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Transforming the Microsoft Workplace in Singapore

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Published: September 2012

Microsoft Information Technology (MSIT) and Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities (RE&F) have implemented a global program to make more effective use of the workplace through technology that provides greater flexibility for employees. This program enables Microsoft to showcase its technology as an enterprise, increase employee collaboration, and improve the work experience. The strong partnership between MSIT and RE&F is a vital component in the success of this program.

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Products & Technologies

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IT managers, business decision makers, and technical decision makers.

  • Windows Azure
  • Windows Azure SQL Database
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Skype
  • Windows Phone
  • Microsoft Tag
  • Microsoft Exchange
  • Microsoft Lync
  • Microsoft SharePoint
  • Microsoft Office

Introduction

The primary goal of the office transformation program is to provision new work environments that support the various businesses within Microsoft, while enabling individual choice by creating a flexible and collaborative workplace. By combining smart office designs with key Microsoft technologies, this program has enabled employees to be more mobile and productive while reducing costs. This approach allows employees with diverse work styles to coexist and be equally productive in the office environment and when working remotely.

Background

The drive to change Microsoft's principles and solutions for office workspace originated in 2004 with the Workplace Advantage program. Workplace Advantage is an RE&F initiative designed to identify and meet the unique needs of Microsoft business units by providing appropriately designed workspaces. A business challenge that RE&F faced was the need to utilize its real estate portfolio in a more efficient manner.

Most employees were not at their desks all the time, which reflected an underutilized business asset. Creating a more dynamic and collaborative workplace that catered for different scenarios, personas, and individualistic approaches to work was essential for the future. RE&F achieved a more effective way of utilizing the real estate portfolio by increasing the use of unassigned desk space and the introduction of collaboration areas that use technology to enable a diverse range of meeting and work styles.

Early Adopter Success

In 2006, the Microsoft subsidiary in the Netherlands extended this concept by integrating a wider range of Microsoft collaboration technologies into their Schiphol office to increase flexibility in the work environment. Schiphol was a big success, enabling flexibility and mobility in the workplace, while reducing operational costs and increasing employee satisfaction by 40 percent over five years. The success of the Schiphol project resulted in the development of an office transformation pilot program by RE&F and MSIT to deploy comparable workplace projects worldwide.

Microsoft sees the additional technology that the office transformation program deploys as the next step in the evolution of the workplace. The program has now been deployed in 14 offices worldwide, with similar results to the success in Schiphol. This article describes how the office transformation program has significantly improved the environment, particularly in Microsoft Singapore.

Transformational Project: Singapore

The Singapore office redevelopment from 2011 to 2012, created the opportunity to consolidate the learning's from previous office transformation projects. With several building redevelopments planned for 2012, MSIT and RE&F saw Singapore as an opportunity to guide technology choices and build more collaboration and mobility into the workplace by:

  • Planning for technology changes and aligning them with business needs.

  • Collaborating with business stakeholders to evangelize the benefits of the changes.

  • Planning for deployment and adoption of new mobility strategies.

  • Testing applications and scenarios to ensure that the technology meets expectations.

  • Developing training to ensure that the move to the new environment is successful.

Adopting this approach provided the opportunity for the Singapore redevelopment to serve as a template for deploying this new type of work experience further and faster.

Workplace Objectives

Before the Singapore project started, RE&F surveys found that approximately 45 percent of Microsoft Singapore employees were already highly mobile. At the same time, office space constraints meant that the 1:1 staff-to-desk ratio inhibited hiring for expanding business units. Projections indicated that an annual hiring increase of 5 percent would result in insufficient office space by July 2012. Additionally, RE&F identified a need for extra customer space as senior management saw an in-house Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) as business critical.

To address these needs RE&F increased customer floor space by building the MTC and introduced a 100 percent unassigned seating policy for the real estate dedicated to employees. The result was a smaller and more dynamic office environment that catered to a highly mobile workforce. RE&F projected that this would reduce operating costs by 24 percent over a five-year period, which would compare well against the average 14 percent decrease in costs across other sites that have undertaken similar projects.

Microsoft IT adopted a strong change management process throughout the project life cycle to familiarize people with the technology changes. Technologies such as the Windows Azure operating system and cloud-based applications and data, aligned with remote access through virtual private network (VPN) and Direct Access, provided a good foundation to introduce full mobility both inside and outside the office in Microsoft Singapore.

