Remember your high school gymnasium? Chances are it was a large hardwood space with the floor markings for half a dozen sports, all sealed under 14 layers of polyurethane. The bleachers were folded flat up against the wall for PE time and rolled out from all sides for the big game. Ropes hung from the ceiling and hoops folded up out of the way to accommodate volleyball.
The modern workplace is a little like that. Cubicles, offices, and meeting rooms are built not for one purpose, but for every imaginable office task. The problem is that offices don’t transform like the old gymnasium. Instead, you have to make do with the desk where it is, or that mahogany conference table in the middle of your meeting space, or the whiteboard that sits like a challenge at the head of the room.
Offices were built for work — not for workers. But Microsoft’s director of office envisioning, Anton Andrews, wants to flip that equation by answering what he calls his core question: “How do you get people to lean in and do their best work together and collaborate?”
It’s a question that Microsoft has been asking itself for years. The company focused on putting the world on Windows, the operating system it launched almost 35 years ago. Each new application — Office, Internet Explorer, Windows Mobile, just to name a few — was designed to pull the user closer to the core platform. Microsoft was not interested in playing well with others.
That eventually changed — initially by force, as the U.S. government in the 1990s sought to disentangle Windows from Internet Explorer and open the platform up to more third-party integrations. But under current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s guidance, the company has proactively broken down barriers, focusing on putting Office on every possible platform and rewriting its own applications to run on Android and iOS as well as they do on Windows.
The spirit of barrier crushing has bled back into Microsoft’s own products, including its current Office software lineup. Andrews points out that when Microsoft radically updated the Office suite’s app icons, it…