Microsoft Is Using Workplace Design And Layout To Encourage A Collaborative Culture

by Erica Driver.

During a recent trip to Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, I was treated to a tour of the company's Workplace Advantage showroom. Workplace Advantage is a Microsoft real estate and facilities management program “focused on empowering Microsoft’s employees by creating new work environments that foster innovation and productivity and that reflect the culture and position of Microsoft in the marketplace as a visionary technology leader,” according to the program’s glossy literature. Some highlights:

  • Microsoft segments workers into four types. These are: concentrator, traveler, orchestrator, and provider. Employees can take a personality test of sorts to find out which type they are, and can tour the showroom to see types of work environments (personal work environments as well as conference rooms, team meeting spots, and communal areas) that might be a good fit.
  • The company offers a variety of workplace solutions depending on telework options. Depending on the percentage of time a worker spends working from the office vs. working remotely (40% is one cutoff and the other is 100%), the company offers an on-campus office, a reserved or non-reserved temporary on-campus workspace, outfitting for a home office, and reimbursement for network connectivity at home.
  • Managers and employees can tour a showroom to get ideas for workspace layouts and design. An advanced collaboration room provides integrated communications software, telephony, and audio/video technology. A kitchen / bar-like hangout area called “The Mixer” encourages serendipitous, unplanned interactions. An enclosed space called “The Situation Room”  has flexible, open workspaces and mobile storage – and a wall covering suitable for being written on with dry erase pens – is a flexible area that supports a group of people who need to work for a predetermined period of time. “The Think Tank” is a living room-style, informal team discussion area. And the showroom includes lots of options for “Visitor Parking” – temporary workspaces for mobile workers.

It is very exciting to see one of the world’s largest software companies recognize the degree to which the physical work environment can make or break collaboration, and be conducive to innovation. For more information on trends in the physical work environment, see the July 11, 2006 Forrester report “Untethering Information Workers: Rethinking Workplace Location And Layout.”