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Office 2016 to Boost Collaboration

With last month's release of the Office 2016 IT Pro and Developer Preview, Microsoft took a step closer to general availability of the first version of its productivity to be built from the start for mobile and the cloud. GA is expected in the fall -- soon, but maybe not soon enough for some users tapping SharePoint and OneDrive for collaboration.

With Office 2016, which is expected to coincide with the release of Windows 10, Microsoft is looking to neutralize some of the differences between its Office desktop and online products. The new version of Excel, for example, should address user complaints that the software's one-tab-at-a-time search capability impedes workflow. And it should address limitations Office online and SharePoint users currently face with workbook sharing. Such fixes could mean bad news for Google Drive.

I did some digging on Microsoft's site and found good news about expected Office 2016 features that will improve user collaboration.

The Office 2016 preview shows off the new avatar of Lync (recently rebranded Skype for Business), complete with the new logo and branding in the user interface. It offers a whole host of new features to try out, including the Call Monitor, one of Skype's popular features. When you move focus away from the current call, you get a mini version of the call with Mute and End Call buttons so you can interact with the call while working on other things.

The Peek menu/conversation control simplification is now no longer hidden until you hover. By aligning with Skype's core conversation controls and flattening out the task menu hierarchy, Office 2016 will provide quicker access to tasks and allow you to discover features easily.

Power users need fast and easy access to dial pad and other calling features, and in Skype for Business, they'll get a refreshed dial pad layout that reduces the number of clicks to the core call management tasks. Similar to the consumer chat experience, chat message bubbles are now included in an updated IM experience, and the new tab layout in the conversation window gives you unread message notifications so you're always informed.

Now, note above that Microsoft said it is "flattening our task menu hierarchy." This is deserving of attention in many UC offerings. Having tested and experienced numerous clients of various products that range in scores of features, I find it refreshing that Microsoft is focusing in on helping users spend less time looking for how to do something.

Human latency isn't always due to an individual. Rather, the tools in use often prevent efficiency and even effectiveness. A key irritation among users is an inability to accomplish tasks quickly. Users will reject tools if they present barriers to their ability to communicate, collaborate, or perform tasks.

In the next generation of improvements, we can hope that focus shifts to making an optimized user experience standard fare for users of UC. I totally understand when a manager tells me that her team loses hours daily by not being able to search an entire workbook without tabbing through each sheet and initiating a new search for each one.

When users can't use their client software quickly and effectively, they look for workarounds or ways around the software or any other tool.

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