COVID-19 Is Ignite 2020's Elephant in the Room: 'Frankly, It Sucks'

As in all things of our new reality, there was no escaping the drastic changes in routine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic during Microsoft's big Ignite 2020 developer/IT pro conference, this week shifted to an online-only event after drawing tens of thousands of in-person attendees in years past.

Microsoft tried its best to tackle the issue head on, highlighting its efforts to help remote workers/developers in both their work duties and their mental health.

But the overall mood was best put in perspective by Microsoft's outspoken Scott Hanselman, never afraid to share his true feelings.

"You know, here's the thing: The way we work has changed in 2020. Put simply, we now live in a world of remote everything. And frankly it sucks," said Microsoft's partner program manager in a session titled "Are we there yet? App Development in Azure with Scott Hanselman and Friends."

Here's more of what Hanselman had to say:

Many of my co-workers, my friends, my colleagues have been thrown into remote work.

They weren't working remotely before and some of them have had this frantic 'Get your laptop. You are now working from home, wheee!' kind of a moment. And we've been doing this now for months and the way we're all working is not representative of remote work. I worked remotely for Microsoft for 13 years and I can tell you that quarantine work is not remote work; it's different.

But while things are getting back to normal, Microsoft is pleased to play a small part in making remote work possible. We're helping development teams code, collaborate, and ship. That can be internal, that can be customer-facing apps, even when working as a remotely distributed team.

So no matter where you are, no matter who you are, no matter what your language is, every developer is welcome. Whether you're building apps with Java on Node.js. Python or .NET, Azure supports your tools, your languages and your apps, so we're always trying to continue to innovate and regularly update the Azure SDK. Now, for me, Azure is the cloud for.NET apps. We've made really significant investments in .NET over the years, as well as unifying the ecosystem, and now you can build literally anything.

Hanselman and many other presenters went into detail about how Microsoft is helping with remote work and remote development with enhancements to tools like Microsoft Teams and more.

On the non-technical side of things, Teams was even tweaked to address employee mental health.

"To help customers thrive and build resilience in the new world of work, new well-being and productivity insights and features, powered by MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics, are coming to Microsoft Teams," Microsoft said.

"Individuals, managers and leaders will get personalized insights and suggested actions to enable change and create well-being. Personal insights for well-being in Teams will help you strengthen relationships with important people in your network and make time for important tasks that require focus. New features available next year will allow you to schedule a virtual commute in the morning and mindfully disconnect in the evening."

Showing that such mindfulness was top-of-mind (no pun intended) at Microsoft, it was addressed by none other than CEO Satya Nadella in his opening keynote address, which he started out by noting that it was no exaggeration to say that the world came to a near standstill earlier this year.

"The current situation is quite stark," he said. "One-third of remote workers say the lack of separation between work and life is negatively impacting their well-being. Thirty percent of information workers and first-line workers say the pandemic has increased the feeling of burnout at work. And video meeting fatigue is real. Video meetings force our brains to concentrate more and carry a higher cognitive load."

He said that was one reason the company developed the upcoming Together mode in Teams, said to lessen that cognitive load.

Teams Together Mode Lessening the Cognitive Load
[Click on image for larger view.] Teams Together Mode Lessening the Cognitive Load (source: Microsoft).

In another part of his keynote, Nadella said, "We know that prioritizing employee well-being is core to an organization's success. It's important to understand what has been lost, what has been gained through this crisis and especially the balance between optimal organization productivity and employee well-being. Productivity just can't be about short-term employee output.

"In a world where you can easily feel isolated, organizations need to equip employees with the tools to rebuild social capital, focus and stay healthy."

Nadella used even more of his valuable keynote time to speak with Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, former Buddhist monk and expert on meditation and mindfulness, about that company's partnership with Microsoft to address employee well-being.

"Mindfulness and well-being are something we're seeking during these times," Nadella said in introducing Puddicombe. "The research on the benefits of mindfulness is so clear, but now it's imperative we have these options in the flow of work."

In the interests of time, Puddicombe shared one quick tip on how to get started with meditation at work in as little as a few minutes per day. One practical example is to concentrate solely on eating a sandwich for five minutes during lunch time, instead of gulping it down in front of a screen while answering emails and scrolling through social media (something this reporter is intimately familiar with).

Obviously, whether it was done for "optics" or whether it truly represents a deep-felt commitment at Microsoft, Nadella's use of keynote time to discuss meditation, employee mindfulness and well-being is a long way from former CEO Steve Ballmer sweatily screaming "Developers! Developers! Developers!...." (Here's a link -- that never gets old, and laughter helps your well-being.)

So welcome to a reaffirmation of just how strange things are getting during the time of COVID-19.

Now I have to go eat a sandwich. And only eat a sandwich.

For more coverage of Microsoft Ignite 2020 from Visual Studio Magazine and sister sites, see:

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.

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