How Microsoft and Steelcase are building the workplace millennials will love

Image credit: Microsoft

Millennials, 20- to early 30-somethings, seem bent on doing everything, including working, differently than previous generations. According to recent studies they're dedicated to working more collaboratively, rather than competitively, than previous generations.

For decades Microsoft served enterprise environments comprised of individuals who came of age before the digital age. They didn't grow up with consumer internet or always-connected mobile broadband. Furthermore, their personal encounters with cutting-edge technology were more likely to occur at work rather than with widely accessible high-end consumer electronics like PC-like smartphones and versatile mobile PCs.

Millennials (born between 1983 and 1994) are what many call digital natives. They've come of age in a digitally connected world dominated by smartphones, mobile technology and social media. They exist in a physical/digital duality where activity in the digital world has real-life impact and vice-versa. And they thrive in a culture where personal data is freely shared, there's instant access to information, and there's a sense of community that constant connectivity creates. It's no wonder that 88 percent of millennials prefer collaborative work cultures over the competitive workplaces of their predecessors. Consequently, Microsoft's technology investments are focused on collaborative interactions supported by a partnership with Steelcase, a company dedicated to helping Microsoft create technologically-integrated workspaces millennials will love.

Microsoft's creativity and collaboration foundations

Image credit: Microsoft

A recent study revealed that members of the Young Presidents Organization agree that "creativity is essential to thrive in today's economy." Creativity in business is the ability to solve today's complex problems. Microsoft and Steelcase, formerly the Metal Office Furniture Company, believe collaborative workflows help inspire creativity.

The study also showed that:

  • 84% of the respondents believe new technology will help inspire creativity.
  • 90% know technology and physical space foster creativity.
  • 87% believe a culture that encourages creativity is a top five investment.

Employees also want tools that will make it easy for them to bring their ideas to life from anywhere. This employee-driven desire for cutting-edge tech gives merit to Microsoft's decision to focus on enterprise users. Though its tools have personal and professional appeal Microsoft's most aggressive efforts are enterprise-focused.

Microsoft may be hoping a "trickle down to consumers" effect of its current and future tech like Surface, HoloLens, Windows Mixed Reality, and its rumored inking- and collaboration-focused Project Andromeda device, will be the result of bringing cutting-edge collaborative tools to the professional millennials demanding it.

How Microsoft is prepping the enterprise for 'Surface Andromeda'

Microsoft's ecosystem of collaborative devices and services

In March 2017 I wrote the future of the PC is an intelligent cloud connecting a family of devices. where I shared how Microsoft's cloud would be "the PC" supporting collaborative interconnectivity for Microsoft's family of devices. (See Surface Hub 2 video above). This analysis reflects the reality of the evolving workplace according to a Creative Strategies survey of 1300 consumers:

Millennials have embraced the cloud, which is a core enabler of multi-device workflows...and they see the benefit of the cloud ... in the ability to access content from any device they choose.

Tools like Microsoft Teams, collaborative use of augmented reality via HoloLens, collaboration platforms like Whiteboard and Skype that erase distance and language barriers, Microsoft 365, Microsoft's Surface line, the new Windows Collaboration Displays, Remote Assist and more deliver the unifying collaboration ecosystem digital natives desire.

Microsoft and Steelcase integrate tech and architecture

Image credits: Microsoft

Microsoft is working with Steelcase (opens in new tab) to integrate its technology into Steelcase designed modern workspaces.

Steelcase's Sara Armbruster, vice president, strategy, research & digital transformation wrote (opens in new tab), "Together with Microsoft, we're working to help organizations bridge this gap to bring people, place and technology together holistically, as an interconnected ecosystem." To that end it created various workspaces to support modern office workflows:

  • Idea Hub: high-tech destination that encourages active participation as people co-create, refine and share ideas with co-located or remote teammates on Surface Hub.
  • Respite Room: private room that allows relaxed postures to support diffused attention.
  • Focus Studio: a place to incubate ideas before sharing them; perfect for focused work with Surface Book or Surface Pro.
  • Maker Commons: encourages quick switching between conversation, experimentation and concentration, and is ideal for a mix of devices like Surface Hub and Surface Book.
  • Duo Studio: enables two people to co-create shoulder-to-shoulder, while also supporting individual work with Surface Studio and includes a lounge area to invite others for a quick creative review with Surface Hub.

Though Microsoft is often criticized for its enterprise-focus, collaboration that integrates cutting-edge tech with millenial-friendly flexible workspaces may ultimately appeal to the personal side of the professional millennial. In fact, the Creative Analytics Survey revealed that if employers offered a range of laptops most employees chose Surface Pro.

A workplace for 'digital natives'

Microsoft's and Steelcase's investment's in "flowing" workspaces for diverse problem-solving/product-development stages (which contrasts stoic traditional offices and cubicles) is congruous with the psychological, emotional and behavioral nature of digital natives. They flow through the always-connected digital world engaging technology, the web and social media as a natural part of their psychological, emotional and social reality.

A work environment patterned after that same structure meets millennials where they are and encourages the creativity that Microsoft and others consider to be an invaluable resource. And who knows, if millennials fall in love with these Microsoft-integrated workspaces, they may fall in love with Microsoft's products.

