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What happened when the Digital Workplace Forum came face-to-face with Microsoft’s showcase of the future digital workplace in action?

Each year hundreds of the world’s top CEOs and leaders like to pay a visit to an opulent and strangely relaxing building on the Microsoft HQ campus in Redmond, Seattle – to explore the digital future of everything.

The focal point that attracts some of the most forward-thinking people on the planet to this lavish yet laid-back structure surrounded by a gorgeous expanse of trees and parkland is Microsoft’s hands-on demo of the digital future of work and living – their practical showcase of what we are likely to be able to experience through technology in the near future.

The ‘Envisioning Lab’ at Microsoft was cited by Forbes as (along with a similar concept at IBM) the most tangible insight into what the impact of technology will be on work in the coming decade or so.

The Digital Workplace Forum (DWF) was fortunate enough to be invited to host a ‘field trip’ for our DWF Members (such as Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo and TD Bank) and elected guests. So senior figures leading future workplace, global knowledge, information technology and real estate inside Fortune 500 organizations joined myself and our host, the eloquent and reflective Harald Becker at the ‘Lab’ this week. It was fascinating, challenging and lots of fun.

The lab itself is interesting not only for what is there – gestural technology replacing clicks, huge glass surfaces where data appears like a scene from Minority Report, hand held devices where edge and surface is active – but also for the megatrend thinking that underpins it (fragmentation, diversity, social mobility, human computer interaction to name a few).

We wanted to anchor the vision of the future in reality so we had DWF Members list out their current restless challenges they had on their minds in building and implementing their own digital workplaces and the list included:

  • overcoming ever more controlling compliance and regulatory pressure internally
  • evidencing at the CEO and COO level the business and financial value of an enhanced digital workplace
  • having a clear roadmap and prioritization to achieve a balanced implementation of the digital future of work
  • managing the deep level change issues when reducing real estate in favor of ‘work anywhere’ policies.

Often problems that seem intractable can be shifted not through stressing them but by allowing some broader insights to emerge – so the challenges were kept close at hand as our sense check, while Harald explained how Microsoft was thinking and engaging with the future.

What is striking is how far we all agreed that the human being and team (physical or virtual) is at the heart of the digital workplace of the future. In a world where we are drowning in data and information what the lab expresses and shows are scenes where the person moves through physical and digital workspaces with what they need being offered and accessed effortlessly. Intuitive search, location based services, offered ‘likes’ based on your history have that aspect to them but the lab shows this facility taken to extreme levels.

“We all agreed that the human being and team (physical or virtual) is at the heart of the digital workplace of the future.”

Their film ‘Productivity Future Vision 2011’ by Microsoft has had almost four million views and expresses this concept – rather too clean and manicured for some viewers but the core ideas have strength. It catalysed the chatter among the DWF Members and we discussed how a sector version that is placed in the near rather than medium future would help bring the digital workplace opportunity to life for the C suite.

Microsoft HQMy own take was that the next film needs to show more of a global picture to include what the developing world is doing in leapfrog use of technology – Tibetan monks driving new apps for example (yes they are!) – and also what the vision is that Microsoft has for the world it wants to create.

One fascinating comment Harald had received the week before from the CEO of a major bank was that if better digital collaboration and meetings tools could reduce their meetings by five minutes across the company that would be worth millions of dollars alone. Struck me that there is a ‘baked in’ inefficiency in the physical ways of working that we have sculpted in the past 200 years that the digital ways of working can remove or at least reduce hugely.

And it is impossible to talk and explore the digital workplace without also considering how it changes the ways we work together physically (more on that in the next blog post in this series next week) but in the meantime, the challenging comment from one member that hit home for me was: ”What if the physical workplaces (offices, warehouses, factories etc.) travelled to us rather than to us travelling to them?” That’s impossible isn’t it? Well perhaps but so much that we experience digitally today was considered impossible 20 – 15 – even 10 years ago.

And do watch the film we showed at the start of the field visit – ‘Are You Ready?’ – and the questions it poses.

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About the author

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG). He is a business and social entrepreneur. His latest book, The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. Paul’s previous book, The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work, helped to popularize and explain the term “digital workplace”. Paul has given many inspirational talks on the digital future of work, for audiences at Microsoft, IKEA, Google, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, Cisco, European Commission, IMF, Adobe and Oxford University. He hosts the Digital Workplace Impact podcast.

Paul was ranked one of the world’s Top 50 Social Employee Advocacy Leaders in 2015. For many years he hosted the pioneering internet radio show Digital Workplace Live and is Executive Producer of the 24-hour global digital experience Digital Workplace 24. Prior to founding DWG, Paul was Founder and CEO of communications company The Empowerment Group; Publisher and Editor of social and digital innovation magazine “Wave”; and, in pre-internet days, co-founder of the Ideas Café salon. He lives in the Cotswolds in the UK.

See more about Paul Miller on Wikipedia

Connect with Paul on Twitter: @paulmillersays

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