Future of Work

Future of Work

Publications

News & features

News & features

News & features

News & features

Overview

What future do we want?

Even before the pandemic, many significant changes were transforming the nature of work.  Our processes were becoming more flexible, organic, responsive, and adaptive. The pace of work was speeding up, and the amount of information at our fingertips was dramatically increasing.  We were also seeing changes in where we worked, moving away from fixed workplaces.  And work was becoming more collaborative, networked, dynamic, and multidisciplinary than ever.

Fast forward just a few months and we are now seeing that enforced working from home has tested our agility and responsiveness to their limits. It has forced us to adapt to change more rapidly than we ever thought possible.  And it has shone a light on where our existing technologies have been lacking, and how our work processes have needed reinventing.

As the pandemic has evolved, many of us have found that we’ve been able to be as productive as we were before, or even more so. But the picture is very mixed across the world, and for different kinds of work.  And we’ve discovered that even for a knowledge worker with the most up to date technology, some kinds of work are more difficult to achieve in an all-remote world. Added to this, for many, the pressures of combining work and home life are proving to have profound effects on our health and well-being.

These radical changes, taken together, provide a unique opportunity to reflect and think deeply about the future of work that we want, and the kind of life that we aspire to as individuals, organisations and society. It leads us to ask how we can invent a more fulfilling future, and one that takes into account the broader scope of our lives, not just the hours we spend working.  Part of this is developing technologies that ensure we support what people do best: being social, being creative, and using our insight, ingenuity, judgment, and emotional intelligence.  We are freer to do this if the systems we build play to the strengths of digital technologies:  connecting us across space and time, taking care of repetitive and routine actions in intelligent ways, securely storing vast quantities of information, constructing and mining large datasets, and creating new kinds of representations to which we can apply our judgment.  By getting these human-machine partnerships right, we can move toward a human-centric future of work.

Projects

Excel screenshot

Calc Intelligence

We are working on foundational ideas that will take a qualitative step forward, to extend dramatically the reach of what end users can do with spreadsheets.

enterprise knowledge illustration

Enterprise Knowledge

The aim of the Enterprise Knowledge project is to automatically extract business knowledge into a single, consistent knowledge base, made up of the entities that really matter to each organisation.

two people at a meeting using devices

Socially Intelligent Meetings

The Socially Intelligent Meetings program explores social and technological interventions for making work-oriented telepresence effective, comfortable, adaptable, and robust

Peter Bosher, middle, an audio engineer who is blind who worked with the Project Tokyo team early in the design process, checks out the latest iteration of the system at Microsoft’s research lab in Cambridge, UK, with researchers Martin Grayson, left, and Cecily Morrison, right. Photo by Jonathan Banks.

Inclusive Workplaces

Human-centred machine learning is key to create inclusive workplace technologies. We are innovating new machine learning approaches and human experience designs through creating visual agent technologies for people who are blind or low vision.

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Software Processes

Our studies on software process include organizational impact on quality, agile software development, global software development, effort estimation, development branches, and build analysis.

Focus areas

Our research into the future of work at Microsoft Research Cambridge focuses on three key aspects:

Collaboration:  Building tools for collaboration which are flexible, powerful and lightweight.  Most importantly, they must be designed for an inclusive, hybrid future where some people will gather in person and some will be remote.

Creativity: Developing technologies which gather and analyse data across device, application and service silos, allowing us to be more expressive, reflective, and insightful in the work that we do.

Intelligence: Building systems that enable intelligent dialogues with users, taking context and goals into account, mining personal and organizational data in ethical ways, and which have appropriate levels of agency to support the flow of work for individuals and teams.

Diversity of thinking

We believe it’s critical to bring together a diverse range of team members crossing boundaries from different disciplines and perspectives. All of our projects are multidisciplinary so that we can build technologies for the real world.  To do this, we draw on expertise in the following areas:

  • Social science
  • Hardware and sensing technologies
  • Design
  • Trusted cloud infrastructure
  • Machine learning
  • Ethics
  • Programming languages

People