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What Microsoft Japan’s Successful 4-Day Week Suggests About Work-Life Balance

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Topline: Microsoft’s Japan office experimented with a four day workweek in August, resulting in a 40% productivity boost, with over 90% of employees reporting they preferred the shorter week⁠—which aligns with previous studies that show greater work-life balance makes for more productive employees.

  • In addition to a burst of productivity, Microsoft Japan reported it used about 23% less electricity and printed around 59% fewer pages during the experiment.
  • Microsoft Japan will conduct a second experiment over the winter and will encourage more flexible working, but it won’t include the shorter work week.
  • But previous studies show that giving employees more flexibility increases productivity; a New Zealand company permanently adopted the four day workweek in 2018, after a trial resulted in a 24% productivity increase.
  • The Harvard Business Review reported that a Chinese travel agency experienced a 13% productivity boost when it allowed call center employees to work from home.
  • In the U.S., a 2017 Stanford University study found the average worker is willing to give up 20% of their pay to avoid their schedule being set with short notice, and 8% of their pay in exchange for the option to work from home.
  • A work-from-anywhere program for patent examiners at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office showed productivity gains of 4.4%, according to a 2019 working paper by the Harvard Business School.

Big number: 80 hours.That was the length of a required workweek for 25% of Japanese companies in 2016, according to CNBC.

Key background: Japan’s culture of overwork first made headlines in 2015, when a Dentsu employee died by suicide on Christmas Day after working excessive overtime, and again in 2017, when a Japanese reporter died after clocking 159 hours of overtime the month before her death. Since then, prime minister Shinzo Abe has introduced “workstyle reform” to Japan, including an annual cap of 720 overtime hours per person. Although workstyle reform’s intent is to get big companies to improve their productivity internally, the Japanese government acknowledged the burden of overwork might be passed onto small and medium businesses as a result.

Today In: Business

Surprising fact: As a result of their brutal working culture, the Japanese coined the term “karoshi,” meaning “death by overwork.”

Tangent: Despite studies that show benefits to the four day workweek, it’s not universally favored by executives. Some owners have employees work on Friday when there’s a holiday the following Monday. Others have reduced vacation time to make up for the extra weekly day off. And one Portland, Oregon tech firm experimented with a four day workweek before returning to a five day schedule, because the owner realized a shorter week meant its competitors had a leg up.

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I’m a New York-based journalist covering breaking news at Forbes. I hold a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Previous bylines: Gotham Gazette, Bklyner, Thrillist, Task & Purpose, and xoJane.

Source: What Microsoft Japan’s Successful 4-Day Week Suggests About Work-Life Balance

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After spending August experimenting with a four-day work week in a country notorious for overwork, Microsoft Japan said sales per employee rose 40% compared with the same month last year. The “Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019” saw full-time employees take off five consecutive Fridays in August with pay, as well as shortening meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes and encouraging online chats over face-to-face ones. Among workers responding to a survey about the program, 92% said they were pleased with the four-day week, the software maker’s Japan affiliate said in a report on its website on Oct. 31. Japan has been struggling to bring down some of the world’s longest working hours as it confronts a labor shortage and rapidly aging population. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to make workplaces more flexible and reduce overtime has drawn mixed reviews. The summer trial also cut costs at Microsoft Japan, with 23% less electricity consumed and 59% fewer pages printed compared with August 2018, according to the report. Some Microsoft Japan managers still didn’t understand the changes in working styles and some employees expressed concern that shorter workweeks would bother clients. Microsoft Japan plans to hold another work-life challenge in winter. Employees won’t get special paid days off, but will be encouraged to take time off on their own initiative “in a more flexible and smarter way.” Subscribe to our YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/2TwO8Gm TICTOC ON SOCIAL: Follow TicToc on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tictoc Like TicToc on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tictoc Follow TicToc on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tictoc Subscribe to our newsletter: https://bit.ly/2FJ0oQZ TicToc by Bloomberg is global news for the life you lead. We are a 24/7 news network that covers breaking news, politics, technology, business and entertainment stories from around the globe, supported by a network of Bloomberg’s 2,700 journalists across 120 countries.

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The First 5 Minutes of Microsoft’s Surface Presentation Included 4 Expert Public Speaking Skills

Microsoft Chief Product Officer, Panos Panay, unveiled new products on Wednesday that generated a lot of buzz. The products including Surface tablets, laptops and the company’s new smartphone, the Surface Duo. But it was the first five minutes of the presentation that caught my attention.

Last year Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put Panay in charge of all the company’s hardware devices. Panay’s also one of the best presenters I’ve seen in years–in any company. Panay used four advanced storytelling, presentation and speaking techniques that will make you a more effective communicator. Here, I’ll take a deeper look at what he did.

1. Don’t start with products.

People don’t buy products; they buy feelings. The best presenters establish a feeling before explaining a product’s features and demos. Panay established the theme of his presentation in the first two minutes. He showed a video of his daughter, Sophia, playing the piano. He said,

“In order for Sophia to play her best, that piano has to be ready. It has to be tuned perfectly. The bench has to be the right height, her sheet music at eye level.”

