At Microsoft, we believe that hybrid work is the future. Moving forward, every organization will need a new operating model for hybrid work—one that doesn’t rely on old norms, like the 8-hour, 9-to-5 workday. Employee expectations have changed for good, with more than 80 percent of managers saying they expect more flexible work from home policies post-pandemic, and more than 70 percent of employees saying they plan to take advantage of them. To compete in this new world, leaders need to embrace extreme flexibility in when, where, and how people work.
Every customer I talk to wants to empower people for a world of work that is dynamic, fluid, and cloud-powered. They want to find ways for people to work not just from anywhere but at any time, with solutions that allow both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. And it’s a ‘whole organization’ shift. From IT, to HR, to operations, to marketing and manufacturing—this is a conversation that requires leaders across the entire organization to come together to rethink work.
As students of the new world of work, we’ve been experimenting and sharing what we learn as work evolves. Today, I want to share our approach to empower your employees around the world for a flexible work world. It’s a three-part strategy: First, create policy to empower people for extreme flexibility. Second, reimagine physical spaces. And third, invest in technologies that connect people anywhere and anytime.
Let’s take a look at each.
Create policy to empower people for extreme flexibility
The choices you make today will impact your organization for years to come. It’s a moment that requires a clear vision. You need a plan and policies that put you on the path to extreme flexibility. These decisions will impact everything from how you shape culture to how you attract and retain talent to how you respond to changes in the environment to future innovation.
Many organizations have already stepped forward with strong stances on flexible work. Twitter declared its workers could work remotely “forever.” Dropbox announced it will essentially eliminate office space for focused work, transforming physical locations to cater to meetings and collaboration. Spotify hopes to lure talent with New York and San Francisco-level salaries for employees working remotely anywhere in the world. And at Microsoft, employees can now work from home up to 50 percent of the time.
Empowering people for extreme flexibility begins with answering critical questions: Who will be able to work remotely? Who will need to come into the office, and for what amount of time? When people do focused work, where will they do it? What about collaborative work? And in a world where ongoing disruption is part of the new normal—with natural disasters, geopolitical events, and global health crises—you need to be prepared to respond to sudden changes. New, flexible policies take the answers to these questions and codify them, providing clarity and guidance to employees as they experiment.
Reimagine your physical spaces
Once you’ve determined your policies for extreme flexibility, use them to guide your approach to physical space. From here on out, we will no longer rely solely on physical spaces to collaborate, connect, and build social capital. But space will still be important. We’re social animals and we want to get together, bounce ideas off one another, and experience the energy of in-person events. Moving forward, office space needs to bridge the physical and digital worlds and meet the unique needs of every team—and specific roles.
At Microsoft we’re surveying employees and looking at everything from social graphs to employee traffic patterns to understand how to equip teams with the spaces they need, knowing those needs will evolve over time. Sales teams who need to come to the office infrequently can use a hoteling model to book workstations for the day or hour, while engineering teams may need dedicated collaboration spaces and workstations. To accommodate remote workers, we’re exploring offsite coworking hubs. Because we know how we work will continue to evolve, we’re building flexibility into every space we design.
Connecting the physical to the digital
It’s also critical to think about bridging the gap between in-person and remote experiences. Working together when everyone is in the office is fairly straightforward. And over the last 12 months, we’ve figured out how to get things done when everyone is at home. It’s how to handle that messy middle—when some people are physically together and others are joining virtually—that’s going to be a challenge.
Today’s state-of-the-art Microsoft Teams Rooms include high-quality audio and video to help everyone be seen and heard. Meeting room cameras deliver high-definition video streams and optimize the view by framing the people in the room or following the active speaker. Intelligent speakers identify who in the room is speaking, and individual names and profiles are represented in meeting transcripts. Features like live captions, live transcription, raise hand, reactions, and chat help people follow along and offer opportunities to chime in non-verbally or without interrupting the speaker. Digital whiteboards—accessible both in the room and at home—foster collaboration and co-creation. People onsite can ink directly on a Surface Hub or from their own phone or laptop and remote participants can draw on the same shared digital canvas. In addition, our Intelligent Capture cameras can capture, focus, resize, and enhance analog whiteboard images and text, so remote attendees can clearly see brainstorming in real-time, even when someone is standing in front of the whiteboard.
All of this is available today in Microsoft Teams Rooms, but we’re just getting started. We see a not-so-distant future where meetings become immersive experiences that allow us to ‘be there’—from anywhere and at any time. Our vision for the future includes changes to meeting room layouts; the addition of multiple screens create dynamic views of participants, chat, whiteboards, content, and notes; and enhancements to in-room technologies to help remote participants track and participate in the flow of the meeting.
Invest in technology that connects people—anywhere and anytime
Along with physical spaces, your plan for extreme flexibility should include technology that enables teamwork and creates a new digital employee experience that follows your employees no matter where they go.
When the pandemic compelled people everywhere to shift to remote work, videoconferencing was the primary tool that people used to connect and keep work moving. Within months, people were participating in 55 percent more digital meetings compared to pre-COVID-19—and we all felt the related stress and burnout. Videoconferencing will always be important, but it’s just one tool, and doesn’t provide the communication and collaboration infrastructure needed to power hybrid work. Microsoft Teams is the only solution that combines meet, chat, call, and collaborate in a single place—all integrated with the Office apps and business process automation tools. What’s more, it opens up collaboration between knowledge workers and frontline workers and blends synchronous and asynchronous work naturally. It’s the only app that does it all, providing an organizing layer that supports the flow of work across the organization.
We’ve introduced more than 100 new features in Teams over the past year, all built with extreme flexibility in mind—and there are many more on the way. But we need to go even further to support the new emerging patterns of distributed work. Microsoft Viva, is the first integrated employee experience platform designed for hybrid work. Taken together, Teams and Viva deliver a technology platform that will connect your people and help them navigate the new reality.
Work is evolving rapidly, and there’s just no going back to our pre-pandemic world. As vaccines begin to roll out globally, business leaders everywhere need a plan for the new operating model—extreme flexibility. While we’re all still learning as we go, it’s clear that every organization is going to need three things: new policies, re-configured physical spaces, and technology that binds it all together. There are challenges ahead but we are optimistic about creating a future that empowers people to connect from anywhere, at any time, and to be and bring their best each day.