Regina Ramyata RaoFebruary 10, 2021
Topics: Recruiter Experience

Optimizing Virtual Interviews and Building Better Teams with Microsoft [Podcast]

In this episode of our podcast, The Talent Experience Show, Mike Ammerlaan, Director of Ecosystem Marketing for Microsoft 365 at Microsoft shared how his company is transforming remote work with Microsoft Teams.

Integrated communication technologies are proving fruitful globally, especially with teams working outside of the traditional physical office. Through the power of cloud software, Microsoft is creating innovative and creative products to serve dispersed teams, helping to improve collaboration, productivity, and efficiency.

Key takeaways from the show:

  • Tailored virtual workspaces for remote working
  • Integrated tools to achieve higher efficiency and productivity
  • Optimizing virtual interviews
  • The future of remote work and collaboration

Stay tuned for future episodes of The Talent Experience Show! Subscribe using your favorite podcast listening app or platform (including Spotify, Apple podcasts, and Google Play). We'll be diving into talent experience management and the end-to-end talent journey with the greatest in HR, recruiting, talent acquisition, and management.

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Talent Experience Show, this is your look at what's happening right now in recruitment, talent acquisition, talent management and tech, this show is proudly brought to you by Phenom. We are a global tech company with the purpose of helping a billion people find the right job. That is not a typo. Truly a billion. You can learn more about us over at

So if you've been following this podcast from the beginning, you'll know that we kick things off in March. And that was just after Phenom transitioned from working in a super vibrant and cool office environment to going 100% remote, unexpectedly, almost overnight. And it's now almost November and we're still pretty much remote. It's been quite the transition. And I know that this mirrors the experience of countless organizations and employees all across the globe as they've had to navigate some of these shifts in how we work and how we collaborate in response to the pandemic and economic changes.

It's been a super interesting ride for me, an interesting ride for many. And one of the most fascinating observations that I've seen is how integrated communication technology has become in our daily lives and how the tools that we use are becoming more and more important and how they continue to innovate, to serve the needs of the people who use them in light of so many changes. So one of our favorite tools here at Phenom is Microsoft Teams, which if you haven't been paying attention to Microsoft teams, it's really transforming the way that people do work. So without further delay, I'm really excited to bring our guest on today. We have Mike Ammerlaan. He is the Director of Ecosystem Marketing for Microsoft 365 at Microsoft. Of course. Mike, welcome to the show.

Yeah, thanks for having me. Happy to be here. Sounds awesome.

Yeah, I'm excited to have this conversation. You know, we spoke briefly about, you know, your role at Microsoft and some of the awesome things that Teams is doing, and we're excited to also be working on our integration with Microsoft teams. So that kind of kicked off this conversation. But before we jump into a couple of questions, I'm curious if you could tell us a bit about your background at Microsoft, kind of your history with the company, and what is your current role?

Yeah, so I've been actually at Microsoft for about 21 years now. So, you know, in the tech industry, that's at least four lifetimes I think.

But yeah, I've, I've been at Microsoft. You know, one of the great things about Microsoft is that they have so many different things that Microsoft is working on at any one time, whether it's games or commercial software or working on cloud software, those kinds of things. And so throughout my career, I've been able to work on products like SharePoint and Excel and Yammer. I worked on a combat flight simulator for a little while. Those kinds of things typically working on the product side, so focused on building those products. But now I'm on the marketing side and focused on the kinds of experiences that people can build on top of Microsoft 365, which, you know, includes products like Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint includes things like Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and a whole bunch of different ways that people are actually extending and creating their productivity experiences. So it's pretty nifty. I get to see a lot of the cool experiences that people are building to help make people more effective, to help them be more productive, more collaborative, you know, to achieve more fundamentally. And so there's a lot of great perspective that I get to see my role, which is really fantastic.

