working from home using multiple devices and apps also means an increased cybersecurity risk. New challenges could include expanding deployment to additional devices, adjusting security policies to enable productivity from home, enabling BYOD, supporting broader SaaS application usage, securing sensitive data, and more.

At Microsoft, we put trust and security at the core of our technology – it is not bolted on. We are offering regular guidance and recommendations so that they can stay protected and unlock additional tools that are available for them. For example, connecting all applications and cloud resources to Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) helps ensure that employees have secure, seamless access to the tools and resources they need, from wherever they are. At the same, it protects these resources from unauthorized access. The single best thing companies can do to improve security for remote working is to turn on multi-factor authentication (MFA).

Longer term, security admins can also consider programs to find and label the most critical data, like Azure Information Protection, so that they can track and audit usage when employees work from home. It is also important to continuously track how remote working is affecting compliance and risk surface, and Microsoft Secure Score helps do exactly that. Using Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), on the other hand, can help identify attackers masquerading as employees working from home. For more information, you could also read

Working remotely, stay secure – guidance for CISOs
Support from our partners It is also very inspiring to see our partners stepping up to offer solutions to support businesses. A few examples are:

• To simplify deployment of Windows Virtual Desktop further, Nerdio, a Microsoft partner, offers the Manager for WVD (NMW) solution, which allows IT pros and System Integrators to deploy, manage and auto-scale large WVD desktop environments in enterprises with ease.

• In an effort to help businesses run recruitment processes smoothly and safely, Talview is offering free support with their remote hiring solutions to their current customers and also any other businesses that are switching to remote hiring.

• YellowMessenger is helping take the load off of overworked support teams with free WhatsApp chatbot provisioned in less than 24 hours.

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DQ: This is a challenging time for managers. What advice would you give them?

Ira Gupta: Remote work can create challenges in maintaining a healthy work culture and managing the change. Like with every area of our life, leadership in uncertain times requires unwavering empathy and resilience. My learning has been that managers need to create clarity in the face of an evolving situation, model the right behaviors, coach others through ambiguity and demonstrate care as they engage with their teams.

Frequent employee communication can play a key role in ensuring employees are heard, continue to remain engaged and are encouraged to share their do their best work. The leadership at Microsoft is frequently connecting with colleagues all over the world through live events, one-on-one conversations or informal catchups.

We are encouraging teams, especially leaders to organize no agenda meetings, to connect regularly with colleagues beyond work and encourage sharing of thoughts, ideas, experiences. Managers have a critical role to play in the engagement and success of their teams and we have invested in resources and trainings to support people leaders as they navigate these times.

This is a period of phenomenal change. We are working in the new environments, juggling new, often competing demands, and trying to stay productive while also battling the stress of protecting our loved ones. As managers, being empathetic to the people we work with, understanding their unique situations and being open, flexible and inclusive are some ways we can continue to powerfully back our teams. I’m confident that taking a people-first approach is what will help us tide through this crisis.

DQ: How does work/life balance work in a crisis like this?

Ira Gupta: Remote work raises several questions. With no physical separation between work and home, how do we strike a balance? How do we continue to be accommodative and respectful of our co-workers’ schedules?

For many of our employees, this change is also about being able to build new routines and habits as they adjust to working from home. To support colleagues through this transition, we’ve developed a guide to working from home, with tips to stay healthy, engaged and productive during COVID-19. Among other things, this guide includes practical examples to be more thoughtful about inclusiveness, particularly around virtual meeting habits.

Examples include encouraging colleagues to turn on video to feel more connected, making space for fun by using GIFs, stickers and emojis as a mode of expression, turning on live captions to be inclusive of colleagues with disabilities and slotting time for team celebrations. We’ve seen a number of our teams schedule no-agenda ‘tea-breaks’ on a Microsoft Teams video call. This helps virtualize the water cooler conversation that many miss these days.

We use Teams daily for chat, meetings, calls, and collaboration. Now that we find ourselves working remotely, we’ve been able to stay productive because we are accustomed to a digital workspace. Every meeting is now a Teams meeting, often with video. As we rally to help our customers prepare for remote work, we’ve found that the ability to record meetings has become essential.

All attendees can access recordings of meetings they’ve missed and then listen in to the most relevant parts. We also rely on the Microsoft 365 environment to empower employees to collaborate through self-service creation of Office 365 groups or teams within Teams while ensuring appropriate security, compliance, and manageability are in place.

At Microsoft, our top priority continues to be the health and safety of our people and we learn and adapt each day on how best to support each other as we navigate this together.

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