If you want to peek at what workplaces of the future will look like, look no further than a new Microsoft smart building that just opened in Herzliya, Israel. The building is a hotbed of experimentation in real estate technology that’s helping inform the company’s real estate planning around the world.
The 46,000 square meter campus has attracted global attention to sustainability, urban inspired creative design (which even includes yoga rooms), and highly flexible workspace configurations.
At Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters, real estate planning teams are closely watching campus features that aren’t so obvious when you enter a building.
These features include new technologies engineered for functionality and productivity, like helping employees find an open workspace or secure a parking spot before they arrive. Some are completely invisible to the average observer but are no less critical, like technology that secures a network running a host of internet of things (IoT) devices.
Martin Lammers is a senior program manager for Microsoft’s Employee Experience team, which has been developing these new technologies within Microsoft Digital, the organization that powers, protects, and transforms Microsoft. He worked in close partnership with real estate teams to implement new features and user experiences.
“Our intent was to make additional smart features available to employees and guests,” Lammers says. “The goal was to give them an excellent experience while being more productive and helping them feel more connected to the community and their environment.”
New ways of interacting with the environment
For Microsoft smart building projects that have been under design for several years, some of the new real estate technology at Microsoft Herzliya seems designed for the post-COVID-19 world.
The new safe and secure check-in experience using license plate recognition technology allows guests to pre-register their vehicle before arriving, and get access to a reserved garage space prior to lobby check-in. Rather than signing in with a lobby receptionist on a touch screen, they can receive a QR code that enables them to check in on their own mobile device. The check-in interface now also includes a health screening as well.
“We wanted to develop a guest management system from the ground up,” says Daniel Lee, the regional lead for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for the Center of Innovation, the team that’s dedicated to real estate technology at Microsoft. “That enabled us to have full control of the stack, and, in light of COVID-19, start introducing things like touchless check-in. It was serendipitous, but we were able to pivot and reprioritize.”
People sensors powered by IoT devices have enabled “hot desking,” a feature that helps people find a seat in a building they don’t normally work in, or locate the person they’re there to meet. The same people sensors can be used to monitor building occupancy levels, and from a planning perspective, understand how space is utilized.
With its commitment to the Zero Trust security model of protecting corporate and customer data, Israel was also the first Microsoft site to move its IoT devices off the corporate network to make sure the network is protected from being accessed via hackable devices. Instead, they created a separate network segment that IoT devices could live on. “It took a lot of coordination between IT and business to develop a process that allows for more flexible solutions for protecting corporate assets,” Lee says.
All of these have been built by using existing Microsoft technology and products, including Microsoft Azure AI, Microsoft Azure cloud technologies, and tools like Microsoft Azure Digital Twins, an IoT platform that allows you to create digital representations of real-world environments.
Israel: Where high growth meets high innovation
Singapore, Costa Rica, Hyderabad, Atlanta, Puget Sound—these campus locations are also fertile testing grounds for emerging Microsoft smart building technology.
So what makes Israel a leader in innovation?
According to Lee, it’s a country of high technological growth and innovation, and although Microsoft has had a presence there for decades, the locations were more fragmented field offices. Consolidating was an opportunity to build smarter and better.
In this age of hybrid work, it’s important to understand how people are using and occupying the space. This kind of data really helps us design better to begin with.
– Scott Weiskopf, director of Microsoft’s Center of Innovation
As a country, Israel has also been ahead of the curve in vaccinating its population against COVID-19. Microsoft expects many of its employees there to start working in the new building in some fashion this spring.
This makes the Microsoft Herzliya campus another testing ground for new technologies used to manage space and facilitate safety.
“In this age of hybrid work, it’s important to understand how people are using and occupying the space,” says Scott Weiskopf, director of Microsoft’s Center of Innovation. “I’m really excited about everything we put in there. This kind of data really helps us design better to begin with.”
Building blocks for digital transformation
Along with other Microsoft smart building test locations, Israel operates as one piece of a larger real estate plan that represents a major improvement over more siloed planning processes of the past.
These locations become proven building blocks for a better total digital transformation solution for each major building that we deploy.
– Martin Lammers, senior program manager, Microsoft Employee Experiences
“Before the Center of Innovation was created, we had an infamous list of 99 projects that weren’t very connected,” Lee says. “We started to ask ourselves, how can we not duplicate and waste money? We needed to have more rigor and cohesion around how we approach and invest in technology when it comes to real estate.”
With a plan to learn from projects in flight, sites like Israel, Costa Rica, and Singapore now form a connected feedback loop. All of this is building toward what Lammers calls “the crescendo,” — the opening of the modernized campus headquarters in Redmond planned for 2023.
“It’s becoming foundational,” Lammers says. “These locations become proven building blocks for a better total digital transformation solution for each major building that we deploy.”
The team gained crucial knowledge in Israel around overlaying a technology schedule with a construction schedule, such as when to install IoT devices.
“That was a very new muscle for us as we were going down this digital transformation journey,” says Becky West, principal group program manager for Microsoft Digital’s real estate technology team. “We’re very good at building software. But to fully digitally transform buildings, we have to focus a lot on hardware, too.”
As employees return to work on the Microsoft Herzliya campus, many of them will be in the new Microsoft smart building for the first time. The real estate team will gather more feedback from focus groups and data provided by the technology to see what’s working and how they can further improve the technology they’re building.
“What excites us most is that we were able to light up all these great employee and operational experiences using Microsoft technology,” West says. “It’s just a phenomenal feeling to be able to showcase your project using Microsoft products to improve employees’ lives.”