On September 30, 2015, Microsoft announced some new changes coming to Outlook on the web, and I like them! Alright, I can almost hear the collective groan, but I couldn't resist. The update, which began its rollout immediately to those customers on the Office 365 First Release program (with Exchange Online) brings a new dimension of collaboration to organizations.
Microsoft is hoping that the common social functions made commonplace by companies such as Instagram and Facebook will become equally addictive within Outlook. The update also brings another common social dimension into Outlook, the "@Mention" feature, which refers to a person by their handle, first or complete name, depending on their social setup. The @Mention feature can be used when you want to ensure that someone is getting the information you post into a conversation or email. In some social environments such as Yammer, @Mentions are used to call someone’s attention to a specific action or request.
In Outlook on the web, typing the @ symbol into the body of an email will open a dialog box with your frequent contacts as well as access to your corporate directory. Selecting the individual for the @Mention will have them added to the To: line and their name will be highlighted in blue when the message is sent. The recipient will also receive an @ flag next to the message when they view their inbox. In addition, @Mentions will include their own column and therefore can be sorted by the user and within various Outlook views.
Made popular by Facebook, the Like feature has become commonplace in today's social society, and with this update to Outlook on the web, Microsoft is hoping it will become a fixture in the workplace as well. Generally speaking, "Liking" something is an expression that you agree with the statement, or position being taken. Instagram, the photo sharing app has a similar feature where users can "like" the pictures of their connections.
By adding the Like feature, Microsoft can be taking this initial step towards the social world in an attempt to be more “fun”. Building Office 365 into this context, Microsoft may be targeting the next generation of users; looking to those who have become Gmail users simply because it was provided by their educational institution or commonplace amongst friends. Either way, it will be interesting to see if Gmail follows this social trend into their offerings.
What does a “like” mean in a corporate setting?
In a corporate setting, this may prove to be a tough sell for the organization to get behind, as it forces the quantification of what a "like" is. If someone "likes" a post, does that condone the action? For example, if someone emails their boss with a vacation request, and that individual "likes" the post, is the vacation considered approved? Functionally, hitting the "like" button will create an automatic email that is sent to the sender to advise them of the action. Organizations will certainly need to revisit their approval processes for this reason. At the same time, receiving this feedback following a positive update email to a large team could reap benefits on its own. It saves the receiver from sending a larger, longer message and simply shows support for the content.
For companies to succeed with this feature strategically, each will have to review their approval processes and set expectations around the feature and what a “like” truly denotes.