Microsoft is using its Dutch headquarters as part of a radical experiment that the company believes could demonstrate the future of the workplace.
The company's office in Schiphol airport has done away with dedicated desks and offices. It has given employees the freedom to choose where, when and how they work.
The experiment is underpinned by sophisticated technology which allows Microsoft staff to communicate using chat, e-mail, social networking tools and video conferencing wherever they are.
Microsoft, backed by research from the Rotterdam School of Management, says the result is a happier workforce, improved staff retention rates, increased productivity and lower building costs.
Visitors to the complex are struck by just how unlike a traditional office it feels. Receptionists don't sit behind desks, for example. The entrance hall leads straight into a large, open-plan coffee area, where staff and managers work at communal tables or sit on soft chairs with their laptops. The whole building is bathed in natural light.
There are big family tables and open areas with fruit and coffee machines for people who want to be sociable. Employees who want to focus can borrow a cubicle or work in glass-walled offices. They can choose to curtain-off a section of the office if they want to hold an impromptu meeting. No-one has their own desk or office, not even managers.
"The building adjusts itself to the sort of work you want to do," says Theo Rinsema, general manager. "If I want a meeting I can go to a large room. If I want a more formal meeting I can go to formal room. If I want to be approached, I can work in the communal area. If I want to work concentrated, I can go to a concentration area."
Microsoft has underpinned what it calls its new way of working with sophisticated communications technology.
Each employee has a laptop which acts as a communications hub, allowing them to send and receive phone calls, e-mails, instant messaging and take part in video conferences.
They can access every business application - ranging from invoicing systems to logistics systems to sales information - over the web, whether they are working from the office or from home.
They can integrate Facebook, Twitter, and other social media services into Outlook. Microsoft claims that the technology has reduced the quantity of e-mails each employee has to deal with by 30%.
|Microsoft's business benefits.|
|Sales at the Dutch subsidiary are up 51%|
|Office space costs reduced by 30%, equivalent to $644,000 a year|
|Employee satisfaction has increased, according to a study by Rotterdam School of Management|
|The proportion of employees with a "mobile workstyle" has risen from 70 to 77%|
Sign-up to Computer Weekly to download a PDF of the full Microsoft case study, including a series of six white papers on creating a hybrid office and adopting new ways of working. The package includes case studies showing how the Dutch Ministry of Justice is developing communications technology, based on Sharepoint 2010, to hold remote court hearings, and how GKN Getronics, a large Dutch IT supplier, is using SharePoint and Office to allow its field-staff to collaborate when they are out on the road.
Read the full transcript from this video below:
Video: No desk, no office - Microsoft experiments with future of work
Bill Goodwin: Hello. Welcome to Computer Weekly. My name is Bill Goodwin, and I am
here in the offices of Microsoft, in the Netherlands.
I would like to ask you about the offices
here, because they are very different from most normal company
offices. Why are they designed this way, with lots of open plan
and open cubicles, a very different way of working? Could you
explain a little bit about your setup there?
Theo Rinsema: Yes. In fact, if you look at our offices, it is the crucial
element of a total change we went through, which we call 'the
new world of work,' and the adoption of a new way of work. In
effect, what we said is we want to implement activity-based
working. Dependent on the kind of activity you are conducting,
we find the best suitable workplace, and of course it has an
impact on your office space because you have to redesign your
office space to make it fit into that philosophy. What you see
over here is that nobody has a designated workplace, including
myself, nobody. Dependent on the kind of activity you do, you
find the place that suits your needs best for that specific
work. That could mean that you choose for a concentration
workplace, it could mean that you want to collaborate with
others, so you find the best suitable environment for that. It
could be a table, or lounge room, or whatever. The effect of
building itself, from a facility point of view to the kind of
activities you are conducting.
Bill Goodwin: What are the benefits for having such offices in Microsoft for the
employees and for Microsoft itself?
Theo Rinsema: If you look at the benefits we see for effective total process
of adopting the new world of work, it has to do with a few
things. First of all, what we see is that we empower people to
decide for themselves when they are in the office or when they
work, of course, within constraints of the team, so the team
decides together when they are in the office to physically meet
each other, for example. What that means for people is that they
can better balance their private lives, which are getting busier
all the time, and their business lives, which are getting busier
all the time, as well, and that has resulted in an increasing
employee satisfaction and especially in the balance between
work and life. Our people are more satisfied with us as an
employer, and they feel that they are more empowered to decide
for themselves how they work, so that is an advantage.
Bill Goodwin: Technology is very important to underpin the way Microsoft works.
Could you explain what technological infrastructure you have had
to put in place to enable this way of working?
