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Creating the digital workplace at Microsoft
Jun 8, 2023 | Inside Track staff

Empty conference room with half-circle table with chairs facing a large, wall-mounted screen showing a Microsoft Teams meeting.
Microsoft Digital Employee Experience and Global Workplace Services are working together to create a world-class, integrated experience for the company’s employees. The digital workplace they are building together creates efficiency, increases productivity, enables accessibility, and empowers the entire organization.
Microsoft Digital technical storiesA successful digital workplace is designed to empower employees to maximize their productivity. At Microsoft, it’s critical that our employees are connected to and across teams and organizations, as well as with our customers, partners, vendors, suppliers, and guests. Those connections need to be available whether they are physically in the office, working from a remote location, or doing a bit of both.

Building the most empowering digital workplace experience for Microsoft employees takes solid partnerships. Microsoft Digital Employee Experience (MDEE), the organization that powers, protects, and transforms Microsoft, collaborates closely with teammates in Global Workplace Services (GWS) to enable a workplace that uses physical infrastructure, devices, and cloud services to create an integrated experience that’s unparalleled. The digital workplace is deeply integrated with Microsoft products and services, including Microsoft Azure IoT, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and Microsoft 365, to increase productivity, create efficiency, enable accessibility, and eliminate friction.

Nathalie D’Hers, CVP of Microsoft Digital Employee Experience, talked about the importance of this collaboration with her counterpart Michael Ford, CVP of Global Workplace Services.

“Due to the nature of our roles, a commercial real estate leader and a technology leader see things from a slightly different lens,” D’Hers says. “I believe that what’s most important in achieving mutual success is to first align on vision to have a shared sense of where you want to go. Then it’s just figuring out how we’re going to get there. A lot of it relies on formulating a vision that both teams are comfortable with and then agreeing on the path to get there.”

Keeping up with a dynamic, hybrid work environment also represents a massive, ongoing investment in employees. The Digital Workplace investment is a leading example of how enterprises can transform their workplaces. This article showcases how to deploy digital workplace experiences at scale while making them secure, inclusive, accessible, and manageable. It also shows how these investments lead to increased employee satisfaction and productivity. To find out more about how the Digital Workplace investment fits into the broader vision for a better employee experience at Microsoft, read Reinventing the employee experience at Microsoft.

Catalyst for change
The global pandemic forced us to rethink the digital workplace. Prior to COVID-19, we were already championing an effort to be more open, transparent, and collaborative, as many companies were moving their employees from traditional office settings into more contemporary environments optimized for teams. Teams were already becoming more collaborative, and the nature of work was changing. But never has it become more necessary for workforces to learn to quickly adapt to becoming more agile and innovative than since the pandemic.

Interestingly, the pandemic has brought the MDEE and GWS teams closer together.

“There’s beauty and power when people work together in a moment of crisis,” D’Hers says. “Some of the things that might have been challenging outside of a crisis became easier. Prioritizing deliverables and determining the things we must do right away versus things that we could delay became easier, even budget prioritization and alignment was easier because we were working as one team.”

As employees prepare to return to the physical office and assess what a new hybrid workplace reality will look like, employers need to ensure an environment that empowers employees throughout their workday while keeping them safe and secure. At Microsoft, our teams are taking a holistic approach to improve the methods employees use to get to, engage, and work on campus.

At the same time, employees and their respective teams will be more distributed as we continue to embrace a “work from anywhere” approach. The nature of collaboration has significantly changed, and employees want a digital workplace that enables them to be productive in their work, engage with team members, and feel empowered no matter where they are. As Microsoft Chief Digital Officer Andrew Wilson says, “The digital employee experience is the employee experience.”

Establishing priorities
Microsoft Digital focuses on three key priorities that capture the experiences in which the Digital Workplace investment is relevant: putting employees first, creating compelling experiences that matter, and measuring the value of efforts.