Panay was making the point that when the instrument–the technology– is right, it allows Sophia to unleash her creative talent. “When all the pieces line up, you can stop thinking. You’re just inspired to play better.” Panay has just made an emotional connection with the audience and framed the products as much more than new hardware–they’re instruments to help them unleash their inspired creativity.

2. Tell customer stories.

Panay’s first slides showed photos of several people–real customers with inspiring stories. For example, he showed a picture of Steve Gleason, a former professional football player diagnosed with ALS. Gleason is an advocate for Microsoft’s products that help people living with disabilities. Another photo showed Collete Davis, a race-car driver who runs her career like a startup–using Microsoft hardware, of course.

As humans, we’re wired for stories. We think in story, talk about stories, and enjoy information delivered in narrative form. Tell more stories to win people over.

3. Use multimedia to engage the audience.

Stories are engaging, as are photos and videos. We are not wired to engage with text and bullet points on slide. And that’s why there were no bullet points in Panay’s presentation. In fact, the first slide with text appeared ten minutes into the presentation–and even then, it was only one sentence.

Most presenters don’t use video, but they should. People love video. Research shows that videos and images are far more engaging than text alone. But communicators are often reluctant to insert videos into their presentations as Panay did when she showed his daughter playing piano.

Neuroscientists have found that visual and verbal information are encoded in different parts of our brain. University of Washington molecular biologist, John Medina, has addressed the phenomenon in his research. Simply put, Information that’s presented in text, pictures and video for is more richly encoded. Adding a video is more likely to stamp your idea on another person’s brain.

4. Connect with the audience.

Panay uses a speaking style that requires confidence and practice. You can see him in action in the video of the event. From time to time, Panay steps off the stage and walks among the audience members as he delivers information about the products. He’s not relying on notes or a prompter as he does so. Panay hits his marks and makes it look effortless because he’s put in the practice time to make the presentation great.

Delivering a great presentation doesn’t come naturally to most people. Presentations that leave a strong impression on the audience requires creativity and practice. When you get access to an expert like Panos Panay, it’s worth investing the time to watch his performance.

By: Carmine Gallo Keynote speaker and author, ‘Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great

Source: The First 5 Minutes of Microsoft’s Surface Presentation Included 4 Expert Public Speaking Skills

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Watch as Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay talks about the importance of technology fading to the background and how these products can help you achieve more. Microsoft products, a symphony of technology between Windows, Surface, Office and AI, are designed to amplify your ideas, get you into your flow and let you build what’s in your mind and heart. Like an instrument, our products, our technology fades to the background so you can focus on your craft. Learn more at http://msft.social/PPTech

 

Microsoft Just Announced the Surface Neo and Surface Duo and It Could Be Bad News for Apple

Microsoft has always been a software company. It’s what make it the most valuable company on earth (twice), and it’s what makes it so interesting that the company has been making some serious hardware for a few years now. And when I say serious hardware, I mean it’s seriously good. I’m not a Windows user, and you’d have to pry my MacBook Pro out of my cold, dead hands if you tried to make me switch, but I will freely admit: Microsoft has some serious design chops.

New Surface Devices

Take, for example, the slate of new products the company introduced yesterday, like the updated versions of the Surface Laptop, including a 15-inch model. The Surface Laptop 3, as it’s called, also finally gets USB-C, which is long overdue. It’s impressive, but it’s not even close to the highlight of the event, at least from the standpoint of innovation.

That would be the introduction of two new dual-screen devices, the Surface Neo and Duo. It’s actually not even a new concept. Microsoft worked on a similar product called Courier back in 2008, though it canceled the project two years later without ever it being released.

The Surface Duo.Courtesy Microsoft

Surface Duo

The most interesting thing about the smaller of the two devices, known as Surface Duo, is that it’s a Microsoft product that runs Android. Which is because it’s a foldable smartphone, though Microsoft really doesn’t want you to call it a phone.

But it is. It’s a foldable smartphone, which unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, avoids the messy technical problems of foldable screens. Instead, this one has two screens and opens like a book. Instead of focusing on futuristic display technology that isn’t quite ready for prime time, Microsoft is focusing on the user experience.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella told Wired magazine that “The operating system is no longer the most important layer for us…What is most important for us is the app model and the experience.” Which is probably why it doesn’t run Windows Mobile.

Surface Neo

The larger device, known (at least for now) as Surface Neo is a dual-screen device with a moveable keyboard that attaches magnetically and charges wirelessly. You can place it over one of the screens, and it covers about two-thirds of that screen, leaving space for a virtual touchpad (at the bottom) or what Microsoft calls Wunderbar (at the top).  The latter feature is sort of like a giant version of Apple’s Touch Bar.

The Surface Neo. Courtesy Microsoft

What’s really interesting about Microsoft’s strategy here is that the device will run a variant of the company’s operating system known as Windows X, which will also reportedly power future dual-screen devices from Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and HP.