Technology

Many of the foundational technologies that enable a truly flexible and mobile workforce are already widely available in the Microsoft environment. For example, Microsoft SharePoint services, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Lync communications software, Direct Access, Microsoft Office 365, Skype, and Windows Phone. The aim was to integrate these technologies with newly introduced infrastructure to create more choice, mobility, and workplace flexibility.

Key factors for a successful project included the introduction of full Enterprise Voice (EV), the deployment of 802.11n wireless and the implementation of proximity printing. These technologies, when combined with the introduction of desks where the network and all peripherals are connected though one cable enabled a flexible and mobile workplace for employees. Microsoft Lync is a key technology in this mobility strategy.

Microsoft Lync

When Lync was deployed across the Microsoft organization in 2010, MSIT used a business value framework developed by Forrester Research to measure the overall business impact of Unified Communications (UC) at Microsoft. The analysis identified a number of areas where Microsoft had made significant annual savings through the introduction of UC and highlighted areas where UC functionality had improved the way that employees work.

Table 1 highlights some of the key benefits identified in the Forrester report.

Table 1. Benefit Results from Forrester

Benefit area

Estimated annual benefit in USD

Metric

Increased end-user productivity (through avoided travel)

$17,000,000

Average of 45,600 trips avoided per year

Reduced travel costs

$92,000,000

Average of 45,600 trips avoided per year

Reduced audio-conferencing costs

$8,000,000

95% reduction

Reduced IT infrastructure and administration costs

$1,050,000

$22 per office move

Adding full EV to Lync improved these returns even further with all employees and vendors receiving EV numbers. This allowed all Singapore staff to manage their contacts, send instant messages, participate in web conferences, and make phone calls through a single user interface. For consistency and cost-efficiency, all phones in common areas and meeting rooms were also moved to Lync devices.

The EV implementation replaced the existing private branch exchange (PBX) system, reducing cost and simplifying the telephony solution. Another benefit of deploying the full features of Lync is that it enables remote working.

To further improve mobility, every employee received a new wireless headset. MSIT chose Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) over Bluetooth for its audio quality and operating range. Extensive pre-deployment testing had shown that because of the frequencies used, DECT was a more appropriate solution in Singapore as it would not interfere with the office wireless system.

802.11n Wireless

MSIT implemented 802.11n to increase the capacity of office wireless access points from 54 megabits per second (Mbps) to 600 Mbps. This was significant for EV because it meant that employees could change location in the office freely on wireless and still access high-quality voice communications.

The implementation of 802.11n also enabled Microsoft Singapore to rapidly hire employees and still ensure high-quality access to the corporate network without the additional time and cost usually associated with adding hard-wiring solutions. The agility that this implementation enabled was critical as it meant that decisions on staff growth can now be made purely on business needs rather than facilities or IT change requirements.

Proximity Printing

MSIT implemented proximity printing to enable employees to print to any local printer without having to install multiple drivers or to know specific printer names. In Singapore, this system enabled the smart-card door access cards to work with printer authentication. This ensures that only the user who has issued a print request can access the printout.

Employees can now be highly mobile without being tied to specific resources in the office. An employee can print a document from one location and collect it from any printer that is part of the proximity printing setup. Proximity printing is more secure and environmentally friendly than earlier printing solutions because no printouts are released until the user goes to the printer. The environmental benefits of proximity printing complement the overall conservation approach at Microsoft.

Managing desk space and Office Mobility

Managing the available desk space is critical, particularly in offices that have a high staff-to-desk ratio. It is important to choose the right technology that is cost effective and integrates well with the overall technology goals of the office. In Singapore, MSIT streamlined the available desk space by using an integrated monitor/hub with one cable to connect everything from the monitor and network to the Microsoft Comfort Desktop 5000 wireless mouse and keyboard setup.

The monitors were a central theme of the desktop strategy because the Singapore office had a 46 percent staff-to-desk ratio after unassigned seating was introduced, and MSIT expected this to rise to 65 percent over three years. This was an important factor in MSIT's planning which took into account future hiring based on business plans, cost factors, functionality, and integration with other office services.

This quick-connectivity approach simplified the desktop experience significantly in the Singapore office. Employees can be fully functional on the network in less than five seconds at any desk in the building, greatly increasing their productivity in the flexible office environment.

Innovation: Location-Based Services

Although large campus-style facilities and multilevel offices are ideal candidates for reaping the benefits of an office transformation program, they can also introduce challenges. Finding team members, colleagues, and even free desks in buildings that have a high percentage of unassigned seats is often an issue for a highly mobile workforce.

