‘The future of work has completely shifted’: Why Microsoft has partnered with Headspace

Microsoft (MSFT) is bringing meditation and mindfulness app Headspace to its Teams platform. The move aims to combat the seeming collapse between working life and home life and increased burnout that has resulted from the new, post-pandemic work-from-home environment.

“The future of work has completely shifted, and the direction and signal from all of our customers from the industry, from the market, and from all of the employees out there is that hybrid work and remote work is here to stay,” explained Kamal Janardhan, GM of Microsoft Viva Insights.

“And while people love the flexibility, they need some of the cognitive structures or the variation that they got from commuting or going to work that are completely lost.”

To help combat the loss of things like commuting and walking to grab lunch that help break up the day and give employees the opportunity to mentally prepare for work or get ready to head home, Microsoft introduced its Viva app as part of Teams in February.

Now the company is adding guided meditations and mindfulness exercises from Headspace to provide workers with the ability to clear their, well, heads while working from home. The idea is that the new tools will help employees who have switched to a permanent work-from-home or hybrid working environment stave off burnout.

“With modern work, you took a bunch of people, you put them in cages and then you’re like ‘Why are they stressed out?’ And of course they’re stressed out because we are not remembering to get up, walk around, listen to music, interact in a more human way,” explained Janardhan. “And the pandemic, while it allows us to be at home, it’s just exacerbated that part of it.”

According to a survey of 5,000 workers across 21 industries in the U.S. and four other countries conducted by Headspace, the number of employees experiencing burnout has increased by 10% year-over-year from 42% in 2020.

Burnout is recognized by the World Health Organization as an occupational phenomenon characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

“It’s everything from folks leaving [their jobs], because they’re burned out at work due to not being able to find that balance, as well as people being away from work, whether they’re taking sick days or not able to show up with their best self at work,” explained Headspace’s chief product and content officer Sam Rogoway.

“It’s pretty encompassing, but at its core, it’s stress, anxiety, hard to find focus and then hard to find separation in order to find that balance between your workday and your personal life.”

While the likes of Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO David Solomon and JPMorgan (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon have summoned bankers back to the office, Microsoft has been one of the main companies leading the charge when it comes to embracing the new work-from-home and hybrid work environments.

In May, the company released its Hybrid Work playbook and Hybrid Flexible Work guide, which provides a blueprint for how it set up its own hybrid work environment.

“If you’re a leader, and you just think this is going back to the physical office, you are missing the point,” Jared Spataro, senior vice president of Microsoft 365, told Yahoo Finance, “you’re missing the big opportunity.”

So how do the Headspace features in Viva Insights work? According to Rogoway, they provide mindfulness and meditative activities to start your day and end your day. Microsoft will also soon introduce a focus mode with music from Headspace that it says will help you to stay on task.

Outside of Headspace, Microsoft will also roll out the ability for managers to create quiet time settings, which will silence notifications in Teams and Outlook outside of office hours. The idea is to ensure that you’re not messaging coworkers at all hours of the night, or getting those notifications you feel obligated to respond to.

Because let’s face it, everyone deserves to veg out after work, regardless of whether you’re in the office or not.

“The new normal can leave you feeling anxious, isolated, and more stressed out, and without a routine, it’s really easy to blur your workspace in your personal space, and working from home means that no one specifically is going to create that routine for you,” Rogoway said.

“Having a routine in place that includes personal well being, provides some structure to your day that actually engenders balance between your work life and your everything else life.”

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