This incarnation finally begs the question of whether the world needs a dual-screen device, and if so, for what?

Interestingly, both devices will be able to run different apps across both screens, or in some cases, span both displays, opening up a range of potential uses. For example, Microsoft points out that you can arrange the displays back to back to present PowerPoint slides on the front, while viewing your notes on the reverse side.

And, according to Georg Petschnigg, CIO of WeTransfer and the CEO of Fifty Three–the developers of the popular Paper app–the Duo especially has major creative potential. “Mobile creation and productivity has great potential. I would not be surprised if Google and Microsoft invest in a new App Store based on Android for the Duo,” Petschnigg told me.

A Real Challenge to Apple?

In fact, I think you could argue Microsoft has done something that many tech observers and creative entrepreneurs (like me) would have never thought possible: transitioning from making boring software like spreadsheets and email servers, to a company that now rivals Apple in terms of design and user experience.

Microsoft won’t actually start selling either device until the holiday season in 2020, more than a year away at this point. Normally, tech companies keep innovative new products under wraps until they’re almost ready to ship, but in this case Microsoft is putting it out there for the world to see.

You might even say it’s putting the world–and companies like Apple–on notice.

By: Jason Aten

Source: Microsoft Just Announced the Surface Neo and Surface Duo and It Could Be Bad News for Apple | Inc.com

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Microsoft’s 2019 Surface event was filled with big announcements, including the Surface Neo dual-screened device that runs Windows 10X, the Android-powered Surface Duo, and the Surface Pro X that’s built with a custom Qualcomm SQ1 chipset. The Surface Pro 7’s debut wasn’t much of a shock, but there were other surprises, too, like the new Surface Earbuds, and the debut of a Surface Laptop 3, which will be available in 13- or 15-inch sizes. Read more: http://bit.ly/2n1n9I0 Microsoft Surface Neo first look: http://bit.ly/2owUIC3 Surface Laptop 3 hands-on: http://bit.ly/2ovb5za Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 7 hands-on: http://bit.ly/2owDKnv Surface Earbuds hands-on: http://bit.ly/2n4Dpbi Subscribe: http://goo.gl/G5RXGs Like The Verge on Facebook: https://goo.gl/2P1aGc Follow on Twitter: https://goo.gl/XTWX61 Follow on Instagram: https://goo.gl/7ZeLvX Why’d You Push That Button Podcast: https://pod.link/1295289748 The Vergecast Podcast: https://pod.link/430333725 More about our podcasts: https://www.theverge.com/podcasts Read More: http://www.theverge.com Community guidelines: http://bit.ly/2D0hlAv Wallpapers from The Verge: https://bit.ly/2xQXYJr Subscribe to Verge Science on YouTube, a new home base for our explorations into the future of science: http://bit.ly/2FqJZMl

Microsoft Just Lost A Big Fight With America’s Top Huawei Prosecutor

Newly unsealed court documents have revealed a secret legal battle between Microsoft and one of America’s leading prosecutors focused on chasing Chinese technology companies breaking U.S. law.

U.S. attorney Alexander Solomon—who also happens to be the lead prosecutor on two criminal cases involving Huawei—just scored a big victory in that tussle, forcing Microsoft to keep quiet about a demand to hand over customer emails.

That request was originally filed in August 2018 and was followed by a gag order. Both were kept secret until Wednesday, when it emerged Microsoft was told to hand over emails, text messages and voicemails belonging to two employees at one of its unnamed enterprise customers. Microsoft said that while it could provide the data, it should be allowed to inform executives at that unnamed company. It asked the government to lift a gag order that had prevented it from informing anyone. As revealed in a Microsoft blog post and court documents unsealed Wednesday, the software giant lost that fight, though it will appeal.

Nothing was said about why the government wanted those emails. But there are numerous indications the data grab is related to America’s fight against Chinese businesses’ breaches of U.S. law.

Today In: Innovation

To start, the prosecutors in the case are both leading high-profile cases into various offenses committed by Chinese nationals and businesses against the U.S. And one, Alexander Solomon, is the lead prosecutor in two cases in which Huawei is at the center.

The biggest is the one in which Huawei stands accused of illegally exporting equipment to Iran from the U.S. via a subsidiary called Skycom, and then repeatedly lying about the deals. Not only were Huawei, its U.S. business and Skycom charged, so was the daughter of the Huawei CEO and the current CFO, Wanzhou Meng, who is currently fighting extradition from Canada. Huawei has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The Huawei entities were, in January this year, charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (lEEPA), a law that Trump recently used to enforce sanctions on Iran. As per court documents detailing the order on Microsoft, the two employees of the unnamed customer are suspected of similar crimes, namely wire fraud, money laundering and breaches of lEEPA.

Going deeper, those staff at the Microsoft customer are being investigated for working for one multinational corporation and conspiring with another to violate the lEEPA. They did so “by sending and attempting to send U.S. origin goods to [a company] in [a foreign country], in contravention of U.S. sanctions,” according to a court filing.

