Microsoft Announces Project Sonoma App for 'Deskless Workers'

Microsoft's Project Sonoma app for iOS and Android devices helps "deskless" employees manage their shifts and collaborate with co-workers.

Microsoft Project Sonoma, mobile scheduling

Microsoft has quietly released a new app called Project Sonoma on both Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Project Sonoma is aimed at "deskless workers," such as those working shifts in restaurants, retail stores and other establishments that are conspicuously devoid of cubicles and desk chairs. Currently, the app is accessible to participants of a private preview program (interested companies can add their names to a waitlist on the app's website).

According to Project Sonoma's app store listings, it generates a summary of workers' upcoming shifts along with more detailed information about the times and duties they are expected to perform. An accompanying screenshot shows a restaurant worker bouncing between the roles of server and host across a handful of upcoming shifts.

To view shifts, Project Sonoma requires an Office 365 account, according to a FAQ on the app's UserVoice page. After logging in, users are guided to a tab labeled My Shifts. "Here, you'll see all your current and upcoming shifts. To see more of your team's shifts, or view your previous shifts, you can tap on the calendar icon at the top right and select a day to view the shifts on that day," explained Microsoft.

The app also features chat functionality for teams and displays "important on-the-job info," according to Microsoft. The company also recently added the ability to trade shifts and ask co-workers to cover shifts.

Project Sonoma is just the latest example of Microsoft's push to help businesses and their workforces get their calendars under control.

In another move concerning scheduling, Microsoft announced on Aug. 23 that it is acquiring Genee, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup that specializes in artificial intelligence (AI), natural and virtual assistant technologies. Armed with information about a user's calendar, Genee can be used to schedule meetings, meals and other get-togethers with plain-English commands or email invitations.

Instead of sending a calendar invitation with a specific time, users can invite colleagues or clients to coffee sometime in the next week, for example. Genee will suggest suitable times according to a user's availability and automatically send an invitation. "Genee uses natural language processing and optimized decision-making algorithms so that interacting with a virtual assistant is just like interacting with a human one," Rajesh Jha, corporate vice president of Microsoft Outlook and Office 365, said in an Aug. 22 announcement.

Genee currently supports email, Short Message Service (SMS) texting systems, Twitter and select chatbots (Facebook Messenger and Skype). Its time as a stand-alone service grows short, however. Genee will shut down on Sept. 1 as Microsoft begins to integrate the technology into its cloud-enabled Office 365 software suite.

Microsoft is also taking aim at the whiteboard calendars used by service-based companies.

A month ago, Microsoft launched a small-business appointment scheduling service called Bookings. The consumer-facing solution, included with Office 365 Business Premium plans, enables salons and other appointment-based companies to provide online, self-service scheduling to their clients.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...