Graphic showing Microsoft Digital’s “employees first,” ”compelling experiences,” and “measure the value” priorities.
The three priorities of the Digital Workplace investment at Microsoft.
Employees first. How do our employees get to and around work safely and efficiently? From the morning commute to navigating buildings to getting home at the end of the day, moving around safely and efficiently is a foundational need for employees right now, and within the communities where worksites are located.
Create compelling experiences that matter. Employees expect more flexibility in their choice of workplace, and they want new experiences that were not available pre-pandemic. How do we provide dynamic access to services? What tools can we provide to enable effective collaboration and focus? Interaction within the workplace should be friction-free and straightforward.
Measure the value of efforts. The workplace should offer the most powerful solutions available for getting work done, both when employees are working collaboratively and when they’re focusing on their own work. Increased real-time analytics and building health and utilization metrics will be key to our real estate team (GWS) having a comprehensive view of physical spaces, so we can quickly prioritize and respond to changing employee preferences.
Through the lens of these priorities, the Microsoft Digital team created a framework for improving the employee experience. These powerful new capabilities are simple to use and integrate and combine securely and efficiently with other initiatives to accelerate digital transformation at Microsoft.

Making the digital workplace a reality
The vision for the digital workplace includes investments in infrastructure and physical components. With our three key priorities in mind, here are some of those experiences we’re evaluating to make a more compelling, start-to-finish workday for employees.

Priority 1: Putting the employee first
Employees need to be put in control of how they interact with Microsoft campuses. Social distancing and attention to safety are part of the post-COVID norm, and workplace technology must adapt to that.

Health and well-being have been emerging imperatives and now they are more important than ever. The campus of the future will have a strong focus on all aspects of an employee’s health and well-being. Onsite food and beverage programs will enable users to order ahead and have seamless payment to minimize waits and optimize their mealtime, access customized food delivery options, and obtain catering for special events. Helping employees find extra time, take breaks effectively, and find ways to maintain fitness at work are all important aspects of a reimagined on-campus experience. Health self-attestation apps to ensure employee safety as well as optimized temperature, lighting, and other environmental factors will all play a role to ensure optimal productivity.

Social distancing expectations will influence physical and digital designs. For example, Microsoft updated internal transportation offerings to enable a quick transition to social distancing if needed in the future, including fewer occupants per vehicle. Multimodal journey planning tools are also forthcoming to enable employees to easily select from a variety of options and quickly adapt to individual wellness preferences and hybrid schedules.

Similarly, we’re researching ways to monitor crowding in cafeterias so we can signal the best time to visit. Machine learning will help us develop models to improve our employee services in a safe manner.

Additionally, we want our employees to feel safe when there are visitors on campus. This means touchless visitor check-in to reduce health concerns and providing host notification and simple access to the Microsoft guest Wi-Fi network. Ideally, the visitor welcome experience begins prior to a visit, by providing visitors with a preregistration check-in and helpful information about their upcoming visit.

Key initiatives
By enabling these “employee first” initiatives, several key benefits occur:

Improved and informed commuting decisions.
Space for recharging and resetting with Health and Wellness resources.
Order-ahead dining, seamless payment, and cafeteria crowdedness indicators.
Clear access to health attestation and optimized environmental controls.
Touchless visitor arrival and departure experiences.
Priority 2: Creating compelling experiences that matter
The physical spaces employees encounter when they’re in the office, especially the meeting room experience, are critical differentiators as employees begin to return to worksites. This section addresses two key areas: workflow improvements—improving the employee’s experience throughout their day as they arrive, engage, and work on campus—and meeting room improvements, specifically what changes need to be made to represent the new hybrid norm and to ensure a fair and inclusive meeting experience, whether you are joining from campus or remotely.

Workflow improvements
At Microsoft, an improved employee experience will be available through a variety of interfaces that meet employees wherever they may be. This includes a company-wide employee mobile app, smart building and lobby kiosks, desktop applications, and AI/bots that make applications predictive. Moving towards a variety of smart building capabilities that provide employees with flexibility and complement the way they go about their day will be the norm moving forward.