Jason Ward

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

14 Comments
  • I couldn't help but laugh. I work with a LOT of millennials. I'm finding that I'm much more embracing of interactivity and the cloud than they are. A surprising number of the ones I work with are perfectly okay with the social part (Instagramming pictures from their last binge party) but oddly obsessed with privacy when it comes to everything else. A common thing I see, for example: "Hey, my phone broke so I lost all my pictures and contacts, so please send me your info so I can add you back in". Seriously? Meanwhile, I'm the one who WANTS to exist virtually, with my data accessible to me any where and any way, without even having to touch a device unless necessary. I find this supposed drive by Microsoft to be a joke, given how much of their most innovative tools are being killed.
  • I would be happier with the Millennial Generation if they had been taught, or bother to learn themselves, to add, subtract, multiply, divide, spell, read and write.
    Those who have become over-reliant on technology for everything are doomed when things go wrong, which happens in real life.
    As a Baby Boomer, I found the advent of Personal Computing the watershed in my productivity. The first time I used a financial modelling system, and then Lotus 23, on a PC was a revelation. The main reason was that I knew how to set up manual, paper spreadsheets, often glued /taped together to get all the columns to view.
    Too many that followed later take the approach that the computer is always right, they have not heard of GIGO. Ithink GIGO is a good label for a lot of the social media apps around today.
    France has banned smartphones in the classroom, I hope the UK follows likewise, soon.
  • Based on my experience with Millennials so far... I wish Microsoft and Steelcase were working on ways to get them to actually SHOW UP, and do so on time, with any level of consistency. There is no sense of urgency with the ones I've worked with., and office policies are viewed more as suggestions than things that need to be adhered to. I know I'm painting with a broad brush, but we only seem to get about 1 in 10 of the under-30 crowd to "stick" around here.
  • I'll have to agree with DRDiver and macgyverated on the comments. I'd go a bit further, though, and say that unless this new herd of millennials can learn to have the work ethic of the baby boomers, technology won't be able to help much. I've been developing and engineering custom apps and solutions for almost three decades. Gone are the days when I'd have to worry about drive failures or other lost data because of the multiple automated layers of cloud and local storage. It's easy for me to see how this helps (and I bet it's easy for DRDriver and macgyverated to see it also) because I've HAD to do it the hard way. The problems start when you take someone who never learned to do it the hard way, so they really can't comprehend how to use it logically. Basically what I see is for my generation it is a great tool.... but for most of the newer generation it is a crutch that keeps them from developing their true potential. Just my opinion.
  • My experience with Millennials has been pretty underwhelming so far. They are generally not capable of focusing on a task for more than 15 minutes at a time and are constantly checking their social media. They are very open to sharing information, but they don't collaborate well at all. Microsoft's ideas are good in theory. Maybe some jobs will fit in with their attitude of "I'll work when and how I want", but generally a work environment requires a level of structure they just don't function well with. None of the collaborative visions Microsoft has will work efficiently when the Millennials can't be bothered to show up timely and regularly.
  • Crativity and competence comes through forgetting and remembering. How can one be either of these if the technology has always been present in their life and they've never had to rely on their own brains?
  • Millennials may have figured out what kind of work global capitalism offers us: soulless cubicle serfdom, service employment for inhuman franchises, or professional work which is antisocial in its own way. It inspires no dedication or loyalty to companies who will outsource you at the drop of a dollar. Come at me, Boomers, I know most of you are jonesing for early retirement (that is, you want to get out of the environment you created).
  • jazman_777, I'm not sure what your getting at. I think you mean that the system as you have experienced, you perceive as oppressive. But it can be taken as a complaint by someone who can't hack it in the real world. I hope that's not true. Maybe you are complaining about your work environment, and acknowledging that the brave new world you hope to work in uses the technology that the boomers developed for you. Suffice it say that boomers entered the work force before electronic calculators were available, so I believe we've had a more hostile environment to conquer. We had slackers certainly but, set about creating this new accommodating environment through our own initiative and darn hard work. Speaking for myself as a retired boomer, I loved my work and my environment. I assumed ownership of them and set about creating a better version. I don't hear that from you. I hope things work out for you.
  • LoL, keep on boomin'
  • If you can be outsourced at the drop of a dollar I would say that your contributions toward a productive organization are of no better than average skill level. Those that have vision, talent, and enthusiasm will be encouraged to stay because they enhance the profitability of the enterprise. On the other hand, if all you do is fill a cubicle and do as you're told while keeping a close eye for updates on your social media then of course the company is going to kick you to the curb as soon as they see more value in someone else. That's the problem I see with Millenials. Their world has revolved around thousands of casual, social relationships that have been enabled by modern technology, the expectations in the education environment are getting lower and lower as students can't handle failure emotionally, and there is a constant barrage of propaganda from the media that "everyone is special" which yields an entire narcissistic generation that really believes the world exists to provide fun, love, and happiness for everybody. Guess what, you get what your earn. If you want loyalty then you have to make yourself uniquely indispensable. There never has been loyalty to the workers, business owners paid what they had to to get a qualified person locally because it wasn't cost effective to outsource it. Technology has changed all that. As long as you are doing menial work in a generic field you are going to be in wage competition with millions of others, and the same technological advancements that allow you to be "friends" with people all over the world allow them to be in competition with you to provide the same services you do at a lower cost to the employer. Sounds like you need to take a risk and start your own business so you can be in control of your own happiness.
  • I can't wait to read further about how much intelligence and work ethic I lack compared to my societal betters.
  • Especially noteworthy is that it's Boomers who raised the Millennials, yet complain about them all the time.
  • ..... Most Generational studies put millennials at 1981-1996 so the oldest ones are 37 while the youngest would be 22. A 37 year old will have a vastly different outlook on life then a 22 year old from experience alone. While the youngest millennials might be digital natives of sort those of us that where born close to the end of Generation X are not. Our childhood and early teens where analog and then digital came along. This article seems to buy into the whole activity based workspace that seem like it will destroy productivity in the workspace even further then cubicles and open floor plans have already done. Constant interuptions and mindless chatter does not make a productive environment.
  • On a related manner, it has been found that 40% of office workers sick days are taken on Fridays and Mondays, disgraceful.