Microsoft 365 Aims at Helping Us Navigate Our Blended Lives

on April 1, 2020

In a world where productivity is no longer confined within the physical place where we work, why should the tools we use create artificial barriers for us, rather than help us blend work and play? Now more than ever, thanks to COVID-19, work and school have found a place in our homes as we are all trying to work, learn and live under one roof.

Microsoft’s vision for a blended life started almost two years ago when, at the Devices Fall Event in New York City, Microsoft’s Corporate VP, Yusuf Mehdi, mentioned for the first time Modern Life. The vision that we humans share both many tools and many goals in our work-life as we do in our private life remains true today as it was in 2018. What has changed over this period of time,  is how Microsoft will empower us to achieve that blended life. It seems to me that Modern Life has evolved from a product to a philosophy behind the products Microsoft will bring to market starting with Microsoft 365, an evolution of the consumer version of Office 365.

This is what I wrote back in 2018, commenting on Modern Life:

It is this blurring of our work life and our personal Life that Microsoft is addressing with Modern Life. Because of its history with consumers and the lack of mobile presence, Microsoft comes to this from its position of strength, which is work and the PC.
Modern Life takes those users who Microsoft caters for in a corporate environment and addresses their needs before and after they get to the Office helping them achieve what they want to achieve: finish a presentation, dialing into a call on the way home, planning a weekend away or juggle the after school calendar.
In other words, Modern Life recognizes that I am not a “worker” between 9 and 5 and a “consumer” for the rest of the time. I am a human being 24 hours a day doing different things depending on time and place but still with the same goals, values, and aspirations.
Fast forward to this week and you see two marked differences.

Confidence and Focus

What struck me about the Microsoft 365 announcement, this week, is the confidence Microsoft displayed in addressing some real pain-points and, in doing so, where it matters the most to users, which meant making its tools available first on mobile. This is a very different company from two years ago. One that knows the value of its own services and has come to fully embrace an OS-agnostic approach as the value proposition shifts to center in the cloud and AI.

And so, Microsoft Teams for consumers will be made available first on mobile, both Android and iOS, for consumers to be able to chat, share photos and videos as well as do video calls. From sharing to-do lists across the family to organizing a book club, the Teams app will become a collaboration and communication one-stop-shop. Plus, if you are one of the current 44 million corporate users, you will easily be able to toggle between your personal and your corporate account.

The second difference comes in the name Microsoft 365. To me, this signifies that the company believes they have value to offer beyond Office, beyond a more traditional concept of productivity. The name also speaks to the pillars that Microsoft’s services and apps are built on: cloud, AI,  privacy and security. Privacy, in particular, was mentioned when talking about the chat function within Teams, a very timely highlight, given this week’s news about Zoom. The other mention of privacy was in relation to a new app called Microsoft Family Safety, which helps parents keep their kids safer both in the digital and the real world. Digital safety has similar features we have seen for iOS and Android around screen time but offers the additional benefit of working across Android phones Xbox and Windows PCs. It also helps manage appropriate content when browsing which remains one of the biggest issues for parents when their kids just start to discover the Web. In real life, the focus shifts to physical safety as the app sends notifications when a family member arrives or leaves a location. The app also offers driving reports for new drivers with the promise that your information will be kept private and not shared with third parties such as insurance companies.

A Better Understanding of Consumers

What I have seen in Microsoft is indeed confidence rather than arrogance. They understand where their sweet spot is, and they want to stay true to it, which is why we did not see Microsoft get into content as others have done. Microsoft knows the brand has consumers’ trust and they know there is value in offering alternatives to existing apps by centering them on privacy and security. This is especially true when it comes to location data and financial information. So Family Safety location alerts might not be an original idea, but for those parents who use solutions like Life360, having an alternative that offers peace of mind on privacy and security is a welcome addition. The same can be said for Money in Excel, a solution that draws data from your banks and credit card accounts to create personalized insights to help you improve your spending all while your data is kept private and secure.

Microsoft does not just better understand its strengths. Microsoft understands consumers better. A blended life does not mean that I want to extend my work to home. Sometimes I might have to, but what I am looking for is a consistency of tools and workflows that allows for a more seamless transition between my personal and my professional. This realization is clear not just in the tools that Microsoft is offering within the traditional Office suite, but in the use cases they list for those new features. And so Calendar is not about accessing the work calendar in the morning to see what is coming up. Instead, it is about being able to see a family calendar right next to my work one, so that scheduling anything becomes easier. Or Word where Microsoft Editor is expanded because good writing does not only matter at work. In addition to Money for Excel, in my spreadsheets, I can now start to analyze other data like food, dogs, places, or even Pokémon.

All these services will start rolling out over the coming months with some services like Money for Excel only available in the US first due to the need to close relationships with banks and card issuers. For current users of Office Personal or Family, the additional services will all be included in the subscription as they start to roll out later in April. For new Microsoft 365 subscribers, the cost will be $6.99 for Microsoft 365 Personal and $9.99 for a family up to six users. Is it worth it? Here is some context. A monthly subscription to Grammarly is around $11 if bought as an annual subscription. Budget management apps like Dollarbird, Goodbudget and Tiller Money go from $3.99 to $6.99 a month. Life360 with Driver Protect is $7.99 a month. It seems a pretty easy decision to make from an economic standpoint but even more so from a security and privacy standpoint.