Theo Rinsema: If you look at collaborative working, and if you want to move to
a situation where, in fact, people can shift from going to work
to starting to work, so you do not have to move through the
building in order to start working, then of course, a few things
are crucial from a technology perspective. First of all,
processes have to be digitized because if you still need paper,
it is difficult to work in a way we currently are working.
Almost all the processes we have in place have been digitized,
so we could shift to a situation where people can decide for
themselves where they work because as long as they have their
netbook, laptop, or their mobile with them, they have access to
the information they need. If you then look at the technology we
use, in effect almost everything has been web-enabled, so we can
have access to invoicing systems, logistics systems, reservation
systems we use, all through the web, sales information systems,
marketing information systems, all through the web. I think that
is something you need in order to take advantage of this
What I specifically would like to call out is that if you look
at the way people communicate within Microsoft in the
Netherlands, a few new technologies have been implemented over
the last few years. First of all, it is chat technology, it is
Office Communicator. What that means is that people can chat
with each other. If you were an employee of Microsoft in the
Netherlands, I could see whether you were busy or not because
Office Communicator would show you with a red bullet, a red
person. If I would flip my mouse over it, I could even see in
what kind of meeting you are in, so I could still choose to
interrupt you, so it is integrated with the agenda. If you are
green, you are free, and I can ask you a question anyway. It
starts with chat. Chat is very productive because you just
simply ask a question, you get an answer, and you move forward.
If we come to a point in this chat where we think it is more
beneficial to have an audio conference, we click on a button and
instantly we talk to each other. If we want to see each other,
we click to the button again within Office, and then we see each
other, as well. If we want to take advantage of the intelligence
or the knowledge of another person, we can drag them into it.
There is layered communication in place based on the latest
technology of Microsoft, which makes it possible for people to
real-time communicate and not interrupt as much as previous
technology did, because if you were in a meeting and you would
call me, and my cell phone would start to ring, that would
interrupt the meeting. If you would just see on your laptop that
Bill has a question, and I said, "Yes, that is OK," it is not an
interruption to the meeting in itself.
Bill Goodwin: What was the biggest challenge for you? Was it
putting in the technology, or was it changing the way people
worked, changing their mindset?
Theo Rinsema: For us, I think it is dependent on the situation of an
organization. We had the latest technology up and running. In
fact, the way we applied our technology had to do with the
people, because people have to shift to a situation where they
use the technology more to their advantage than they previously
did, as I explained in the example of chat technology. Then you
have to break the pattern of that if you want to reach somebody,
you pick up the cell phone. No. Break the pattern, start
communicating through chat technology. The most important piece
for us had to do with people, because these patterns are tough
to break. It requires people to be aware of it, a willingness to
change it, to see the benefits of it, and that was the biggest
thing from a change management perspective we took. One thing in
addition that has to do specifically with leadership. What we
have found is that this is difficult for leaders. First of all,
you have to shift from a situation where most of the leaders are
very used to controlling things, and shift to a situation where
you, by default, trust your employees -- from control to trust.
The second change is a lot of middle managers in organizations
are used to driving their business based on the attendance of
people. It gives them comfort to see people because they think
that if they see them, they are obviously working. To shift
that, to not driving on attendance but to drive on the
output they generate, is also quite a development. As leaders,
we have to make these two shifts in order to enable our people
to make the technology work for them and to feel empowered to
create the output while balancing their working lives and their
private lives the best. That is, in short, one of the toughest
things you have to do in order to be successful.
Bill Goodwin: Microsoft has shown that a new way of working is possible. How widely
do you see this way of working being taken up? Do you think it
is going to be limited to specialist companies, or will everyone
be doing it this way?
Theo Rinsema: If you talk about the new world of work, what I see in the
Netherlands is that it has tremendous momentum. At first,
organizations that started to adopt it were especially in
financial services, professional services, typically industries
with a lot of knowledge workers and information workers. What we
see now, that is also in trade and industry, organizations are
starting to adopt the new world of work. That has to do with the
fact that this is not totally a concept just for knowledge
workers. If you look at the philosophy behind it, from a
leadership perspective, it can also apply to a trade
organization or a factory because what it is all about is that
you empower people by giving them trust, and if you give them
trust, then they start to self-organize things. For example,
there is an organization in the Netherlands, a factory, and they
started to develop an approach where they ask the work floor
people to optimize their work and to optimize it themselves in
a way where the output is generated in time, but they agree
upon, within the team, when somebody works and when somebody is
in another shift, and so on. If you do so, then you find out
that there are a lot of possibilities as well in that area. I
feel it is also the challenge of leadership to have this North
Star of: how can I balance productivity with my employees'
satisfaction, and am I prepared to take some simple steps and
learn along the way? It is not totally a thing for knowledge
workers, but also for task workers in more traditional
industries, as well.
Bill Goodwin: Thank you, Theo.