Yeah. You know, I saw a bit of that firsthand. I started my career as a project manager, and one of my first major projects was a large scale SharePoint implementation for a property management company that had offices all across the United States. And we were bringing in and this was, you know, 14 years ago. This was a long time ago. Right. And managing documents back then, a lot of it was faxing paper documents. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and when we talk about productivity and efficiency and collaboration today, we forget how far we've come. You know, SharePoint was allowing us to scan and really collaborate with documentation in a crazy way that we almost take for granted now. So I think I think everyone has had some direct experience with Microsoft Office suite. We all know Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint. We use those at home and in the office. But for some organizations, if you've never had access to something like a SharePoint or Microsoft teams, I'm curious if you can kind of give a quick elevator pitch or description of what is - Microsoft Teams, and how would you describe its main function in the workplace today?

Yeah, so Microsoft Teams, you know, it starts with this concept of kind of a chat based workspace. So this is a place where your teams can go come together, they can have an open chat space where everyone can sort of add their own inputs and those kinds of things. And then there's a whole raft of other tools around that, things like files, other applications that you can kind of bring into it to kind of help every team to be more collaborative. The other side of it is that it also is your connection to meetings and. If you want to take a Chatbot conversation, one of the meetings around it, you want to extend the conversation, you want to add some video to it, it does that too. But there's this governing philosophy that by pulling together more different workloads into one place and making that more open and transparent for everyone to kind of see and to be able to work upon that you can make everyone a little bit more productive. I mean, I think one of the things that we found is that people are in twice as many teams as they were maybe five or 10 years ago. I think it's in part because there's just this higher need for collaboration inside your company, outside of your company. And so having a tool like teams where all these things can be brought together can really help make people more productive. I think the other side of it, too, is that by having this open workspace, a lot more information becomes easy to consume, easy to see. You don't have to worry as much about who's on the line, who's on the line in the email, such that, for example, if you leave the team, all those emails that you had and all that history of the project would leave along with that, by moving more things into Chat bot workspace, you make the decisions more open, more transparent, more searchable. And so it's kind of a really great way for teams to come together and work and teams, you know, provides all those different facilities all in one place.

Yeah. And a lot of ways it does emulate some aspects of that kind of open office environment, you know, that I think a lot of companies are getting acclimated to and in 2020, when we think about how this year has progressed. Right. The way that we interact and rely on communication and that level of transparency, it's critical. Right. And I think that we're so used to being able to swing our chair around and have a conversation with with our teammates that are in close proximity, you know, whether it's a quick 30 second, you know, kind of powerful quick 30 second chat or even just, hey, you want to go grab grab a room real fast and kind of iron out this problem and come up with a solution? All of those things that happen physically, it now needs to happen virtually or asynchronously. Right. So I'm kind of curious. You know, I'm assuming that if you look at the Microsoft team's product roadmap back in February of twenty twenty, it probably looks a bit different than what the roadmap ended up being. Right. So how quickly and how did the team approach kind of regrouping and then redesigning new features and functionality? Because I know you've been releasing a lot of really awesome stuff and it seems to compliment the situation that so many organizations are in right now.

Yeah, I mean, I think the first challenge was really OK in February, March, we just saw such an uptick in usage. I think things like, for example, your average amount of time that people would spend in meetings and teams would grow by a factor of five, six, seven or eight, those kinds of things. And so, you know, the low that was being pushed on was one change and that was kind of I think speaks a little bit to the power of cloud software, which is OK. Certainly our engineers and our engineering teams were doing some really heroic and sort of, well, big things, I guess I should say, maybe that far. But they're doing a lot of work to kind of make sure that we can scale to handle that load. But because you have cloud software, part one is like it was awesome that it was able to kind of go scale to that. And every organization in the world didn't necessarily have to go scramble to go deploy more servers. And so part one was just keeping up with the load, basically going ahead and really scaling up the overall load that we were serving all these new meetings and all these new customers that were looking to go use it. And so that's part one. But yeah, part two, of course, there's also just the human factors side of more people using meetings. So one of the things we saw, for example, was, you know, meetings would have twice as much video in them as they did before. And, of course, you know, people would be having a lot more meetings. And so we accelerated certain capabilities like noise, cancelation and those kinds of things. If people have background noises and the like, I mean, for example, sometimes maybe people are eating because it's their lunch break or something like that. But you want to kind of cancel out that noise or maybe have that noise.

