Have you been missing your daily commute throughout lockdown?
Your immediate answer is probably a resounding: no.
A survey by PowWowNow found that 45% of people spend over an hour commuting to work every day. Waving goodbye to the daily commute has long been perceived as one of the major benefits of remote working.
However, Microsoft now believes that after months of working remotely, people are starting to miss their daily commute – or at the very least, realizing that commuting isn’t all bad.
Microsoft is now aiming to reintroduce the positive aspects of catching the bus into work everyday, via a virtual commute feature. In this article, we’ll explore what this upcoming feature is and how it could make your remote workforce happier, and healthier. We’ll then show you how to use Power Automate to create your own virtual commute feature, before it’s officially released.
What is Microsoft’s virtual commute?
Microsoft’s virtual commute is a new feature that the tech giant is planning for Microsoft Teams. Throughout the global pandemic, countless businesses have turned to cloud-based communication platforms to help them stay connected to co-workers, customers, and business partners. We’ve seen Teams’ popularity skyrocket, with 12 million new users signing up to Microsoft Teams during March 2020 alone.
Over the past few months in particular, we’ve seen businesses embrace Teams as a way to drive long-term digital transformation throughout the global pandemic. With so much attention currently on Teams, it’s unsurprising that Microsoft is planning new features specifically geared towards improving the health and happiness of remote workers.
The daily commute may have caused its fair share of headaches – late buses, overcrowded trains, and traffic jams probably aren’t things you miss about the pre-COVID workday. However, the daily commute did provide a defined start and end to the working day.
Remote working has many benefits, but it’s also notorious for blurring the lines between work and home life. When you’re working from home, there’s always the temptation to answer just one more email before clocking off, or to start work at 7AM because you’re up and about anyway.
You may not be physically in the office, but it can quickly start to feel like you’re never away from work.
Microsoft’s virtual commute sets out to reinstate this division between work time, and home time. Once the update arrives in 2021, employees will be able to schedule a virtual commute at the start and end of their working day. Instead of rushing to the bus stop or train station, Microsoft Teams will prompt them to set goals for the next morning, or reflect on their day.
Headspace: Bringing guided meditation and mindfulness to Microsoft Teams
The virtual commute represents Microsoft’s renewed focus on employee wellness. With many people struggling with loneliness, stress and anxiety throughout 2020, features such as Microsoft’s virtual commute can make a positive contribution towards supporting your remote workers.
Kamal Janardhan, general manager for workplace analytics and MyAnalytics, explained the upcoming feature: “Enterprises across the world right now are coming to us and saying, ‘I don’t think we will have organizational resilience if we don’t make well-being a priority. I think we at Microsoft have a role, almost a responsibility, to give enterprises the capabilities to create these better daily structures and help people be their best.”
To help promote employee wellness, Microsoft has partnered with Headspace, an online healthcare company who specialize in meditation and produce a popular mobile application for guided meditation.
Teams users will be encouraged to use their virtual commute as mindfulness and meditation time, including completing guided meditation sessions led by Headspace. As part of the Headspace integration, Microsoft 365 users will also be able to schedule a virtual meditation session at any point throughout the working day.
“We’re thrilled to work with Microsoft to bring more mindfulness into people’s days all over the world,” says Megan Jones Bell, chief strategy and science officer of Headspace. “We hope that by meeting people where they work, we can encourage prioritizing wellbeing and integrate mental health routines into all 24 hours of the day.”
Why wait until 2021? Start commuting virtually, today!
For many people, 2020 has been a challenging year. As a responsible employer, it’s important to make a positive contribution to your staff’s emotional and mental health – even if it’s something as simple as reminding them to start their virtual commute.
While we’ll have to wait for the official Headspace integration, it is possible to create a virtual commute today, as it’s been described by Microsoft. In this section, we’ll use Power Automate to create a workflow that triggers at a specific time, and posts a notification to Microsoft Teams, reminding your employees that it’s time to start their virtual commute.
This is a simple way to use Power Automate, but if it proves a hit then there’s plenty of scope to expand this workflow. Towards the end of this article, we’ll also show how to automatically block out the employee’s Outlook calendar for 30 minutes during their virtual commute. This will encourage your employees to mentally disconnect from work.
If you’re a big fan of Headspace, then you could also set your employees a meditation challenge via their daily commute notification. You can contact Headspace for more information about using Headspace in the workplace, but there’s also plenty of free content in the Headspace mobile application (available for Android and iOS).
It’s time for your morning commute
Let’s create a simple workflow that posts a reminder to Microsoft Teams when it’s time to start your morning commute:
- Log into the Power Automate app.
- In the left-hand menu, select “Create.”
- We want our workflow to run at the same time every morning, so select “Scheduled Flow.”
- In the popup that appears, give your flow a descriptive name. I’m using “My morning commute.”
- In “Start,” specify the time when you want your morning commute to start.
- Open the “Repeat” dropdown and select “Week.”
- You can now choose the days when this workflow should run. I’m selecting Monday-Friday.
- When you’re happy with the information you’ve entered, click “Create.” This will generate a blank Power Automate workflow.
- Click “Next step.”
- In the subsequent “Choose an action” box, select “Microsoft Teams.”
- In the popup that appears, make sure the “Actions” tab is selected.
- Select “Post a message.”
- Click to open the “Team” dropdown and choose the team where you want to post this reminder.
- Select “Channel.” You can now choose the channel where your message should be posted.
- In “Message,” type the message that you want to post to Microsoft Teams.
- Click “Save.”
Now, Power Automate will post a virtual commute reminder to Microsoft Teams at the same time every morning.
What about your evening commute?
You can repeat these steps to create a virtual commute at the end of the working day. However, to make things more interesting, let’s add an extra step that’ll block out the employee’s Outlook calendar for 30 minutes. This ensures they can enjoy their evening commute, completely uninterrupted.
- After creating the basic virtual commute workflow, select “Next step.”
- In the subsequent “Choose an action” box, select “Office 365 Outook > Create event.”
- Click to select “Calendar ID,” and choose a calendar from the list.
- In “Subject” enter the title of the event that you want to create. I’m using “Evening commute.”
- Click to select the “Start time” field.
- In the popup that appears, select “Expression.”
- In the search field, start typing “utcNow” and select this value when it appears. ● Click to select the “End time” field.
- In the popup that appears, select “Expression.”
- In the search field, type addMinutes(utcNow(),VALUE) Make sure you replace “VALUE” with the minutes you want to block out, for example: addMinutes(utcNow(),30)
- Click “Add.”
- Select “Time zone” and specify your time zone. This will be used to block out your Outlook calendar.
- When you’re happy with the information you’ve entered, click “Save.”
Now, Power Automation will post a reminder to Microsoft Teams when it’s time to start your evening commute. It’ll also block out a period of time in your Outlook calendar, so you can enjoy your virtual commute in peace.
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