Creating Inclusive Hybrid Work Experiences

inclusive hybrid working

Within the hybrid workplace, technology is a crucial factor and can make or break your level of inclusivity. For many employees with disabilities, it can mean the difference between being a productive team member or an outlier. 

There is still progress to be made to help drive awareness of this topic. Here are some of the improvements that have been made to accessibility in Microsoft 365 over the past few months. 

Enable Inclusive, Flexible Microsoft Teams Meetings

Online meetings are a staple of modern work which is evident by their popularity among hard of hearing people who want to be able to use the online service. While we still have some way to go on this journey, Microsoft Teams has rolled out several features that enhance the meeting experience for deaf and hard of hearing people, increasing flexibility and focus for everyone. 

Live Captions or Transcripts to Help Meeting Attendees Follow Along

One way to make meetings more inclusive for all participants, including those who are deaf or hearing impaired, as well as those working in noisy or quiet environments, is by using the captioning and transcription tools. These tools translate the spoken content into text that is then projected onto a screen.  

In Microsoft Teams, meeting participants can turn on live captions that only they can see during the meeting, if the features have been enabled by the organisations’ admin. In the past quarter, Microsoft has steadily updated captions for their videos by adding extra features like speaker attribution, increasing language support to 28 total languages, and making them available on more platforms. 

Like live captions, live transcription converts speech to text in real-time and identifies each speaker. Unlike captioning, transcription is available both during and after the meeting. If your admin has enabled both transcription and recording, it’ll automatically start recording when the meeting begins.  

With a single click, it’ll start typing out the discussion and what was said so you can revisit or share it with others. You can also enable transcription without recording a meeting. When you do, a live transcript will be generated that you will be able to review later. This allows you to catch up on any points from the meeting.  

In addition to native live captioning and transcriptions in Teams, Microsoft are rolling out support for CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), or real-time captioning, in Teams meetings.  

The National Court Reporters Association describes CART services as “the instant translation of the spoken word into English text using a stenotype machine, notebook computer and real-time software.” CART can be especially helpful in contexts that are challenging for speech recognition software, such as those with a lot of specialized terminologies, or where participants speak with a range of different accents.  

To use CART, the meeting organiser provides an invitation and a special link to their preferred CART captioner. During the meeting, the CART provider transcribes the conversation in real-time. All participants can see the captions and have the option to toggle between CART and AI-generated captioning. 

Keep both Presenters and Interpreters Onscreen

Sign language speakers need both an interpreter and a presenter for video chats. This is an area where Microsoft still have significant work underway. In the meantime, Teams now supports both pinning and spotlighting multiple videos. While pinning changes only the participant’s private view, highlighting allows an organiser or presenter to highlight up to seven videos for everyone on the call. Spotlighting also makes videos easier to read which can help if you’re deaf or hard of hearing. As of last month, these features are also available for Microsoft Teams Rooms on Windows. 

Enable a More Accessible Experience in Outlook

Whilst video calls are gaining in popularity, email remains one of the most common ways to collaborate. Microsoft has been adding Outlook features like intelligent writing assistance, powerful dictation features, and contextual accessibility reminders to make creating and reading email a better experience for everyone. 

Compose Emails Confidently with Editor

Writing concise, effective, and appropriate emails can be challenging for those with learning disabilities and certain kinds of neurodivergence. Editor in Outlook for Windows is designed to help you get your message across more effectively and give you more confidence to write and communicate. The editor shows not only spelling and grammar suggestions, but also refinements to improve clarity, conciseness, inclusiveness, and more 

Dictate your Emails with Voice Commands and Auto Punctuation

Outlook for Windows and Mac, along with Word, now supports powerful dictation and voice command functionality. Dictating emails can be much easier than typing for people with disabilities and it is a modern way of interfacing with the world for everyone.  

Microsoft’s latest voice command updates can help you accomplish even more with just your voice, including adding recipients to an email, adding a subject line, mentioning (@name) someone in a message, and sending the email. You can also tell Outlook to delete, bold or italicize text, or turn on auto punctuation to eliminate the need to say things like “full stop” or “comma”. 

Get Reminded to Make your Emails more Accessible

It’s not just about making Outlook more accessible. You also need to make sure that your emails are formatted correctly for recipients. Earlier this year Microsoft introduced MailTip, an accessibility checker that notifies you when inaccessible content is found in your email. For instance, if the yellow text on a white background is detected or if an image lacks alt-text.  

Support Employees’ Mental Health and Wellness with Viva Insights

Mental and emotional health is the world’s largest disability. Promoting them is key to better productivity and engagement at work. Microsoft has developed Microsoft Viva to help people achieve balance, collaborate intelligently, find greater focus, and be their best from wherever they work.  

With the rollout of Viva Insights, Microsoft is putting the strength of their analytics and AI behind helping you prioritise your mental health, focus, and work-life balance.  

viva-insights

Within Viva Insights, the protect time experience helps you avoid distractions and reduce interruptions by booking dedicated time for focused work; a curated set of guided meditations from Headspace encourage mindfulness and reduce stress; and the virtual commute experience helps you set aside time to review and close out your tasks and offload the next day’s tasks to a list so you can mentally let them go during your time off. 

Conclusion

In addition to all the great features highlighted here, Windows 11 was designed with accessibility and inclusion as core principles from the start. The new Surface Adaptive Kit provides a flexible set of tactile labels and opener supports that help users make their devices more accessible.  

Microsoft ensures that their products empower people with disabilities to connect, communicate, and contribute is Microsoft’s core mission, and they are committed to continual improvement in this space.

If you’re looking to find out how to make your Hybrid Work space more inclusive, get in touch with our IT experts.

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