Microsoft’s Windows 11 Hybrid Work Event: What to expect

Microsoft will reveal next week how the company is building Windows for the future of hybrid work. A special event, Windows Powers the Future of Hybrid Work, will take place on April 5 and will feature Windows and Surface chief Panos Panay and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. It should cover a variety of new Windows 11 features for security, productivity, and management, both in the client and in the cloud.

So what exactly will we see next week? We’ll likely get a glimpse of Microsoft’s vision for creating Windows for a new world of remote work. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlighted the importance of the shift to hybrid working for Microsoft. “Hybrid working represents the biggest shift in how we work in our generation,” Nadella said last year. “And that will require a new operating model, spanning people, places and processes.”

Microsoft has made several changes to Microsoft Teams throughout the pandemic, making it easier to use for attendees and remote workers adapting to the reality of hybrid working. While Windows 11 includes a few improvements for multiple monitors, multitasking, and Teams integration, it’s clear that Microsoft has room to squeeze a lot more into the core of the operating system.

A smarter clipboard

One of the first new Windows 11 features we’re expecting next week is a smart clipboard. Windows 11 already has a clipboard where you can store and paste multiple items, but Microsoft has been working on suggestions for actions you can take with your clipboard items. These can be suggestions to call a number via Microsoft Teams or Skype if you’ve copied one, or send an email if you’ve copied an email address.

References to this smart clipboard and suggested actions feature have appeared in recent development versions of Windows 11, so it’s likely to be a productivity feature that Microsoft will highlight.

Tabs in File Explorer

Another feature that appeared in recent development versions of Windows 11 is tabs in File Explorer. This much-requested feature first appeared as bundles in Windows 10, before Microsoft canceled plans to bring tabs to every app. Now it looks like tabs are set to return to File Explorer soon in Windows 11.

Support for tabs is currently hidden in development builds of Windows 11, and Microsoft said last month it would start testing experimental features in Windows 11 that may never ship. File Explorer tabs may just be an experiment, but if Microsoft is aiming to improve Windows 11 productivity, this feature looks like a perfect example for its April 5 event.

Tabs in File Explorer.
Image: Raphael Rivera (Twitter)

A new Windows Mail app

The built-in Mail app for Windows 11 needs a total overhaul, and it looks like it’s on the way. Microsoft has tested a new Outlook app that will eventually replace its built-in email app on Windows. Codenamed Monarch or “One Outlook”, the app was first leaked over a year ago as a web-based, lightweight alternative to the win32 Outlook app.

ZDNet recently reported that Microsoft plans to officially announce this new Outlook app in the spring, so the April 5 event seems like as good a time as any.

Microsoft Teams and a 3D metaverse

Microsoft has promised to bring 3D avatars to Microsoft Teams in the first half of 2022, so it’s likely we’ll take a close look at them next week. These new 3D avatars are designed to combat meeting fatigue, so you don’t always have to have your webcam on. They’re also part of a larger push towards a metaverse environment for Microsoft, and you won’t need to put on a VR headset to use them. Microsoft will use AI to listen to your voice and then animate those avatars accordingly.

We’ll also likely see some of Microsoft’s visions for the future of hybrid working and the metaverse with Windows 11 and Microsoft 365. Microsoft has been building immersive meetings for Teams and a full Microsoft Mesh platform over the past year, and Nadella is optimistic about the metaverse.

Picture: Microsoft

“We feel very well positioned to be able to catch what I think is essentially the next wave of the internet,” Nadella said on Microsoft’s earnings call earlier this year. “I think the next wave of the internet will be a more open world where people can create their own metaverse worlds, whether they’re organizations, game developers, or anyone else.”

We also expect to see other Teams features and perhaps additional integration in Windows 11. Microsoft already has a Teams client built into Windows 11, but companies need to install another to use work accounts. Cleaning up Windows 11 should undoubtedly be part of Microsoft’s plans to improve hybrid working with Windows 11.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft has added many productivity and security features to its Edge browser to set it apart from Chrome, Firefox and others. We expect to see more additions focused on hybrid working and productivity.

Edge’s PDF reader looks set to include some much-needed improvements soon with full support for a table of contents, thumbnails, and more. Reddit users have also spotted the return of a Workspaces feature, which essentially functions as a virtual desktop for your browser. Microsoft originally started testing this feature last year, and the latest Edge Canary builds show it might be on the way to a return.

A new option for Edge workspaces.
Image: Leoparda64-2 (Reddit)

Security and management

It wouldn’t be a business-focused Microsoft event without some security and management announcements. We expect Microsoft to announce new security and management features for Windows 11 and Windows 365 next week. These will likely fall under Microsoft’s broad Endpoint Manager, which includes Intune, Autopilot, and Configuration Manager.

Microsoft is on a mission to improve security in Windows 11, especially with its TPM and Secure Boot requirements. A recent addition is a vulnerable driver block list for Windows Defender, and we expect to see more improvements to protect Windows 11 from remote work hassles.

The edge will be covering Microsoft’s Windows event on April 5, so stay tuned for all the latest news.

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Steven L. Nielsen