Empowering Employee Mobility with New World of Work
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Microsoft employees have access to a broad range of technologies to help them work efficiently and collaboratively, whether they are in the office or on the road. The traditional workplace, at Microsoft as in many companies, has not evolved commensurately to reflect how technology-supported employees work. To address this, Microsoft conceived the New World of Work (NWoW) program, to create a dynamic workplace that features user-centric technology deployment and modern workspace design. Microsoft IT, working with Human Resources and Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities, is using NWoW to transform the workplace experience, empower employees to be more mobile and productive, and optimize existing facility space.
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The inspiration behind the Microsoft New World of Work (NWoW) program is to enable individual work-style choice by creating flexible workplace environments that support improved mobility, productivity, and collaboration, while reducing real estate costs. The program, an extension of a Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities (RE&F) initiative to use the real estate portfolio more efficiently and cost-effectively, called for smaller, modern, more technically advanced offices.
Microsoft IT partnered with RE&F in 2010 to extend this concept by incorporating products and services, from innovative meeting spaces to advanced wireless technologies, to support a more mobile workforce. NWoW, piloted in Holland, Singapore and Irvine, California, and now in place in 45 Microsoft facilities globally, uses a "people, place, and technology" approach to transform Microsoft offices into business assets. Benefits to date include improved employee satisfaction and team effectiveness, a broadly appealing work environment, and optimized real estate investments.
The Microsoft New World of Work (NWoW) program originated from a 2005 email in which former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates envisioned a world in which individual employees, constantly connected via the Internet, would be empowered by technology and tools that enable them to improve their efficiency and focus on the "highest-value work." This credo was the basis for three-pillar "people, place, and technology" approach that NWoW exemplifies.
At the same time, Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities (RE&F) was engaged in an initiative, the Work Place Advantage program, that sought to use the company's real estate portfolio more efficiently. That program focused on designing smaller, technically advanced offices—cost-effective, efficient spaces that met employees' needs but also incorporated an open approach to deploying new technologies and using existing ones. This decision was based on the realization that some of the dedicated workspace in Microsoft facilities was either underutilized or poorly allocated from the physical standpoint, based on changing work habits.
In concert with this initiative, Microsoft adjusted its workplace policies to support an appealing, flexible environment predicated on freedom of movement and trust, and supportive of an increasingly mobile workforce.
One key objective of the NWoW program is to give employees more choice in and control over how they manage their work life activities, by equipping them with the technology to roam and yet remain connected. NWoW revisits the notion of the office or cubicle by designing smaller individual task-oriented workspaces and, as appropriate, reduced people-to-desk ratios. The initiative also calls for creating a wide range of formal and informal technology-rich meeting spaces, designed to enhance collaboration in aesthetically appealing settings.
Ultimately, NWoW had to ensure the new space-allocation model accommodated the inherently demographically diverse workforce at Microsoft—from the Generation X and Y "digital natives" who build their work and personal lives around technology, to middle-aged "digital immigrants" who prefer a more traditional work environment. The concept also had to accommodate the wide range of Microsoft facilities and operational structures, from those in established Western and Asian market economies to those in emerging markets such as Vietnam.
Concept Piloted in Diverse Locations
Microsoft chose to pilot the new NWoW model in a new building in Schiphol, Holland, near Amsterdam. The facility, opened in 2008, has no assigned desks and required only 8.82 square meters (95 square feet) per employee. Dedicated workspaces are small but technologically advanced, and the environment, by design, promotes meeting areas—both formal and casual—over traditional desks and cubicles. Employees are provided sufficient technology support to enable them to roam throughout the facility, yet still remain in close touch with coworkers and readily "findable."
The Schiphol project proved successful, from both an employee satisfaction and cost-reduction perspective. It became the model and basis for the more than 45 NWoW sites now in operation in Microsoft locations throughout the globe, from New Zealand and Singapore to North America and Southeast Asia.
Informal customer "meet and greet areas," like this one in Wellington, New Zealand, are typical of Microsoft NWoW sites globally.
Microsoft then used the NWoW model to drive its planned redevelopment of the Irvine, California, facility in 2013, and to create a template for all U.S. offices. The then 10-year-old Irvine location had been initially designed around individual workspaces for its predominantly sales and marketing personnel, who were mobile by default.
An evaluation of work patterns in the facility found that when the employees were onsite, they preferred to use their workspaces as "touchdown hubs." It was clear that mobility and technology access were far more important to the employees than their designated workspaces.