The name of the customer remains a mystery. It’s unlikely to be Huawei, though. That’s because Microsoft was asked to hand over the emails of two “low-level employees in one business unit of a multinational, publicly listed Microsoft customer.” Huawei is not publicly listed; its private ownership has, in fact, been the subject of much speculation. Though it claims to be owned by its employees, academics have suggested that’s misleading.

The prosecutor, Solomon, is also leading a case against Chinese professor Bo Mao, who has been accused of stealing technology from a California company for a Chinese company, reportedly Huawei. Mao has pleaded not guilty on a single charge of wire fraud.

Huawei hadn’t responded to a request for comment on the above cases. Microsoft also hadn’t provided comment. The prosecutor’s office declined to comment.

Microsoft’s fight with the U.S.

But Microsoft had a lot to say in court filings and a blog post about the government’s attempts to completely silence the maker of the Windows operating system.

It argued that 20 years ago, the government would go directly to the company that controlled the data, not its cloud-based tech supplier. Microsoft said it was “disturbing” that governments were now going to tech companies instead. And it therefore should be allowed to at least tell employees at an affected company about a government data grab, as long as it wouldn’t jeopardize an investigation. “The government cannot justify such a total ban on Microsoft’s speech,” the company’s lawyers said.

Dev Stahlkopf, Microsoft’s corporate vice president and general counsel, said the company would “continue to stand up for the principle that our customers are entitled to know when the government obtains their data.”

“Absent extraordinary circumstances, government agents should seek data directly from our enterprise customers, and if they seek our customers’ data from us, they should allow us to tell our customers when demands are made,” Stahlkopf added.

“We believe strongly that these fundamental protections should not disappear just because customers store their data in the cloud rather than in file cabinets or desk drawers.”

Microsoft has also been vocal about restrictions on American companies doing business with Huawei. Company president Brad Smith recently said the U.S. should revisit the ban preventing Microsoft and others from letting Huawei run American software.

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I’m associate editor for Forbes, covering security, surveillance and privacy. I’ve been breaking news and writing features on these topics for major publications since 2010. As a freelancer, I worked for The Guardian, Vice Motherboard, Wired and BBC.com, amongst many others. I was named BT Security Journalist of the year in 2012 and 2013 for a range of exclusive articles, and in 2014 was handed Best News Story for a feature on US government harassment of security professionals. I like to hear from hackers who are breaking things for either fun or profit and researchers who’ve uncovered nasty things on the web. Tip me on Signal at 447837496820. I use WhatsApp and Treema too. Or you can email me at TBrewster@forbes.com, or tbthomasbrewster@gmail.com.

Source: Microsoft Just Lost A Big Fight With America’s Top Huawei Prosecutor

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Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou returned to British Columbia Supreme Court on September 23, 2019 to fend off her extradition case. At the hearing, attorney Richard Peck alleged that Canadian authorities delayed Meng’s arrest in an effort to collect evidence for U.S. authorities, conducting a “covert criminal investigation” in the process. Subscribe to us on YouTube: https://goo.gl/lP12gA Download our APP on Apple Store (iOS): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cctvn… Download our APP on Google Play (Android): https://play.google.com/store/apps/de… Follow us on: Website: https://www.cgtn.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChinaGlobalT… Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cgtn/?hl=zh-cn Twitter: https://twitter.com/CGTNOfficial Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/CGTNOfficial/ Tumblr: http://cctvnews.tumblr.com/ Weibo: http://weibo.com/cctvnewsbeijing Douyin: http://v.douyin.com/aBbmNQ/

If You Want to Grow Like Google, Make These Important Culture Moves at Your Office

Google might be a successful behemoth now, but at one time, it was a startup going through some serious growing pains. At one point in its aggressive development, co-founder Larry Page reportedly scrapped the company’s burgeoning middle management level. He quickly discovered that, despite his preferences, an additional supervisory layer was necessary to successfully scale operations without major hiccups.

Therein lies a major problem with scaling: It doesn’t just involve getting progressively bigger, like a blown-up balloon. Instead, its shape morphs as new needs arise, such as heightened employee responsibilities and changing customer expectations. And plenty of smart leaders ignore these red flags when they’re growing at breakneck speed.

What are some of those indicators of runaway growth? Team burnout might as well be a neon sign. Another problem is dwindling capital with no real profit sources in sight. Of course, unhappy customers are a sure side effect of unhinged expansion.

If you’re increasing revenue, you may be tempted to keep your foot on the pedal instead of tapping the brakes. Don’t halt your forward momentum, but remain open to addressing a few issues that will make scaling less challenging — and more rewarding — for all stakeholders.

Here are three ways you can help your office’s culture grow with the pace of your fast growing company:

1. Define and direct your team’s new cultural journey.

When you’re a 10-person shop, your culture may look and function like a big family. When you hit the 50- or 100-employee mark, complete with remote workers, you can’t sustain the same kind of atmosphere. That’s OK, but it means you need to rethink your team’s collective identity.