I think other features, like, for example, the ability for people to in a meeting of, let's say, 30 people, you know, in a in a in a remote meeting, it can be a little bit harder for people to kind of maybe communicate those nonverbal cues of like, hey, I'd like to say something or I'd like to go speak. So having a handrails feature where somebody can basically just indicate that they wish to speak so that people can then go see that and they can go include more people in the conversation. I think a number of features like that where we're pretty important to kind of make meetings of all sizes more effective all up. And then we've done a lot more research in terms of, you know, the things that people are doing and the effects that, for example, having more people spend the entirety of their days in remote meetings and even some of the social changes that we've been doing. A lot more research on that and some of the impacts that that's been having on people and responding to adapting our product roadmap to fit that to.

Yeah, I'm definitely interested in that. So we hear a lot about, you know, video conferencing, fatigue. Right. And kind of just like you said, you're spending half the day in front of your screen - video on, video off, you're still just kind of glued to it almost. And that's certainly been a shift. Are there some additional wellness features or some additional features that you're exploring to kind of combat that or help alleviate some of those challenges?

Yeah, I mean, I think some of the things we were researching, I mean, we have, of course, polling and talking to our customers and all those are different factors. We also have a human factors lab. And so we're actually running experiments even before covid to kind of measure the impact of remote work experiences and attending meetings in those kinds of things. And, you know, one of the things we did was we had folks that were hooked up to EEG devices that would monitor sort of their overall brain waves as they did different tasks for remote work and the like. And what are things we definitely found or definitely saw was that the amount of intensity of, I guess, brain action, so to speak, as you're attending maybe a remote meeting is actually increased. And so, yes, in that sense, the fatigue that you might get from attending a full day of video meetings actually can be increased. And maybe your thoughts are maybe as good as mine in terms of why that is, you know, seeing yourself on camera, seeing other people on camera, just something else that maybe impacts that. But the real implication of that is that, you know, you can start to design features a little bit more differently in the product to kind of reduce that overall cognitive load. And so, for example, we have, you know, a feature that we introduced called Together Mode. And what this does is it actually shows maybe 20 people that are in your meeting. But rather than showing them as just blocks and kind of a wall of faces, you know, it actually puts them in kind of a simulated kind of realistic environment, like you're looking at an auditorium, kind of a view. And we found that this kind of view actually tended to decrease the overall amount of fatigue and those kinds of things that a video meeting might engender on a person. I think the other side of it, of course, is that it also just drives the need for organizations, for teams to actually adapt their practices as well. So as an individual, making sure that maybe you schedule your time for yourself every two hours when fatigue starts to set in, maybe give yourself a five minute break, a 10 minute break, half an hour break and the like and those kinds of things.

And so, you know, also just setting yourself up for having those little breaks throughout the day to kind of give your brain a little bit time to recharge, give yourself time to go focus and go get some work done to know sometimes outside of a meeting like those can be a really big factors in helping reduce the overall impact of the load of those those those meetings and the like.

Yeah, I know. You know, we spoke briefly in the past and we were talking about, you know, for a lot of people, one of the things that is missing in their day is that commute time, you know, being able to kind of separate work life balance physically and temporarily with with the commute, whether it's a 15 minute commute or maybe even a forty five minutes or an hour train ride. You know, being able to find ways to inject some of those breaks in the day can certainly be helpful.

I mean, I think, you know, of course, everyone's familiar with nobody really enjoys forty five minutes of sitting in traffic, but the forty five minutes of listening to a podcast about your favorite sports team or about some other topic, you know, actually it looks like it serves kind of this really valuable role to help people kind of decompress and kind of maybe switch from work mode into home mode or life mode or however you might want to phrase it. And so one of the cool capabilities that we're adding to Microsoft teams, for example, is this kind of concept of a virtual commute to. And basically what it is, is it's kind of a button, you know, inside of Microsoft teams that says, hey, I'm really ready to wind up my day and to wrap it up. And so when you press that, it'll probably ask you to look at some maybe any outstanding tasks just to make sure that you wind down some things that maybe you're looking to complete by the end of the day. But other than that, I think that kind of cue of like, OK, I'm ready to switch out of work life into, you know, again, home life, you know, and those kinds of things, I think can be a huge value and can replicate maybe some of the things that we're getting from our commutes and the like.

