Microsoft supports creative work with tech-enabled spaces

Microsoft has partnered with commercial architecture and design specialist Steelcase to help organizations better integrate technology and workspaces to transform company culture and better support creative work.

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Credit: Copyright Steelcase 2017

The space in which you work has a big impact on how you work. While research shows that white collar work is increasingly dependent on creativity and collaboration, traditional office spaces tend to inhibit rather than encourage them, says Sarah Armbruster, vice president of strategy, research and new business innovation for Steelcase, the world's largest manufacturer of office furniture and specialists in commercial architecture and design.

Armbruster says organizations determined to transform their work processes and culture need to take the unusual step of bringing together thought leaders from IT, facilities and human resources to rethink how technology-enabled workspaces can support the transformation they're seeking. Traditional workspaces, Armbruster says, tend to support solitary work and a linear approach to tasks. But organizations are increasingly reliant on workflows that transition between solitary work and small group and large group collaborations.

"White collar work is becoming more and more about creativity-based work," she says. "We don't just mean the traditional concept of creativity — artists and designers — it's also for software coders, accountants, it might be for the receptionist at your local doctor's office."

Enabling creative thinking

"The problems people face at work today are much more complex than they used to be," she adds. "They require a new creative way of thinking and a very different work process. We believe that everyone has the capacity for creating thinking, and people are happier doing creative, productive work."

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To that end, Steelcase and Microsoft announced yesterday that they are joining forces to help organizations bring technology and workspaces together in a way that supports organizations' missions. As part of the partnership, Microsoft is expanding its partner network into the world of design by bringing select Steelcase dealers on as authorized resellers of its Surface Hub product (touch-screen computers with 55-inch or 84-inch screens designed for collaboration, videoconferencing, and whiteboarding). In addition, Steelcase and Microsoft are working together to develop technology-enabled workplace solutions built on Microsoft Azure IoT technology.

Companies say creativity is critical

Last month, Microsoft and Steelcase surveyed 515 U.S. and Canadian companies with 100+ employees on the future of work and creativity. They found that organizations see creativity as a critical job skill driven by their need for innovation and growth. The research found the following:

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  • Leaders know creativity helps them compete, bringing higher revenue and greater market share to their organizations, but 61 percent of leaders don't think their company is creative.
  • Eighty-three percent of workers say they are asked to be creative at work either weekly or daily.
  • Seventy-two percent of workers in fields including health care, retail, education, financial services and manufacturing believe their future success depends on their ability to be creative.
  • Seventy-six percent of workers believe emerging technologies will change their jobs, requiring more creative skills as routine work becomes automated.
  • Only 40 percent of workers said they have a company culture that encourages creativity.
  • While workers cite a greater need to collaborate in business, only 25 percent of respondents felt they can be creative in the places they currently have available for work.
  • Employees ranked having a place to work without disruption as the second highest fact that could improve creativity, just behind the need for more time to think.

The problem, Armbruster says, is that many organizations today invest in technology and spaces as separate entities rather than approaching them holistically. That results in a lack of cohesion that leads to sub-optimal conditions for fostering creativity at work.

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The research found that creativity is a process in which anyone can engage, but it requires diverse work modes suited to the type of work employees are doing, and different types of technology to support that work. People need to work alone, in pairs and in different size groups throughout a creative process, and they need devices that are mobile and integrated into the physical workplace.

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A space for everyone

Working with Microsoft, Steelcase has designed five Creative Spaces to showcase how technology and space can be brought together to support specific types of work, creativity and collaboration. They include the following:

  • Focus Studio. This space is designed for individual creative work that requires alone time to focus and get into flow, while also allowing quick shifts to two-person collaboration. The desk seamlessly transitions from sitting to standing— Armbruster notes that the latter is best suited to quick collaboration with a colleague. The Microsoft Surface Studio transitions from an upright position, ideal for use with keyboard and mouse, to a position reminiscent of a drafting table, ideal for touch and pen.
  • Duo Studio. Working in pairs is becoming increasingly common. This space is designed to allow two people to co-create shoulder-to-shoulder, while also supporting individual work with Microsoft Surface Studio. A lounge area includes a Surface Hub that allows workers to bring other colleagues in for a quick creative review.
  • Ideation Hub. This space is intended to bring small groups together to actively participate in co-creating, refining and sharing ideas with a Microsoft Surface Hub. The Surface Hub also makes it possible to bring in co-located or distributed teammates. Armbruster notes the high, backless chairs are intended to encourage people to get up and move around, while the table's rounded curves (rather than hard edges) are intended to remove any perceived barrier to approaching the Surface Hub.
  • Maker Commons. This space designed as a common area amid a hub of offices, is geared toward socializing ideas and rapid prototyping. It's designed to encourage quick switching between conversation, experimentation and concentration.
  • Respite Room. This area is designed to support work that depends on solitude and individual think time.

"Most employees are still working with outdated technology and in places rooted in the past, which makes it difficult for them to work in new, creative ways," Bob O'Donnell, president, founder and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, said in a statement yesterday. "Creative Spaces were clearly designed to bridge the current gap between place and technology and to help creative work happen more naturally."

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