Today was the first day of Microsoft’s Ignite Conference in Orlando, Florida. My focus at this event falls largely within Microsoft’s new Modern Workplace theme in its products. Here’s an overview of my takeaways from the first day.
Not the Future. Now
The rationale for the Modern Workplace strategy for Microsoft is a familiar one. We all have seen the ongoing digital transformation of business. We understand the competitiveness demands of an increasingly global, fast-paced, customer-led and digital marketplace. At the same time we are seeing a shift to a new generation of workers who have grown up with digital technologies as consumers and also bring a stronger set of demands for engaging purposeful work.
The rationale reminds us that new work practices, new work cultures and new work tools is not some abstract future challenge. The future is no longer Mobile-first applications it is AI-first applications, rethinking the product to put data-driven learning and its potential at the core, not process. The Quantum computing discussion from Satya Nadella’s keynote more than stretched our brains with new abstract ideas from maths, physics and computer science that are a few years from every desktop. The Modern Workplace is our workplaces now. To the extent organisations are not leveraging these technologies to their full there is missed value and missed potential. GE, a traditional leading case study, shared their work on workplace transformation if this point was missed by anyone.
People & Technology
This was not just a Technology showcase. People were a critical part of the dialogue of the day. Julia White asking the audience to see themselves as change agents. Satya Nadella discussed a variety of people themes inspired by Microsoft’s purpose to “empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. Every session echoed with the constant discussion of changing culture and enabling new creative, new value and purpose in work and new teamwork.
We are not creating modern workplaces to sustain the work culture and practices of the last century. We are creating modern workplaces to drive change in culture, transform the nature of work and enable human potential. Even the strong focus on AI and automation that is usual threatened as a way to eliminate the humanity of work was strongly positioned as enhancing human creativity and enablement. The jury is out on that but don’t blame the technology. Humans will chose whether to use it to accelerate the industrial machine model of business of the past or to embrace a new frontier in human potential, tackling massive social and global issues and removing the mundane frustrations so all work has more meaning and value.
Modern Workplace Tools
At the heart of the new approach to the Modern Workplace is a focus on the diverse nature of work and the different patterns of collaboration. Microsoft has been long criticised for its seemingly complex product landscape and overlapping and at times competitive product teams. The new Modern Workplace strategy embraces that complexity as the ability to meet diverse work scenarios. One tool will not rule them all. Microsoft begins to help customers navigate that landscape through a focus on Microsoft Teams as the inner circle of goal directed work with predictable peers, for your work teams and projects and tools like Yammer as part of an outer circle of work involving unknown connection across the organisation for the benefits of discovery, diversity, inclusion and serendipity. Teaming and Collaboration have new focus in the digital workplace
Microsoft Teams will be heavily driven as the new platform for the Microsoft365 suite and its deep integration across Office365, Windows10 and more. Teams will begin to encompass the communication tools of Skype for Business and become the go-to hub for the inner circle of work. Email retains an important place in this landscape but so do increasing investments in LinkedIn integration, Bing Search integration, 3D, mixed reality, and analytics to power surprisingly seamless experiences on devices and driven by Cortana. Employees using Teams at Ford to share Virtual 3D designs may be a conceptual demonstration today but it’s clearly not too far ahead. That integration of collaboration & security for defined groups of workers using Teams will be appealing for many organisations dipping there toes in more agile and more collaborative work.
Most reassuring for a speaker at this event on the Digital Transformation potential of Yammer, we saw new investment in Yammer. With its new positioning on the Outer Circle of surprise, discovery, diversity and serendipity of work, comes a reiteration of its value for conversations organisation-wide, in communities and strategic initiatives. As Swoop Analytics research highlights, Yammer is one of the few tools that breaks Prof. Allen’s 50 meter rule – that the majority of interaction is with people within 50 metres. Working Out Loud played a key role in this focus in any discussion of Yammer or the Modern Workplace.
The significant investment in Yammer’s product roadmap belies the doomsayers. This begins with the interactions between Teams and Yammer. There’s new focus on Yammer’s depth of connection with Sharepoint, a great partner in the wider circle of sharing. The roadmap also included specific examples of better analytics, better integration with the Microsoft365 underpinnings, profiles and other apps, better mobile apps, greater breadth of APIs and continuing enhancement of user features like reactions, rich text and more. Most exciting for anyone who is an advocate for the value of community management was a new commitment to the community manager experience in Yammer from roles to access reports, to tools to help manage Yammer posts and groups, and a recommitment to the valuable but long ignored hashtag, a topic in Yammer. The future roadmap also highlights the focus for the next year on Yammer’s role for the whole organisation, communities and initiatives.
My Inner and Outer Circles In Real Life
I came to MS Ignite in large part to connect and reconnect. Today was an extraordinary day of conversation, challenge, learning and fun with collaborators and communities that support and enable my work. Opportunities to learn face to face from a breadth of these two circles makes the experience an intense one. You don’t want to miss a chance to learn and to share.
Lots to Digest. So What?
If you believe work is not changing, email is the only safe interaction pattern, and you won’t have employees soon, I doubt you read to the end of this post. If your views differ in any way, then the challenge for you and your organisation is to consider these questions:
- Strategy: Do you have a strategy to realise the value of the Modern Workplace for your employees and your organisation? Your competitors are becoming more engaging, more agile, more customer-focused and more innovative organisations now as these tools extend and adoption of new practices is developed. When will you see this potential?
- Investment: Do you have the investment in people, skills, capabilities, information and change necessary to leverage the potential today and into the future? Too many organisations see workplace, change and community management as peripheral roles. They are enabling all your people and all your work. Invest accordingly
- Culture: Does your organisation have the culture it needs to be effective in the next few years? Experiments, autonomy, new approaches, new practices, and new work styles need to be embraced now.
Lastly, an abstract mathematical thought for the day: “The square root of anything is more powerful”. Whatever it means, it is a testament to human genius and human potential. When we understand what that means we will have discovered the emergent value opportunity in both circles of the Modern Workplace.