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 to integrate its technology into Steelcase designed modern workspaces.

Steelcase's Sara Armbruster, vice president, strategy, research & digital transformation wrote, "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!