During the office transformation project in Singapore, MSIT addressed this need by using location-based services (LBS)—that is, creating a system for locating available workspaces and people. As part of the data preparation for this system, MSIT uploaded user data, location information, and an office floor map into a Windows Azure SQL Database. MSIT then distributed a Windows Phone client via the Windows Store application on the Windows Phone Operating System.

An employee typically accesses this solution from a simple search interface on the phone. Information is also available through Internet Explorer on the user's computer.

The primary goals of the location system is to enable users to:

  • View availability of workstations and bookable rooms.

  • Provide a simple check-in via a TAG scan or by using a desk monitor cable.

  • Allow others to know where they are on the building floor map.

  • Book available meeting rooms directly from Windows Phones.

The location system that MSIT developed took advantage of several Microsoft technologies, including Windows Azure, Windows Azure SQL Database, Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft Tag.

Table 2 gives a brief description of each of the solution components.

Table 2. Location-Based Services Technology

Component

Products and technology

Features and capabilities

Application and database

Windows Azure and Windows Azure SQL Database

Web-ready infrastructure with low-cost rapid deployment

Administration web module

Web-based application

Location and user data feed

Scalable and configurable system to rapidly onboard the new office

Free/busy data provider

Microsoft Exchange

Ability to provide free/busy data for bookable rooms

Ability of a user to book a meeting room via LBS

Location tagging

Microsoft Tag

Location tagging

Check-in via LBS

User

Desktop client agent

Windows Phone

Web-based application

Configurable user privacy settings

User check-in through network or Microsoft Tag

Ability to find people, find available workstations, and book meeting rooms

Desktop client agent to automate check-in

Figure 1 provides a high-level view of the LBS architecture.

Figure 1 Microsoft location-based services

Figure 1 Microsoft location-based services

The easy access and check-in that LBS provides, combined with the benefit of quickly locating people and resources, has led to a rapid adoption of the system in the Singapore office. One of the most notable and popular features of LBS is the ease in which users can book meeting rooms directly from their Windows Phone. This has proved popular with executives who can now easily book meeting rooms on the move without the need to use an executive assistant or a computer.

Figure 2 shows the core functions of the Windows Phone application.

Figure 2 Easy booking of meeting rooms

Figure 2 Easy booking of meeting rooms

By using Windows Azure cloud-based technology and the Windows Phone platform, this solution is scalable to service all existing and new transformation sites within Microsoft.

Benefits and Improvements

The Singapore office project met all the objectives of the office transformation program by promoting a flexible, collaborative, activity-based environment, and by delivering fiscal and environmental benefits to Microsoft. Results from a post-implementation survey, sampling 346 employees from a cross-section of departments, showed that 54 percent of employees reported an increase in productivity levels. Additionally, 49 percent confirmed that they collaborate more with their colleagues, and 77 percent reported an improvement in their work environment.

These results compare well with post-implementation surveys from similar office transformation projects worldwide, where results have shown consistent improvements in individual effectiveness, collaboration, and employee satisfaction. Additionally, MSIT and RE&F expect operating costs in the Singapore office to decrease by 24 percent over five years in a region where real-estate costs are high.

Conclusion

By catering to various work styles, the office transformation program has created a living showcase for Microsoft technology. The improved workplace is a key component in the Microsoft strategy to manage costs effectively while increasing sales revenue.

By combining progressive office designs with collaboration technology and a training program that addresses technology needs as well as people readiness, the program has produced good results for Microsoft. The strong partnership between MSIT and RE&F—in addition to collaboration with key stakeholders in business units such as Human Resources—has contributed to the success of the program.

The office transformation projects to date represent a worthwhile investment in reducing operational costs, improving productivity, and increasing user satisfaction.

For More Information

For more information about the office transformation program at Microsoft, go to:

http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/execmail/2005/05-19newworldofwork.mspx

http:// technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc982178.aspx

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/emea/presscentre/pressreleases/JPC_NWoW_25112010.mspx

For related videos, go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyEIDmR-yEk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeC8JILrotE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXNh1Wxkqkw

For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Order Centre at (800) 933-4750. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information via the World Wide Web, go to:

http://www.microsoft.com

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itshowcase

© 2012 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

This document is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. Microsoft, Lync, SharePoint, Windows, and Windows Azure are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

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