Get Your Company Ready for the Future of Work
Exclusive with Brian MacDonald, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Teams
Work and the workplace has never looked more different from that of the first cubicle farm. Automation, AI, collaborative spaces, employee empowerment, and hundreds of other trends are influencing how companies work everyday.
Despite the huge strides forward in the look, feel, and culture of many a workplace, much of the workforce still looks and operates the same. The future of work is here and a lot of companies are embracing it, but far too many are still stuck in the punch clock, nine to five desk job, yearly review, siloed information rut.
It’s time to change that.
Well, it was time to change that about five years ago, but we’ll give you a break. We know technology and progress moves fast these days.
So where do you start? How do you use these tools?
There’s no one answer for every company, but if you’re looking for some guidance, look no further than Microsoft. The company has defined the future of work for decades and for generations of workers. Today they may have stiff competition from Apple, Google, and other transformational organizations in the same field, but Microsoft still has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Meet Brian MacDonald, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft. If you’ve ever used Microsoft Office—if you have a desk job, it’d be a miracle if you haven’t—and sent an email through Outlook, you have him to thank. He is the creator of the original iteration of the email program, and led the Outlook team for years.
MacDonald came to Microsoft when the company bought what would eventually become Microsoft Project from him and his business partner. This was the origin of Outlook.
“I always wanted to work on big things to scale and change the world. Microsoft is one of the places for that,” he said.
His wife was one of the first employees at Microsoft, and the first woman in the company’s applications group. He’s on first name terms with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates, and happens to have a lot of great insight into the future of work through his efforts in creating Microsoft Teams, the company’s new chat-based workspace in Office 365.
Like I said earlier, there are a hundred different ways you could prepare your workforce for the future of work, but it all has to start somewhere. For MacDonald, it starts with the pace of information.
Help Your Workforce Utilize the Abundance of InformationThe pace and abundance of information today is astounding. On one end it’s overwhelming, but on the other, information availability has allowed organizations and people to become more creative than ever.
To help their employees utilize the abundance of information to develop more strategic and creative solutions, companies and leaders must embrace fundamental changes not only in the amount of data but in the amount of collaboration.
“Dealing with the pace that you need to succeed starts with simple things like realizing how much communication is evolving: it’s continuous,” MacDonald pointed out. “It’s more frequent and smaller than ever before.”
As we transitioned from letters to email, we sent more emails than letters, but they were shorter. The same thing is happening now with chat.
“We communicate more frequently but in bite-sized pieces. Letters and email won’t go away, we just have to embrace communicating more. The context for those communications becomes more important.
“Leaders have to think about how to foster an environment where workers are collaborating in the open. Gone are the days when information was ‘need-to-know’ and exclusive.”
It’s something, MacDonald said, Microsoft tried to model with Teams. His team studied how workplace cultures changed when they went from closed offices to open spaces, and modeled it with the Teams software to allow inclusiveness.
Empower Your EmployeesCreating the right environment—both digitally and in the physical office—is the first step to empowering your employees. Beyond that, making sure they have input and control over their work and can openly share ideas to achieve a common goal is the next level.
“Going to a culture of openness means the information flows through a diverse number of employees and can create opportunities to tap into everyone’s creativity,” MacDonald suggested.
The role of a leader has changed just as much as information availability. Allowing this openness is daunting and may seem difficult at first, but can result in products and services far beyond you and your customers’ expectations.
“The transformation the company’s undergone under her has been incredible,” he said. “Not only are they profitable but they are making interesting products. The Volt came out ahead of the Tesla. GM is getting into transformational driverless tech. It’s an amazing time for the auto industry—the most exciting since the Model T and automation, I think.”
It’s not just the products though: Barra has created a culture that has allowed GM to reach beyond the limits of the auto industry.
“She runs it like a startup: they host hackathons just like tech companies. GM is a great example of a cultural shift that not only transformed a company, but in a way, the auto industry as well.”