Yeah, that's a great employee engagement feature, and in addition to that right now, in addition to providing some of these Much-Needed wellness features, I know that Teams is bolstering collaboration between teams and between cross-functional teams. Phenom recently integrated with Microsoft Teams so that recruiters and hiring managers are individuals that typically have to communicate and collaborate a ton in the hiring process. They now have quicker and streamlined access to candidate profiles, real time interview assessments, scheduling tools to create and manage calls within teams with candidates. We're really excited about this, this integration, because it allows those hiring managers to interact with Phenom workflows, which typically would have been behind an app, an additional log in, an additional tool that they'd have to learn to check frequently. They don't have to do that anymore. Now they are able to just access all of that within what we've been referring to as like your every day app, which would be like Microsoft Teams. So I'm kind of curious, you know, what's the vision for the app ecosystem that you're building in teams? Is it meant to be kind of that one stop location where you can access all the information, all the data you need to collaborate and work throughout the day?

Yeah, I think there's definitely something to be said for kind of the broader concept of flow and focus, which is this idea that, you know, when you get more uninterrupted breaks or you have less things that distract you, you're able to kind of get more work done, you're able to get more creative work done and higher level kinds of things that are available to you. So by bringing more applications into one place, by eliminating things like switching to a different browser, I have to go type in the early. I have to go sign in those kinds of things. Yeah, that takes like forty seconds to go do or something like that. But, but what's more significant about that is that that kind of breaks up your flow, that kind of forces you to switch gears. Now you're looking at different screens, you're looking at different options, a different experience. And so those kinds of context switches and those kinds of things can really sort of decrease the overall net level of productivity in addition to just taking up more time.

You really can change the net perspective of productivity. I mean, we did some research, you know, for example, that found that, OK, you can probably save people about somewhere between something like 60 to one hundred hours a year if you sort of focus on integrating all these different applications together and really putting them together, which, you know, that's two weeks of time of work time that you're saving people that they can go use to go focus on higher level tasks, making strategic decisions, et cetera, et cetera. So it adds up. It adds up to the notion that you have more and more of these tools integrated and all in one place and more discoverable for everyone to go use.

I'd like to point of focus to one of the the features that really stood out to us is that in meeting side panel, you know, that ability to customize kind of what that side panel looks like when you're having conversations with a candidate or you're having video conference conferencing, because typically that would happen an additional tab or window. You know, you would have your notes up and you'd be tapping away from the conversation, you know, unless you had some split screen, but you'd be tapping away from the conversation, losing eye contact with the candidate. And I think that, you know, when we talk about fatigue to a video conference, a lot of it might have to do with the fact that we have so many tabs open at any given time. You know, we have all these different applications running when you can have the essentials in one spot, it feels like it really does promote that level of focus.

Yeah, I mean, out of sight. Out of mind, which unfortunately is probably a little true in the sense of if you don't have that right information, as you're having those conversations, as you're having those meetings, there's a good chance you may not be able to weave it in.

I know, like when I'm doing a presentation, sometimes if I don't have the right things in my notes, despite my best intentions, I kind of forget to present something sometimes, you know? And so it's always something where I'm always trying to make sure that as I'm presenting, I've got the right notes there. Well, you know, this is kind of the same kind of concept, which is as you're having those critical job interviews or those conversations about, you know, meetings and those interviews and those kinds of things, having the right information right in front of you can be the difference between sort of introducing a key point or asking a key question, maybe more significantly and not. And that's a huge deal.