People, Place, and Technology Pillars
Before launching the facility redevelopment, Microsoft IT, Human Resources, and RE&F engaged in planning and design using the Microsoft "People, Place, and Technology" approach that ensures a user-centric environment wherever employees work and however they choose to collaborate.
In devising the technology deployment and facility-design strategy, the planning team placed strong emphasis on end-to-end change management. This approach was crucial to helping all employees understand and embrace the significant change that would be required to ensure NWoW success in the technology, process change, and people-management areas. For example, the facility implemented a two-employees-to-one-desk ratio but expanded the space devoted to open-floor and meeting areas, with an eye to boosting collaboration. At the same time, the strategy incorporated a very modern IT experience for the staff, wherever they chose to work.
Diverse Meeting Spaces
The new Irvine office was redesigned to facilitate the NWoW freedom-of-movement concept. This concept features open areas where desks are located, and provides lockers for storing personal items that previously had been kept in individual desks. The redesign created a broad range of meeting areas, from small, cozy tucked-away spaces with attractive, comfortable furnishings, to larger open-area meeting spots, to formal, traditional closed-door conference rooms.
Employees in Microsoft NWoW facilities customize their storage and physical mailboxes to add a personal touch to their office "space."
All meeting spaces are equipped with the latest technology, and can be booked using a system that integrates the Microsoft Outlook calendar with Creston wall-mounted devices that display meeting room schedules and availability. Employees can also book the meeting rooms from the devices, which synchronize the calendar with an Office 365 Exchange account.
Sophisticated Wireless, Voice Technology
Microsoft Lync, the company's unified communications platform that incorporates voice and video calling with instant messaging and Web conference capability internally and externally, was deployed across Microsoft in 2010. Lync is a key component of the Irvine redesign. Enterprise voice (EV) was added later. These technologies enable employees and federated clients to manage their contacts, set and participate in web conferences, send instant messages, and make phone calls through a single user interface. EV, now available to the vast majority of Microsoft employees, removes the need for physical phones.
The Irvine location, like most Microsoft sites, has no individually assigned desk telephones. Employees are provided headsets that connect to laptops or tablets for Lync online meetings and phone calls. Physical Lync phones are located in shared spaces such as meeting rooms, focus rooms, and common areas. These devices can be used as external speakers and microphones when connected to laptop USB ports.
This private meeting area in the Microsoft Irvine, California, NWoW facility offers privacy for one-on-one meetings.
This complete EV experience meets the NWoW full-mobility goal by enabling employees to effectively make their employee laptop, Microsoft tablet, or Windows Phone their individual "central location" of choice during the workday or while traveling. The workers are free to roam as needed or desired, while they retain full access to the technologies and tools they need to work effectively.
As part of the NWoW rollout in pilot locations, Microsoft IT implemented 802.11n wireless technology to increase the number of office wireless access points and the capacity from 54 megabits per second (Mbps) to 300 Mbps. This improvement enables employees to move around freely using wireless connectivity, and still access high-quality voice communications.
The corporate wireless network is available by default to all Microsoft IT-managed devices. To accommodate non domain-joined machines and devices that fall in to the company's Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) category, Microsoft IT implemented additional wireless service set identifiers (SSIDs) with Internet-only access.
This comprehensive communications and technology-backbone approach is a strategic focal point as Microsoft creates a more mobile work environment, and must manage an increasingly complex environment of managed and unmanaged devices that access data on the corporate network.
Rethinking the Desktop
In rethinking and assessing the desktop environment for the redesigned NWoW workspace, Microsoft IT determined that ensuring a high-tech fast "touchdown" approach to the traditional desktop experience was critical in an unassigned-desk scenario. Because much of the office workspace is unassigned, employees now come into the office functioning as mobile, transient workers who can and do perform their tasks in a variety of settings.
At the same time, NWoW must accommodate and simplify the user experience for employees who either must or want to connect to the corporate network using wired technology. To meet this requirement, each workspace has an external monitor and a port replicator. This infrastructure enables employees to connect to external monitors and the corporate network using a wired solution comprising one cable on the USB 3.0 port, as an alternative to wireless connectivity. As an added benefit, this capability allows employees to leverage smaller devices to obtain the benefits of a laptop or desktop computer. This option has proved popular with Microsoft employees who travel frequently and increasingly favor Microsoft Windows-based tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 2.
Crestron room-booking systems, which integrate with the Microsoft Office Outlook calendar, are simple, effective management tools in NWoW offices.