Move From Efficiency to ResponsivenessSpeaking of the auto industry: many offices and businesses are just as focused on efficiency as Ford was when the assembly line was introduced. There’s certainly nothing wrong with efficiency, but today’s customers require more.
Transforming from a model of efficiency to a model of responsiveness, according to MacDonald, starts in one particular place: the cloud.
“The key to everything right now is how companies are handling the digital transformation. To be successful, they have to move their base technology to the cloud. It’s so fundamental to how business is done these days.”
He believes it’s the key to integrating diverse services and enabling the kind of processing of data companies need to drive intelligence and insights.
While the cloud’s impact is felt in the office, there is a huge acceleration of how this tech is impacting jobs for frontline workers, maybe even more so than desk workers. From the customer location, to the office, to on-site work, employees can access and share data in real time, making professions in healthcare, construction, and numerous other fields safer and more responsive.
“It’s an exciting time for frontline workers,” MacDonald said. “They are feeling the empowerment from tech in ways they haven’t before.
“The next step is how augmented and mixed reality will fold into this and how it will transform the next round of frontline jobs.”
Allow an Employee’s “Whole Humanity” at WorkMore and more jobs today no longer fit a narrow task of lists. This creates two interesting challenges according to Microsoft. How does a business find employees that are willing to bring their whole humanity, not just their skills, to work? And how does a company create or evolve a job position to allow this freedom?
Success for your business in the global marketplace and economy is reliant on the quality of your employees. The only way to keep up today is by tapping into the diversity of the global workforce. By increasing the scope of your hiring, your field of qualified applicants can increase tenfold.
Beyond this, it’s allowing each generation to operate in ways they are comfortable and can succeed.
“There are far fewer roles where you’re wearing a really well defined hat. That’s something that has to be embraced throughout the company culture. Millennials are far more expressive and embrace their full creativity and emotions. In the past a lot of people had the mindset that they work to live. Many millennials want to live at work.
“They want an interesting environment, and this has to be embraced by an organization.”
To create Microsoft Teams, MacDonald took the group working on it to Maui. This offsite project allowed the team to collaborate 24/7, not just on the software, but on staff outings, meals, and other projects.
“We had a touchy-feely, squishy sort of goal for Teams: we wanted groups that used the product to enjoy working together more.
“In the past work was about personal productivity and you getting more done,” he said. “Today I think it’s more about fulfillment and how we can achieve more together.”
MacDonald and his team spent a lot of time and energy integrating these thoughts into Teams. When the team presented its software, they were initially criticized for the expressive features that brought a bit more fun to chat.
Teams includes editable memes, Giphy, and stickers. Originally, the development team’s superiors didn’t understand the point, especially for work software. But MacDonald wanted it to transcend bland chat. In short, he succeeded.
“It’s important for companies to embrace the humanity of their workforce and create the surface area for that within the company and the culture.”
The Future of Work Now
It doesn’t stop there. Remote work, the gig economy, and transparency are all trends you and your leadership team need to consider as well when it comes to preparing your company for the future of work—or catching up.
“Work is going to be faster paced in every aspect,” MacDonald said. “We have to switch context quicker, wear more hats, communicate more frequently.
“This is the driving force behind Office 365, Teams, and the rest of the diverse set of applications. At Microsoft, we’re pretty positive about this power of tech. Companies need to embrace the coming change and realize that in order to be ready for it, we need to achieve more together.”
According to research conducted by the University of Virginia, the amount of time employees spend engaged in “collaborative” work—in meetings, on phone calls or answering emails—has increased by about 50 percent and takes up 80 percent or more of employees’ time.
That’s why Brian MacDonald created Microsoft Teams.
“We wanted to build a hub for modern collaboration that was anchored in chat, but also transcends it. We created spaces for your team that include many of the components of Office all in one place.”
More than 50,000 organizations use Microsoft Teams, including Accenture, Alaska Airlines, Cerner Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Deloitte, Expedia, J.B. Hunt, J. Walter Thompson, Hendrick Motorsports, Sage, Trek Bicycle, and Three UK.