Can’t find that file? Microsoft’s new Loop app puts workplace collaboration in a different light

An overview screen in Microsoft Loop. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft is aiming to solve a long-irritating problem that seemed to become more irksome as people began working remotely during the pandemic: Hunting through hard drives and cloud drives for the correct files – and gathering all of that information in one place where teams can work on them together.

During its Ignite technology conference on Tuesday, the company introduced Microsoft Loop, a new component of its Microsoft 365 suite of productivity apps. Loop allows users and teams to collect everything needed for a project – files, links and data from other apps – into a single workspace, then provide a bird’s eye view of everything happening with a project.

Microsoft also announced an AI-driven feature of Office 365 called Context IQ. It uses the Microsoft Graph – which tracks connections among files, apps and people – to observe what people are working on throughout the day, then predict and suggest what information they need.

In a blog post, Microsoft said the feature is designed to provide relevant files, documents, calendar times and other information “right when you need it – at the point of action.” The feature, Microsoft said, aims to use AI to augment “human capability in ways that feel like magic.”

As long as there have been PCs, knowledge workers have complained of wasted time spent searching for the right information across an array of devices and file directories. The problem has worsened over the last decade with the advent of cloud apps and drives.

A study by Qatalog and Cornell University’s Ellis Idea Lab released in July showed more than 56% of workers said they struggle to keep track of information across all the productivity platforms their companies use. Those same workers said they waste an hour each day searching for what they need. That’s five hours of wasted time each week. Eighty-nine percent said their work lives have gotten worse because of “digital chaos.”

In addition, switching between apps to find the right components of a project – a file, an email, a slice of data – is widely believed to scatter workers’ focus and reduce overall productivity. Psychologist Gerald Weinberg wrote in his book, “Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking,” that this necessary evil, known as “context switching,” devours between 20% and 80% of a workers’ overall productivity.

A voting table in Microsoft Loop. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft, a top provider of enterprise productivity software, has seen increased competition in recent years from an ever-growing category of cloud-based project management apps such as Asana, Wrike, Basecamp and Monday.com, each of which seek to solve the frustration.

The project management software market alone had grown to $5.37 billion in 2020 and is expected to nearly double to $9.81 billion over the next five years, according to Mordor Intelligence.

Microsoft said its new Loop app, which can follow users across Microsoft’s productivity apps, is made up of three elements: “Loop components,” “Loop pages” and “Loop workspaces.”

“Loop components” are “atomic units of productivity” that let people complete work together right within chats, meetings, emails and documents.

People can use Microsoft’s readymade Loop components or create their own. There’s a voting table that makes it easy for teams to brainstorm or reach decisions together. Team members can also set up “status trackers” to monitor a project’s progress.

Microsoft says Loop pages are like a “flexible canvas” where all those files, links and data for a single project – or piece of a project – can be at the ready. Loop workspaces are broader shared spaces where team members can see what each other are working on, react to each other’s ideas and track progress toward goals.

Loop will work across Microsoft 365 apps like Outlook, Teams and OneNote and will begin rolling out before year’s end, Microsoft said.

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