If you haven’t established your corporate purpose or vision, now’s the time. Choose a few main value points, and create robust statements around them. After you’ve run your ideas by trusted colleagues and tweaked them as necessary, release your vision so everyone’s on the same page.

Certainly, your culture will evolve as you get bigger. Google didn’t stay static; neither should your company. Nevertheless, establishing your corporate DNA before you get exceptionally large will help everyone remain true to your vision, even as changes naturally occur.

One of the biggest impacts I’ve seen on culture is to align everyone around shared values. The process of discussing the behaviors exhibiting each value has helped many of my clients create teams that work together toward a common goal.

2. Keep your head in the present moment.

Although you’ll need to project into the future, you can’t lose sight of your current growth stage. As a leader, your job is to be both a pragmatist and a visionary. Even as your world swirls with opportunities, you owe it to your workers to take the team’s capacity into account and establish a healthy baseline.

Are your people up to the challenges you’re about to face? Do they have the training and capabilities to handle emerging roles? Never make assumptions — they’ll always backfire. As you prepare for the next adventure, be open to upskilling staff and perhaps even shifting employees into different roles.

Experiment with new org charts, seeing which ones fit current and anticipated needs. Google’s Page quickly walked back his experiment in eliminating middle management, yet focusing on getting the right people in the right roles was crucial to Google’s success at that stage. Through trial and error, you can determine which employee, organization, revenue and profit restructures make the most sense to propel your business forward.

3. Discover and address operational bottlenecks.

When Page eliminated mid-level managers, he quickly realized that having one executive with 100 engineers reporting to him wouldn’t turn out well. Situations like that are bound to result in bottlenecks. Every fast-growing business experiences bottlenecks in areas like hiring, customer service and operations.

Some bottlenecks are relatively obvious, making them easier to fix. If an employee has so much paperwork to deal with that he’s become a living traffic jam, you need to streamline your processes — the problem is apparent, and you can intervene immediately.

Other issues may be buried deep within systems and supply chains, making them tough to pinpoint. For those situations, AI can provide critical insights. AI platforms can analyze thousands of data points at once, spotting problems that might take years to bubble to the surface.

You may or may not one day compete with the likes of Google. If you stick around, though, your organization will inevitably need to scale. The more you focus on thoughtfully navigating the experience, the better your outcome will be.

By: Gene Hammett

 

Source: If You Want to Grow Like Google, Make These Important Culture Moves at Your Office | Inc.com

@Ade Oshineye presents from the Google Developers Summit on how you as a developer can grow with Google+, namely highlighting: Reach, user acquisiton and conversion, user engagement and retention, and finally, when needed, re-engagement. #developer   #developers

Microsoft Crunched Reams of Employee Data. This Was the Ideal Number of Hours for a Leader to Work

As anyone who follows baseball or saw the 2011 film Moneyball knows, America’s favorite pastime now runs on data. Players are monitored on a minute level, generating a flood of statistics that both players and managers use to make better decisions. What would happen if we tried the same approach to leadership, Microsoft recently wondered?

What came next is the subject of a fascinating recent New York Times article by Neil Irwin, chronicling the effort of Microsoft HR manager Dawn Klinghoffer and Ryan Fuller, the founder of a data analysis startup, VoloMetrix, acquired by Microsoft, to wring insights from employees’ calendar and email metadata.

The long piece is centered on a mystery: why did people hate working at Microsoft’s hardware division so much (spoiler: the answer is mostly meeting bloat) and is a great read if you have a half hour to spare. But in the course of teasing out this answer, Irwin also reveals a few short, easy-to-digest takeaways of the project that can help anyone become a better leader.

1. Long hours are a sign of a bad leader.

Being a leader is an intense job, so we often expect that those at the top are going to need to put in intense hours. Not so, according to Microsoft’s data on managers. In fact, the analysis showed, “that people who worked extremely long work weeks were not necessarily more effective than those who put in a more normal 40 to 50 hours.”

Leaders, in particular, saw negative effects when they worked long hours. “When managers put in lots of evening and weekend hours, their employees started matching the behavior and became less engaged in their jobs, according to surveys,” notes Irwin.

Decades of research shows that while short bursts of overtime are fine, consistently clocking more than 40 hours a week leads to a marked drop off in productivity, so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. But with hustle porn so popular today, there are still plenty of leaders who haven’t gotten this message. Microsoft’s results should be one more nail in the coffin of the idea that routine long hours are a sign of a great leader.

2. One-on-one meetings are gold.

While the entire Microsoft project could be seen as one big indictment of bloated meetings, that doesn’t mean all get togethers are bad. In fact, the analysis suggested that one type in particular is essential if you aim to be a great leader.

“One of the strongest predictors of success for middle managers was that they held frequent one-on-one meetings with the people who reported directly to them,” writes Irwin.

3. Wide networks beat deep ones.

Everyone knows that who you know is key to business success, but exactly what sort of contacts are best? The Microsoft data provided a clear answer. When it comes to climbing the ladder, it’s not the depth of your connections that matter most, it’s the breadth.