Yeah, definitely, and, you know, from transitioning towards kind of the hiring and talent acquisition space, you know, having been hired, I know you've been with Microsoft for quite a while. So the last time you've been hired was it was quite a while ago, but perhaps you've done some internal interviews as well. And I'm assuming you've also been heavily involved in hiring at Microsoft and being on interview panels. I'm kind of curious now as you're getting deeper into some of the future innovations of teams, what are some of the excited? In ways you think this technology is going to continue to transform the talent acquisition space and kind of how we continue to collaborate with these various workflows?

Yeah, I mean, I think I think my experience as a civilian, if you will, and sort of the broader hiring, you know, I've done some hiring. Yes. There are internal interviews at Microsoft, too.

And so you always want to prep for those and the like. But, you know, you think about the average experience where I've got five other things I'm juggling at any one time, you know, all of these kinds of conversations that are going on. But when it comes time to interview, you want to make sure that you've got the right, the right questions, the right ways to kind of ask about the diversity of people's experiences, their perspectives and the like, so that you can make sure that you do a better job of hiring and focusing on the right kinds of questions that will help somebody really kind of join and be set up for success inside of an organization. And so, you know, when you've got someone like me who's kind of coming into it and doesn't maybe have all the time in the world to kind of, you know, that kind of experience of really hiring, it can be so critical to kind of make sure that as you're having that meeting, as you're prepping for it, having the right questions. And so some of the capabilities of, again, that Phenom has been able to take advantage of for extending meetings are going to make a huge deal and a huge impact, especially when you consider large organizations like Microsoft where you have so many people having to do hiring types of tasks. I think the other really great idea that we're seeing a little bit more of is people. What they'll do is they'll maybe tend to set up teams workspaces just for specific tasks and for specific roles.

And so you can imagine a world where, you know, more talent management experience is hiring experience as well, and maybe set up a workspace for focusing on a job requirement and those kinds of things so that the recruiters and the individuals can collaborate, they can ask questions. They can further hone maybe the strategy for recruiting the right folks to fill this kind of a role. You can have all the materials, the resumes, all those kinds of things in one place.

And so by coalescing all of this data, these conversations, all the documents into one location, you make it so much easier for people to kind of come in, see everything that's going on and make some decisions. And so these kinds of tailored workspaces that are focused on specific tasks like hiring for a position, I think you'll see more of those kinds of experiences manifested in applications like Microsoft teams too.

Yeah, when those conversations about what is the right fit for this role, what skills are required and starting to understand like the early parts of the process when that's all done through email and you mentioned this earlier, you do have to worry about are the right people succeed or are we as everyone in the loop, as everyone involved in these email threads?

And if one email becomes another email and then they start to balloon into multiple threads, it's hard to find information that was previously discussed. So I definitely see that as being such a huge benefit, you know, moving from which would have been either a few close meetings with a few people where the information doesn't get shared at Mass or those email threads that can get unwieldy very quickly into Microsoft teams workspaces.

Yeah, and I think for an organization like Microsoft, at least just speaking for our expanse, I mean, sometimes people change roles, people move to different positions and, you know, even mid-hiring processes and those kinds of things.

And so losing that knowledge that somebody might have or the context that they might have been putting into, you know, how do we want to, you know, find the right person, find the right skills, those kinds of things for this position. You kind of hate to see that get lost when people transition roles and they take their inbox with them, so to speak. And so, yeah, putting more things into a chat based workspace can be a huge help there.

Yeah. The other feature to that that we're experimenting with at Phenom with Microsoft Teams as well is the ability to have kind of a bot be able to respond to frequently asked questions, you know, so being able to free up recruiters and H.R. professionals who typically would have to manually answer a lot of questions that might come through with kind of bot assist it frequently asked questions and providing the right answers and context that I think that'd be super helpful for our teams, especially to kind of win back some time in their day so that they can focus on more meaningful activities. Awesome. Well, Mike, this has been great. I have one quick question and then I will turn it over to you as well. If you have any final thoughts or anything you want to share. I'm very curious always on what the future of work looks like in particular, particularly after 2020, what the future of remote work will look like. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on what that's going to look like. Also, if you think it's here to stay, you know, one of the things that I'm really wondering is, are companies as kind of the pandemic becomes more and more under control. Are companies eager to go back to the workplace? Do you think that companies are settling into remote work and kind of unlocking productivity and efficiency and they will continue down that path just in your conversations and in your observations? I'd love to, you know, have some kind of quick final thoughts. Know what you're thinking?

