How is Microsoft adjusting to the ‘new normal’?

Corporate vice president of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner organisation Gavriella Schuster tells us how she has been adapting to the new way to work, and what Microsoft is doing to help its partners and customers

How is Microsoft adjusting to the ‘new normal’?

The global impact of Covid-19 has effectively changed the way in which we all live our lives and drive our businesses. What has Microsoft’s reaction been to this international crisis and where do you think the corporation is adding the greatest value?
Covid-19 has impacted the lives of people around the world and its long-term effects will continue to evolve, but Microsoft’s focus remains constant. We are working around the clock to ensure the safety of our employees, striving to protect the health and well-being of the communities in which we operate, and providing technology and resources to our partners and customers to help them do their best work while remote. Right now, I think the greatest value Microsoft offers is the ability to facilitate connections during this difficult time – not only between families, friends, co-workers, teachers, students, doctors and patients, but also on a larger scale. We can bring together our extensive ecosystem of partners to offer tools and resources that enable these organisations to build digital capabilities that address the challenges the world is currently facing. Fortuitously, many of the solutions we have been building with our partners over the last 12 months have become the solutions that our customers need most – secure, remote work and business continuity solutions.  

Whilst responding to the current situation, many organisations will need to continue delivering core services and solutions in the same way as before. Retail supply chains still need to feed communities, telcos must deliver broadband to remote workers, and utility companies have a duty to keep the lights on. The partner ecosystem also needs to play a part here, so how is Microsoft working with its partners to enable a ‘business as usual’ approach where possible?
We have been carefully considering how our programmes can best serve our partners, as this situation evolves. We understand that some partners may want to accelerate their pace, while other may want to slow things down. In either case, what is most important is that we are listening to their feedback and offering partners the support they need to stay up and running today, while also positioning them for success in the months and years ahead. 

At the start of the pandemic, I outlined resources and programme updates to help partners navigate the Covid-19 world. We have several new offers available for partners to pass along to both existing and new customers. We’ve also increased some partner incentives and have extended dates for competency and specialisations to help them weather the storm.

Another important adjustment we’re making is with our partner training, examination and certification programmes. For added flexibility, we’re moving hundreds of in-person technical training sessions to virtual platforms so that partners can take advantage of any downtime they may have now to continue to receive specialised training. We’re also increasing the number of digital testing centres, waiving rescheduling fees, and extending examination voucher expiration dates in an effort to provide some stability during this challenging time. 

From a broader perspective, Microsoft is actively monitoring performance and usage trends 24/7 to ensure we are optimising our services for customers worldwide. We are accelerating the expansion of our global infrastructure as quickly and safely as possible, to support this unprecedented demand for cloud services.

I imagine that you, like millions of other workers worldwide, are also rising to the challenge of maintaining productivity whilst operating from a home environment. What have been the challenges for you in successfully making this transition and what tips do you have for those of us in similar situations?
While there have been benefits to working remotely like not dealing with traffic, being able to multitask and home-cooked meals, one of the big challenges I’ve faced is creating a clear delineation between working hours and off time. It’s natural for us to get started with work and forget to take breaks. When we’re at the office, those moments of downtime are built into our days – getting up for a drink of water, a bathroom break or lunch. But working at home, in such a disruptive climate, those moments easily disappear. Through this situation, I’ve relied on a three-step approach I’ve developed over the years to help me through times of change:

Firstly, assess your unique value. While it is easy to become overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, figure out the things that require your specific, unique perspective and experience. Focus on the actions that you are uniquely capable of doing. Prioritise your time and let the other things go.

It is also important to set a routine and create boundaries. I wake up every morning at 6am. I work out, get some breakfast and a coffee before starting my workday. I schedule lunch, and I log off by 6pm to have dinner with my family. Those are non-negotiable boundaries I’ve set for myself. Additionally, I set an alarm and force myself to take 5-10 minute breaks throughout the day. And at the end of the day, I put my work out of sight. Protecting your time and your routine are important. Finally, you must create space. You need to have the physical and mental space to be productive in this kind of environment. I have a stand-up desk at work, but not at home. So, when this whole thing started, I created a standing workspace with boxes and books. I’ve also found that finding a space with natural light lifts my spirits and productivity. For me, having a comfortable physical space helps me create the emotional space I need to feel productive.

Specific Microsoft products like the Azure cloud, Office 365 and Microsoft Teams are particularly relevant right now. Where are you seeing the greatest uptake of Microsoft products to achieve widespread business continuity and how are other parts of the Microsoft product landscape being leveraged to good effect – both by partners and customers alike?
As Satya mentioned during Microsoft’s third quarter earnings discussion: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” This speaks to the velocity at which our current infrastructure is being pressured. It comes as no surprise that cloud usage has increased, particularly in Microsoft 365 – Teams, Azure, Windows Virtual Desktop, advanced security solutions and Power Platform – as customers shift to work and learn from home. My entire workday is spent in Microsoft Teams as it is the hub for teamwork in Office 365. And our partners are deploying incredible solutions on top of Teams to help their customers across every industry.

Understandably, we’re also seeing a huge upswing in the demand for desktop virtualisation. So, Windows Virtual Desktop – which was already on a fast-track for adoption – has been a big opportunity for partners to help customers with business continuity on Azure. Partners are helping organisations create the opportunity for workers to have a secure, virtualised experience on their PC, phone, tablet or browser that gives them full, secure access to data and apps.

What’s important to remember with this demand for remote work and business continuity is that companies are able to feel safe and secure with their IT environment, whether it’s on-premises or in the cloud. And right now, our partners are helping customers understand that our products and technologies protect their data and information. Microsoft runs on trust. Our Trusted Cloud is built on the foundational principles of security, privacy, compliance and transparency. As a result, security is built into our products and platforms from the beginning to enable secure access, manage and protect sensitive information, and protect customers against cyber threats.

Microsoft has decided to virtualise its 2020 event calendar, including its annual partner gathering, Inspire. What challenges are you and your colleagues facing in digitally transforming the event? What impact do you think this shift will have when the current crisis has ended?
Inspire is our largest and most comprehensive partner networking event and transforming a multi-day, in-person event into a digital event is no small undertaking. With that said, it gives us the opportunity to reimagine how we do things. Luckily, we have the benefit of building on the learnings of many other Microsoft events that have since taken place virtually.

One of the things I find most rewarding about Inspire is the opportunity for partners to learn and engage with our entire global network of business leaders and partners. Ensuring these connections are still possible is a top priority as we conceptualise how to transform the event.

Thinking ahead to how this shift could impact Inspire in the years to come, it may provide insight into how we can scale this event to reach an even larger group of partners. By continuing to keep some of the digital aspects, we could provide the Inspire experience to those who are not able to attend in person.

What lessons do you think we will learn from this period of uncertainty and where do you see Microsoft driving new types of thinking in our post-outbreak community?
This time of uncertainty has shown me how resilient people can be. This is the ultimate disruption and people around the world are showing that we all have the ability to adapt in an ever-changing environment. When you think about it, the shift to remote work and learning was well underway before this pandemic. It was a major mind-shift for people and organisations to adopt and invest in the technology. Yet today, it has become the ‘new normal’ and we are seeing how the digital transformation of traditional institutions are opening the door for significant changes around how we work, learn and engage with one another.

Work and life will never be the same. But with the combination of technology and our incredible partner ecosystem, we will continue to push the envelope of ingenuity and collaborate to meet emerging customer needs and expectations. I believe this will be an inflection point that we will look back on for generations to come – a time when we relied on each other and the power of partnership to create more connections and drive business opportunities anywhere in the world.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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