“People who made lots of contacts across departments tended to have longer, better careers within the company. There was even an element of contagion, in that managers with broad networks passed their habits on to their employees,” Irwin reports.

Again, this jives with previous research showing that having an open network — i.e. being the type of person who connects different groups and knows people in a broad array of social and professional circles — is one of the best predictors of career success, not just for managers, but for everyone.

But just because these findings aren’t totally groundbreaking, doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. Despite the data, a great many aspiring leaders try to grind their way to the top, neglect one-on-one relationship building, and work mostly to leverage their existing network full of people similar to them rather than trying to broader their connections.

These results out of Microsoft suggest that just by following the numbers and making a few small changes, you can give yourself a huge leg up in the race to become a successful leader.

 

Source: Microsoft Crunched Reams of Employee Data. This Was the Ideal Number of Hours for a Leader to Work | Inc.com

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Microsoft Confirms New Windows CPU Attack Vulnerability, Advises All Users To Update Now

A security vulnerability that affects Windows computers running on 64-bit Intel and AMD processors could give an attacker access to your passwords, private conversations, and any other information within the operating system kernel memory. Users are advised to update Windows in order to mitigate against this new CPU “SWAPGS attack” risk.

What is the SWAPGS attack?

“We call this the SWAPGS attack because the vulnerability leverages the SWAPGS instruction,” Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research and reporting at Bitdefender, says “an under-documented instruction that makes the switch between user-owned memory and kernel memory.” Botezatu also says that, at this point, “all Intel CPUs manufactured between 2012 and today are vulnerable to the SWAPGS attack.” Which means every Intel chip going back to the “Ivy Bridge” processor is vulnerable if inside a machine running Windows.

However, it appears it is not just Intel CPUs that are affected by the SWAPGS attack vulnerability. According to a Red Hat advisory published August 6th, the threat “applies to x86-64 systems using either Intel or AMD processors.” Something that AMD itself disputes.

An AMD spokesperson pointed me in the direction of a public statement online: “AMD is aware of new research claiming new speculative execution attacks that may allow access to privileged kernel data. Based on external and internal analysis, AMD believes it is not vulnerable to the SWAPGS variant attacks because AMD products are designed not to speculate on the new GS value following a speculative SWAPGS. For the attack that is not a SWAPGS variant, the mitigation is to implement our existing recommendations for Spectre variant 1.”

That same Red Hat advisory stated that “based on industry feedback, we are not aware of any known way to exploit this vulnerability on Linux kernel-based systems.” During my briefing with Botezatu, he noted that “Linux machines are also impacted,” however, due to the operating system architecture they are “less prone to this type of attack, as it is less reliable.” Botezatu says that other operating system vendors are not impacted at this point, “but are still investigating similar attack avenues leveraging the SWAPGS attack.”

As already mentioned, Bitdefender researchers have been working with Intel for more than a year to address the risk from this new “side-channel” attack that, the company said, “bypasses all known mitigations implemented after the discovery of Spectre and Meltdown in early 2018.”

However, it has waited until now to disclose the information as Microsoft has issued a fix to address the vulnerability as part of the July 9 “Patch Tuesday” updates. Even so, despite the best efforts of everyone concerned, Bitdefender admitted that “it is possible that an attacker with knowledge of the vulnerability could have exploited it to steal confidential information.”

A Microsoft spokesperson provided me with the following statement: “We’re aware of this industry-wide issue and have been working closely with affected chip manufacturers and industry partners to develop and test mitigations to protect our customers. We released security updates in July, and customers who have Windows Update enabled and applied the security updates are protected automatically.”

I understand that as soon as Microsoft became aware of the issue, it worked quickly to address it and release an update as soon as possible. Microsoft works closely with both researchers and industry partners to make customers more secure, and as such did not publish details until August 6 as part of a coordinated vulnerability disclosure.

Red Hat has stated that “there is no known complete mitigation other than updating the kernel and rebooting the system. This kernel patch builds on existing Spectre mitigations from previous updates.”

So, to address the issue for Linux machines requires updates to the Linux kernel in combination with microcode updates. “Red Hat customers running affected versions of the Red Hat products are strongly recommended to update them as soon as errata are available,” Red Hat advises, “customers are urged to apply the appropriate updates immediately and reboot to mitigate this flaw correctly.”

Meanwhile, an Intel spokesperson provided the following statement via email:

“On August 6th, researchers from Bitdefender published a paper entitled “Security Implications of Speculatively Executing Segmentation Related Instructions on Intel CPUs.” As stated in their paper, Intel expects that exploits described by the researchers are addressed through the use of existing mitigation techniques. We believe strongly in the value of coordinated disclosure and value our partnership with the research community. As a best practice, we continue to encourage everyone to keep their systems up-to-date.”

How is the SWAPGS attack related to Spectre?

Like the Spectre vulnerability which dominated the headlines for so long, this new side-channel exploit takes advantage of the speculative execution functionality of modern processors. Simply put, that functionality speeds up the CPU by enabling it to make a bunch of educated guesses as to the instructions that will come at it next. Thomas Brewster has a good primer on these side-channel attacks in this Forbes article from May 22, 2018.