Graphic showing how employees move around campus: Connector bus, parking lot, building, desks with employees working and collaborating.
Looking at the various employee touchpoints throughout a workday on campus.
As Microsoft employees begin returning to worksites, they’ll have to start preparing for something they haven’t experienced in a while: their commute. That experience should be supported with smart recommendations about the best way to get to work, navigate traffic, and park their car. Smart parking allows for a proactive response to users’ parking needs. The parking design will lead to better space utilization, greater employee satisfaction, and improved safety and productivity when employees can easily and quickly find a vacant parking spot.

When people reach a facility, the arrival experience needs to be frictionless, welcoming, and secure. For employees, we’re working towards a mobile access option to enable fast and secure entry into Microsoft buildings. This system also eliminates the lost-badge scenario and helps Microsoft ensure the safety of employees while they are in buildings.

Employees’ commutes don’t end once they reach the office; they spend time moving within buildings and campuses during the workday. Enabling this travel by providing quick and easy shuttle bookings for employees on campuses and digital and physical indoor wayfinding to help employees find a colleague, conference room, or other location is key. The goal is to improve employees’ ability to get directions from one location to another across Microsoft facilities.

After employees get to work, they want on-demand and intelligent access to workplace services such as finding and booking a conference room, accessing transportation, making facility requests, as well as dining and wellness services that add value to their day.

In addition to enhancing the employee and visitor experience, partnering with the GWS team to reduce environmental impact through improved transportation offerings is also critical. For example, one of Microsoft Digital’s primary goals is to provide GWS counterparts with transportation utilization information so that they can optimize fleet operations and contribute to lower carbon emissions while still enabling the best possible employee experience.

Key initiatives
By focusing on these key workplace experiences, we can make it easier for employees to go about their day, adding value to their commute and on-campus experience:

Seamless commute and fast parking.
Badgeless entry.
Clear and visible wayfinding.
A move toward smart building capabilities.
A focus on environmental sustainability.
Meeting room improvements
Microsoft Digital is also focused on addressing the challenges of the conference room experience at scale by simplifying the process for joining a meeting and sharing content, improving audio reliability, and driving video availability and adoption, whether on site or remote. Meeting rooms that were once built and operated largely by facilities staff are becoming critical endpoints for digital collaboration. Computer-driven room systems (such as Microsoft Teams Rooms) can now be deployed and supported at scale in a cost-effective manner.

An empty focus room with a wall-mounted computer screen showing a user joined to a meeting with a PowerPoint deck on display.
A focus room meeting space utilizing Microsoft Teams for hybrid capabilities.
With nearly 16,000 meeting spaces at Microsoft, our “north star” is to provide a simple, consistent, reliable experience no matter where you are in the world. We’ve been most effective at achieving this goal in the Puget Sound region by leaning heavily on Microsoft Teams Rooms and Microsoft Surface Hubs. In 2022, we’ll move beyond our corporate headquarters and focus on delivering better meeting spaces globally, continuing to drive more capability at lower cost, increasing the number and type of spaces we support, and delivering new scenarios for our employees.

Remote attendees should find it simple and easy to join a meeting from wherever they are. By using Microsoft Teams to imagine the meeting experience beyond the conference room or traditional desktop connection, we’re working toward a friction-free, fully featured, and inclusive remote connection experience. With the right peripherals (good lighting is important) and Microsoft Teams enabled devices like headsets, speakerphones, and web cameras, everyone that has joined the meeting will be well represented and have a great meeting room experience.

To empower remote meeting attendees, we want to provide an experience on par with that of in-person attendees. We’re examining technical improvements to make sure remote attendees are included equally and can access meeting-specific content such as physical and digital whiteboard drawings, and by building functionality to ensure that employees of every ability have access to a full-featured meeting experience, including automated notetaking, automated task creation, and more intelligent integration of meeting information into the collaboration experience. For more ways to ensure the best use of these technologies and to create a culture of inclusive meeting experiences, check out Microsoft’s tips for staying productive in an evolving hybrid world.