The NWoW Irvine project, a major NWoW pilot in the United States, also introduced new mobility solutions that boost collaboration. One is FindMe, a people-locating and resource-booking tool. FindMe, which incorporates physical-presence, text messaging, and video/audio capabilities, integrates with Lync to deliver a rich user experience. Employees opt in by installing an agent on their computers or devices and then can choose whether or not to publish their location. All Microsoft employees who have corporate network access can see the facility floor plan on a web browser, to easily track or locate other employees, thereby saving time.
Using the FindMe suite, end-users can access a broad range of features, to:
- Book ad-hoc meetings.
- Find co-workers on the floor plan and facility map.
- Find their team with a single click.
- Publish their location on their own terms.
- View presence information for their contacts.
- View desk availability.
FindMe uses Wi-Fi signal strength and access points to pinpoint the employee's approximate device location, within a 10-meter radius. For machines or devices connected to the wired network and port replicator, the user's position is identified on the floor plan by the port replicator's media access control (MAC). FindMe displays the free/busy status of meeting rooms, as well as meeting purpose and organizer information. Employees also can view the meeting-room status page and book the room from a web browser.
Figure 1. FindMe room-view example in the Irvine, California, NWoW facility
The FindMe solution is now in place at several NWoW sites globally. It is available to Microsoft customers through the company's Microsoft Services Solution Accelerator.
Connectivity, Mobility, and the Cloud
Microsoft IT implemented several additional applications and services, supported by Microsoft cloud technologies, to support the Irvine employees in their mobile work environment. Implementing cloud technologies has had a minimal impact on end users, but it delivers numerous advantages to employees generally and to Microsoft IT staff who manage the technology infrastructure.
Employees are empowered to work from anywhere, and on any device, as long as they have Internet access. Because files are stored in the cloud and tools are available through the cloud, employees are able to access what they need quickly regardless of where they are working.
DirectAccess, a Windows Server feature introduced with the 2008 edition that functions similar to a virtual private network (VPN), is an important component of NWoW initiative. It provides a secure, full-featured work experience for employees who use their Microsoft-provided devices. DirectAccess enables employees to connect to the corporate network seamlessly from any location with Internet access, without having to establish a VPN connection each time they connect. This easy-access method uses two-factor authentication, using the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip to store the employee's virtual smart card.
To ensure uninterrupted access to commonly used Microsoft programs and applications in the increasingly mobile NWoW environment, upgrades and new applications are now delivered through the Microsoft Company Portal. The portal is supported on multiple operating systems and platforms, including Windows 8.1, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, and iOS devices. The Company Portal has been enhanced considerably in recent years, and it supports the NWoW in several important ways, including:
- Delivering backup solutions via modern applications, to provide redundant access to employee and corporate data in the cloud through Microsoft OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.
- Providing client hardware-health monitoring and repair software for mobile users.
- Offering readily accessible line-of-business (LOB) applications to enable mobile employees to work productively and install software efficiently while on the move.
Benefits and Improvements
The NWoW project in Irvine, while still evolving, has delivered numerous benefits. Existing facility floor space has been optimized by creating collaborative workspaces and deploying technology that complements the work-style changes that Microsoft sought to introduce. The result is a more attractive environment for both current and prospective employees, and one accommodates a broad range of employee demographics and personas.
This flexible environment, which enables employees to work where and how they want, has created an environment that engenders freedom, trust, and responsibility. That, in turn, has increased collegiality and collaboration.
Other benefits include streamlined technology usage, and improved productivity and user satisfaction, as measured by the following results of NWoW post-deployment employee scorecard areas, in locations where the initiative has been implemented:
- 61 percent indicated that NWoW supports individual effectiveness.
- 75 percent indicated that NWoW supports team effectiveness.
- 75 percent reported user satisfaction with the NWoW environment.
- 61 percent indicated that the NWoW environment promotes Microsoft products and technologies.
Finally, NWoW has begun to confer its intended improvements in the areas of facility management and cost savings.
The Microsoft New world of Work (NWoW) initiative uses a strategic approach to create a work environment that supports employee mobility, while accommodating the work-styles of employees ranging from Generation X and Y "digital natives" who build their work activities around technology, to older employees who may be "digital immigrants" who prefer a more traditional workspace and work-style.
The evolution to a task-oriented work environment enhances cross-group collaboration, and improves both productivity and satisfaction because of the high degree of flexibility and choice the environment offers. As new Microsoft products and services are developed, they are evaluated for the NWoW suitability, and are added to existing NWoW environments to keep the experience fresh. NWoW is continually evolving, and it will become an increasingly important, relevant initiative within Microsoft globally.
For more information about the New World of Work (NWoW) office transformation program at Microsoft, go to:
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