Where SWAPGS differs is in the attack methodology as it combines that speculative execution of instructions with the use of that previously mentioned SWAPGS instruction by Windows operating systems within a gadget.

How easily can this attack be executed?

The chances of falling victim to a SWAPGS attack now that the details have been disclosed have increased, so users are advised to apply available updates as a matter of urgency if they have not already done so. However, it should be remembered that, as Botezatu admits, “this is not your run of the mill attack against regular computers, as running the SWAPGS attack is time-consuming.”

Your average threat actor would instead rely on lucrative, and easy to execute, attack methodologies such as phishing. “On the other side, exploiting this bug from a threat actor perspective brings significant advantages,” Botezatu warns “it circumvents anti-malware defenses and would leave no traces on the compromised system.”

The scary firmware attack surface explained

Ian Thornton Trump, head of cybersecurity at Amtrust International, knows what this “BIOS and firmware” attack surface looks like. “To understand why it’s so scary comes down to one simple concept,” Thornton-Trump tells me, “if the firmware, BIOS and microcode layers of a computer are insecure than it is impossible to put a secure operating system on top of that.”

Indeed, when the original Spectre threat story first broke, I recall Thornton-Trump speculating that the modern CPU is actually an operating system unto itself; concluding that architectural and procedural vulnerabilities will be aggressively explored by security researchers.

“Now we have a new development in this story,” Thornton-Trump says, “inserting code into speculative execution can yield an exploit for a component of the 64-bit Windows Kernel.” What does this mean? “It means the Operating System is no longer secure because the CPU is not secure,” and the result of that is a leak of user mode data.

Which users are at most real-world risk from SWAPGS?

“Criminals with knowledge of these attacks would have the power to uncover the most vital, best-protected information of both companies and private individuals around the world, and the corresponding power to steal, blackmail, sabotage and spy,” Gavin Hill, vice-president for datacenter and network security products at Bitdefender warned.

“I don’t think this is going to be leveraged into a Wannacry or Notpetya level of attack,” Thornton-Trump says, “and I don’t think it will be adopted by cyber-criminals with financial motivations.” These are the sort of vulnerabilities that “Government Cloud” and “Military Mega-Cloud” projects should be aware of, according to Thornton-Trump.  “For people with sensitive data in virtual environments these sorts of exploits need to be considered in the threat model,” he concludes, “for the rest of us, we have far worse issues to deal with.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I’m a three-decade veteran technology journalist and have been a contributing editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue in 1994. A three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) I was also fortunate enough to be named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 I was honored with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism. Contact me in confidence at davey@happygeek.com if you have a story to reveal or research to share.

Source: Microsoft Confirms New Windows CPU Attack Vulnerability, Advises All Users To Update Now

Microsoft Has Some Bad News For Windows 10 Haters

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Windows 10 users are plagued by ongoing problems with Windows 10 updates such as systems freezing, refusing to install if USB drives are present and even dramatic performance impacts on essential software. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that there is a large tranche of users who are refusing to make the move from Windows 7 to the Microsoft operating system flagship. According to the latest market share statistics the number of people still using Windows 7 has remained pretty static month on month. What may well surprise you is that while Windows 10 enjoyed a 44.1% share of the overall operating system market in April, Windows 7 still accounted for 36.43%. That figure hasn’t moved much at all from the 36.9% in December last year.

Microsoft obviously wants everyone to move to the latest generation of Windows and has a double-whammy of bad news for Windows 10 haters I’m afraid. Whammy number one is that Windows 7 will reach its end-of-life status on January 14 next year. Whammy number two is that it will cost you as much as $200 per year to get “extended security support” after that period. Assuming, that is, you are not a home user. I guess you could add a whammy number three in that home users will have absolutely zero options for security support post January 14, 2020.

There are plenty of very good reasons why people are reluctant to make the move to Windows 10: the hardware Windows 7 is running on might not be powerful enough or available storage could be problematical for example, but overwhelmingly it is likely to boil down to a simple dislike of Windows 10. In exactly the same way that Windows XP users steadfastly hung onto that obsolete operating system for years and refused to upgrade to Windows 7, I expect that the same will happen again as Windows 10 haters are “gonna hate” as the saying goes. Yet Windows 7 is fast approaching end of life status when free security support will come to an end. After January 14, 2020 it will cost as much as $200 per year, per PC, to upgrade to extended security support to keep it alive. And as I’ve already mentioned that’s for enterprise users only, there is no such option for home users.

The security question was widely dismissed as fake news by XP users for the longest time. I imagine a great many Windows 7 users will likewise insist it is far more secure than Windows 10. While there hasn’t been another WannaCry to highlight the problems of continuing to use unsupported operating systems, that doesn’t make Windows 7 a secure bet. Just last month Google was urging all Windows 7 users to upgrade to Windows 10 after the discovery of two zero-day vulnerabilities that could be used in tandem to take over host systems. Microsoft coughed up additional security updates for XP users in the wake of WannaCry, but Windows 7 users shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security by that.