Finding an available meeting room can be a challenge and will prove especially difficult for employees who haven’t been on campus for a while. Wayfinding (the ability to use an app or digital service to find your way within a building), resource management practices, and scheduling systems will offer help locating and making more efficient use of available rooms. And by enabling automated booking and management processes that continually reevaluate meeting room usage, we can reduce occurrences of double bookings, unused rooms, and cancellations that aren’t reflected in room availability, ensuring everyone has a space to meet.

Microsoft Digital has also developed a set of meeting room standards that we deploy around the world to ensure consistency of experience and supportability, helping to increase efficiency and reduce costs. By deploying this globally, we enable more accurate inventories, better visibility across more assets, efficient alerting capabilities, and improved remote access. By also developing more streamlined support processes, we’re building manageability and support for a new generation of communal devices.

Key initiatives
Enabling these meeting and collaboration experiences allows for the following improvements:

Deployment of Microsoft Teams Rooms.
Decommission old conferencing technology.
Improved meeting space reservation time.
Ensured inventory accuracy and device visibility.
Priority 3: Measuring the value of efforts
Optimizing usage of space was difficult pre-pandemic even though there was a long, stable history of how spaces were utilized day in and day out. In a hybrid work environment, determining space utilization and the new normal of employee building utilization patterns will be even more challenging. By using data science and modeling to provide timely and accurate occupancy and facilities data, Microsoft can make better decisions about how its workspaces, buildings, and campuses will be utilized, which informs return to workplace occupancy planning as well as long-term real estate portfolio strategy.

Compounding the challenge is that, as we discover the new patterns of building occupancy, the need for occupancy data becomes more real time. Prior to COVID, occupancy data was looked at less frequently (several times a year). We have updated our dashboards to reflect this need for real-time data and to provide pre- and post-pandemic comparisons that can be separated by organization and region, to account for global locations being in various stages of COVID response. This data will come from both badge swipes and IoT sensors.

MDEE is also working closely with GWS to help them improve how they manage their facilities and operations, including efficient facility management, energy-smart buildings, and back-of-the-office processes such as lease management and utility bill payments. To achieve this optimization, the cross-functional team is building a state-of-the-art facility management system using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Services, Microsoft Azure Digital Twins, and a real estate Microsoft Azure data lake. This technology combines to influence this transformation of facilities usage and management throughout the industry. The campus of the future will rely heavily on AI and machine learning to help improve precision of occupancy modeling and optimize energy use by up to 50%.

Key initiatives
By focusing on real-time data and machine learning, we can predictively model attendance, transportation and dining usage, cleaning signals, and more, resulting in the following benefits:

More precise occupancy and building portfolio planning.
Increased usage of real-time data.
Enhanced end-to-end facility management.
A digital twin of a physical building for providing an integration platform for smart spaces.
Quick onboarding of data from sensors and third-party systems to our Smart Building (digital twin) system.
Digitized floorplans.
At Microsoft, our investments in the Digital Workplace put employees at the center of their experience and ensures that those experiences add value to their day. Employees and guests will have simple, consistent, and reliable technologies, meeting spaces, and collaboration devices that allow them to be highly productive and conduct business with ease and professionalism. At Microsoft, the digital workplace experience will serve as a model of workplace productivity and an inspiration to our customers around the world.

Key Takeaways
A strong partnership between an IT team and real estate team can produce amazing results.
COVID has created an uncertain future for employee experiences, and a lot of opportunity to redefine the digital workplace. By doing continual, small-scale experiments, you’ll be better prepared for a wide range of possibilities.
Prioritize the employee first by putting them in control of their environment, whether it’s on campus or a hybrid experience. Once basic needs are met, the focus is then on creating compelling experiences that matter and measuring the value of those efforts.
Computer-driven room systems (such as Microsoft Teams Rooms) can be cost-effectively deployed and supported on a global
Data, especially real-time data, has an even larger prominence because of the need for rapid decision-making by employees, human resources, and real estate teams (for example, space utilization and space effectiveness).

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