The Leader Magazine

MAR 2018

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F E A T U R E A R T I C L E 30 MARCH 2018 t H e le A de R cannot be assumed by association. No connection can be made between device and individual. The minute all this data is amassed, "space-per-head" goes obsolete as a metric for space-planning decisions, leaving much more meaningful informa- tion to dictate space usage. Some of this information has validated what we had been suspecting. For instance, our data affirmed that people were interacting in smaller groups, and more frequently throughout the day, than had originally been planned for. We found that only .5 percent of the company's meetings are physically attended by 10 or more people, and that 50 percent of enclosed meet- ing spaces are occupied by a single person. Not only did these findings reveal trends about preferred collaborative styles, it also helped us determine the need for fewer large conference rooms and more spacious small conference rooms to achieve the desired user experience. This data-driven approach has had other impacts, too. Previously, we assumed that different employee profiles would be found to spend different amounts of time in the office. For instance, we expected that administrative pro- fessionals would be onsite more often than salespeople. In fact, the data showed very little difference, on average, in mobility patterns group to group. It upended our decision-making approach of the past. Insights from the data have indicated cultural nuances. We learned that in Dubai, employees bring customers to the office for meetings, whereas in Israel, employees visit customers where they are. But, across office sites, what the data most consistently suggests is the emerging importance of flexibility, both in employee mobility and workspace versatility. Time and again, data has shown spaces designed for one purpose being used in another way, such as social space being appropriated as meeting space, or an office becoming a quiet zone. Why is it important to know how space is used? At the most basic level, such knowledge empowers companies to operate with optimal fiscal prudence. Most of the time, when we've gone deep into the data, what we discover is that we need less space. This, of course, has huge implications for leases, operational costs, and capital costs of fitting out the space. But the most important reason for knowing how space is used comes down to employee experience. Individuals do their best work in different ways, and it's our job to design workspaces to enable all of them to do their best work. This is done by supplying ample concentrative and collaboration spaces and under- standing how to interpret the data when they vote with their feet. Sometimes the data will even reveal a zone or a room that people are avoiding. This can lead us to a ventilation or heating problem there that we did not know needed address- ing. This is but the most tangible way Microsoft creates a better experience for employees. And will continue to do so. Now, the technology is used in planning for all new Microsoft real estate projects around the world, and space utilization is cur- rently being fine-tune-tested for possible broader dissemination. The next two to five years will be big in the development of artificial intelligence, and Microsoft has plans to put an AI layer over current data sources. This could enable em- ployees to type into Outlook, "I want to book a meeting with these people," and rely on the system to take care of the rest, from the size of the room to proximity of the users to everyone's preferences and schedules. That's but one instance of buildings being made to adapt to their users, adjusting themselves to the needs and preferences of the employees who work in them. That's our next step in user experience – and it's where the future will find us. As global workplace product manager for Microsoft, Doug Lowrie defines his primary duties as evolving the company's workplace programs through research, technology and sociometric-data analysis.

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