I’m not going to explore all the security arguments for upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10, not least as SentinelOne has done a great job of detailing 32 security reasons to move to Windows 10 over at the Security Boulevard blog. I do, however, urge all Windows 7 diehards to go read that article and ponder the potential consequences of sticking with it. In order to finish this bad news story with some potential good news, it is still possible to upgrade to Windows 10 for free if you are a Windows 7 user despite the original Get Windows 10 offer expired in 2016. It’s a little convoluted and involves the Microsoft media creation tool, a USB (or DVD) drive and a pinch of luck, but you can find the full instructions here.

Please follow me on Twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn, you can find more of my stories at happygeek.com

I have been covering the information security beat for three decades and Contributing Editor at PC Pro Magazine since the first issue way back in 1994.

Source: Microsoft Has Some Bad News For Windows 10 Haters

Microsoft Confirms Change To Windows 10 Passwords That Nobody Saw Coming

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Ask a bunch of security professionals what makes a secure password and you’ll get a bunch of different answers. Some will argue that it’s all about length, others that randomness and complexity are king while everyone will agree that password reuse is never acceptable.

Some will still argue that giving passwords an expiry date, after which they must be changed, is an essential part of the business security policy picture. It would appear that, with the arrival of the Windows 10 May update, Microsoft is finally no longer going to be amongst that latter group. According to Aaron Margosis, a principal consultant with Microsoft, Windows 10 will no longer recommend “ancient and obsolete” periodic password expiration in the security baseline settings starting with the May update.

While being most welcome, it has to be said nobody I have spoken to in the information security business saw that coming. Not least as the arguments for password expiration have been comprehensively dismantled for some years now yet Microsoft has not shown any inclination to jump from this particular sinking security ship.

The security baseline configuration has been part of the Windows staple diet for organizations wanting secure operating system settings out of the box for many years. It is actually a whole set of system policies that make good sense as a starting point for secure postures for many and as the default positioning for some. Things become problematic for organizations when they undergo an audit which uses the Microsoft security baseline and penalizes them for non-compliance if they have something other than the current 60 day Windows password expiration default maximum.

Yet, as Margosis writes “recent scientific research calls into question the value of many long-standing password-security practices such as password expiration policies, and points instead to better alternatives such as enforcing banned-password lists and multi-factor authentication.”

The United States National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has been recommending password expiration is dropped from security policy since 2016. Now it seems that Microsoft has finally caught up and will be dropping the requirement starting from Windows 10 (1903) and Windows Server (1903) onward. This makes perfect sense to me as someone who has been following information security trends for the best part of three decades.

Things have changed over those years, not least the technology that now enables threat actors to crack simplistic passwords in the blink of an eye. Forcing users to change passwords over relatively short timeframes inevitably leads to those users choosing the simplest, and therefore most memorable, passwords possible. Stand up everyone who has never seen incremental numbering of short passwords in a corporate environment. I’m guessing everyone is still sitting down.

The days of simplistic passwords changed often are long gone, replaced by longer and more complex ones which don’t expire but rather are reinforced with those banned password lists and multifactor authentication for example. “While we recommend these alternatives, they cannot be expressed or enforced with our recommended security configuration baselines,” Margosis says “which are built on Windows’ built-in Group Policy settings and cannot include customer-specific values.” What Microsoft isn’t doing is changing baseline requirements for minimum password length, history, or complexity.

It also isn’t stopping organizations from configuring password expiration if they must, for regulatory compliance reasons for example. “The password-expiration security option is still in Windows and will remain there,” Margosis says, adding “by removing it from our baseline rather than recommending a particular value or no expiration, organizations can choose whatever best suits their perceived needs without contradicting our guidance.”

Please follow me on Twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn, you can find more of my stories at happygeek.com

I have been covering the information security beat for three decades and Contributing Editor at PC Pro Magazine since the first issue way back in 1994.

Source: Microsoft Confirms Change To Windows 10 Passwords That Nobody Saw Coming

Microsoft Launches Azure Blockchain as a Service (BAAS) in India – Richard Kastelein

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Microsoft launched Azure Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) in India last week. The platform provides a rapid, low-cost and low-risk platform for organizations to collaborate together by experimenting with new business processes, backed by a Cloud platform.

“In India, the availability of Microsoft Azure BaaS from local, hyper-scale datacentres will help enable blockchain adoption in regulated sectors like banking and financial services, insurance and healthcare as well as governments,” Peter Gartenberg, General Manager, Enterprise and Partner Group, Microsoft, said in a statement

Blockchain is a data structure used to create a digital transaction ledger which, instead of resting with a single provider, is shared among a distributed network of computers.

The Azure marketplace has eight blockchain partner solutions enabled via single-click deployment. These include blockchain infrastructure, identity services and self-contained development environments.

Microsoft has been integrating the Solidity language into development tools such as Visual Studio to enable rapid development of next generation decentralized applications on blockchain, the company said.


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