Yeah. I mean, I think that when we talk to people when we do some surveys, I think we did a survey where we found something like 82 percent of managers expect to probably have more flexible work from home policies.

And it was something like 70 odd percent. I should know the exact number, something like 70 percent of people expect to actually take advantage of more flexible work policies that their organizations might put into place. So I think some facet of, you know, maybe every meeting will have kind of a virtual component through something like Microsoft teams to capture the folks that might be working in remote locations, being able to kind of better fit the kind of lifestyle that they want and those kinds of things. I think some facets of that are definitely going to be here to stay and the like for sure. I do think that for as great as teams are and for as great as it is to be able to, for example, have meetings to connect with your colleagues, to ask them how their weekend is. All that kind of good fun stuff. I know I personally sort of look forward to getting back to the workplace, being able to just water cooler, chat literally over the well coffee maker anyway, those kinds of things. I think there's still something to be said for that kind of connection that you get from in-person meetings, even if it's just every two months or something like that. There's a huge benefit there. So I do think, know, yes, there will be a great new flexibility that people get. But having those in-person sync ups, whether it's every day inside the office, maybe it's four days a week, maybe three days a week, I think that that will be something that we all kind of gratefully return to. I know I will gratefully return to as well. And I think for the most part, you know, probably have some sense of return to kind of everyone working in one office, one location. I mean, I think of, for example, of the folks on my team that were hired post covid post shutdown or shelter in place. I feel like those people must be having an extra hard experience because they don't have that benefit of being able to go down the hall and ask someone to tap on their desk and say, hey, quick question about this. And that, of course, they can do one on one chat. And that's a huge capability of an application like Microsoft teams. But there's still kind of you know, different people have different engagement styles and the fact that some of our new hires are missing, that ability to just kind of ask somebody over their shoulder or a question like, I feel like that, that's kind of suboptimal thing. Fundamentally, it's not great.

And I always have said, you know, there's there's definitely some unique value in multiple disciplines, not just in marketing, not just in H.R., but in multiple disciplines to creatively solve a problem with a group of really smart people in a whiteboard, you know, and just kind of get into the room and kind of let kind of the. I don't want to use the word magic because it's a little intangible, but kind of what the magic of being in the same space and kind of attacking the same problem and letting it be open to wherever the conversation goes. I haven't seen one hundred percent emulated over video conferencing, you know, and I haven't seen one specific technology solution be able to kind of emulate that kind of magic. So I agree. Like, I definitely think there are elements of the remote work and flexibility that will be here to stay as well. But then I always think we'll be craving and trying to find and obtain kind of those moments, whether it be the water cooler talk, the over the shoulder conversations or those whiteboarding sessions. So it'll be interesting to see what happens. Mike, thank you so much. Any parting words before we close out today?

No, no. I look forward to the integrations getting released and seeing how people react to it. I mean, I do feel like, you know, meetings are that's where decisions get made. That's where big things happen. And so, you know, yes, there are always meetings that are not as effective as you might like.

But any chance to kind of really make a meeting, a better experience, especially something like a hiring meeting so critical, like I think it'll be I'm really looking forward to Phenom integration to a number of these other integrations, like maybe some whiteboarding ones, you know, sort of really come out and start to help people have better and more focused means. I think it's it's it'll be really exciting.

Yeah. Well, we definitely appreciate partnering with you. We're excited for our integration as well.

We appreciate your purpose and mission over Microsoft teams to kind of bring that focus and bring that flow to you, to all of us who are, you know, working hard to continue to provide value to our various organizations. Mike, thank you again. I appreciate it. And looking forward to continuing the conversation with you. Yeah. Thanks for having me. Great conversation.

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