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Smarter Tools Are The Future Of Intuitive Communication [Future Of Work]

PSFK chats with Senior Business Strategist at Microsoft Office's labs about the future of workflow and interfaces.

Wesley Robison
Wesley Robison on January 27, 2013. @redixculous
The Future Of Work

As part of our Future of Work Series, PSFK reached out to experts to get their take on the changes we’ve identified that are currently going on in the workplace. We recently caught up with Harald Becker, Senior Business Strategist at Microsoft’s Office labs to chat with him about the changes that they see in the workplace and how technology is changing.

How do you see the workplace evolving?

I think there are some age‑old ways that people like to work together. Over the years, when you look at the tools that people have been using at work, oftentimes the tools defined and constrained the way people could work.

It was because of the way those tools were designed and built that people had to change their more natural and intuitive way of wanting to work. They were constrained by, “Hey, I have to use this CRM application and the only way I can input data is with the following means, then the only way I can share the data is by doing this.”

The big macro‑level trend we’re seeing is that tools become smarter, more intelligent, more flexible, to adapt to workflows, work styles that are much more accommodating to the way that people really want to work.

What affects have social media platforms had on how people communicate and work together?

In this environment, you have to be much more agile, fast, to be able to spin up a team that’s maybe comprises of folks, some of them might be in your organization and some of them might come from a partner. Some of them might be some consultants.

They have to, very quickly, be productive. They have to build trust. They have to share, communicate, and all these things require an environment and tools and services that now, I think, finally are getting to the level where they keep up with the way people want to actually work.

In some instances, they’re not just keeping up, they’re overwhelming us. with some of those side effects, which is the information overload, like the 500 new emails that come in on Monday morning, and this sense of, “Oh, Jeez, I don’t even know where to start.”

When we think about some of those scenarios, we try to understand some of the challenges and problems, and figure out ways that software services technology can become more intelligent, to accommodate these workflows. To help me email, the communication, whatever it is, IM, text message, that I should really respond to because that is the one that is most relevant to me. That’s most important to me.

The system might know that because of my communications history, the fact that this person was the one sender that I always responded to right away. One of the big buzzwords right now in our industry is “big data.” You can apply some of the mechanics of big data across a broad spectrum, and you can apply it to the individual worker, and to the team as well.

Big data seems to help inform and direct which organizational structures are most effective. How are workflows changing?

 We believe it’s much more likely in the future that project teams are coming from different organizations. Maybe they’re not even working in an office building anymore. Maybe they use one of those co‑location work environments that are increasingly popping up, because the value proposition is interesting for companies that don’t want to own and manage real estate anymore.They can draw on some of the expertise that might be part of that environment, the community. It might not even be related to the project they’re working on, but they have access to some of those people and those resources.

Then, when they work, we have this idea that a lot of work that happens, knowledge work, information work, scales from very informal…we don’t even know exactly where this thing could be going. It could be a high‑level conversation about something, to “Hey, there’s an idea that looks interesting. Let’s explore that further, maybe do some research around that,” to “Hey, there’s an emerging project, an opportunity,” whatever it might be, to something that’s much more formalized.

Then, all of the sudden, you start bringing in resources, other people, and you start developing a plan of action to accomplish a mutual goal. Then you want to have more capabilities, tools to support you on this journey. What we don’t have right now is the ability to scale from this very informal to this very rich tool environment.

We have examples across the spectrum, but this very adoptive, integrated flow, is still something that we’re building towards, that we’re investing in, at least from a Microsoft perspective. We can talk about tools like Yammer, and why there is value, but I think where the future is, is the integration of some of those capabilities in the workflow of what people actually want to do.

You don’t have to open up another app, another tool, to be able to do, maybe a video chat. In the context of your work, it is almost part of the DNA, and integrated into the way you work, to have these sharing, collaboration, communication powers and capabilities.

How are these communication issues affecting the devices used at work?

I think that one thing that has to really continue to be solved for, and where a lot of the investments go. It’s making the access to tools, data, and services very seamless and being able to orchestrate those across organizational boundaries. Making it very seamless, where people actually start forgetting about things like permisioning and authentication, from an enterprise perspective, super important business requirements. But from a user perspective, hurdles.

On the other end, we see a world where increasingly you have optimized, role specific devices. We don’t think there’s going to be this one and all form factor that’s going to be useful for everything.

But when you look at the new world of work and a large organization and enterprises, there will be ways for companies to equip their employees with devices that are just optimized to help them in their job. Those are not all general‑purpose, mobile computing devices. There is an example in one of the vending videos that we created where you see a bellhop in front of a hotel.

He looks at a small, transparent display and he gets information about the arriving guests. It’s just the information he needs to provide excellent service. It’s probably coming from a CRM system for a cloud service and the form factor works for him because he doesn’t need something bulky or big.

When I think of large companies like Wal‑Mart, they have over two million employees who are not really connected right now with devices. There’s a massive opportunity going forward to equip more people in the workforce with devices so that you can actually realize some of the communication collaboration scenarios I talked about earlier.

Then ultimately, I think it’s the way those services are designed and the user interfaces that are going to be very interesting going forward. Where we’re now at this transitional period where I think more and more people are getting very used to be able to touch this place and increasingly talk to devices. We see that continuing, obviously, gesture is going to play a larger role.

But especially, I think, with the voice and the combination of multiple inputs, interfaces. But we’ll be living in this world where it does become a lot more intuitive and natural to access information and do things while you’re on the go or while you’re on different devices.

Take a look at Microsoft’s vision of the future video.

 How is the rising groundswell of BYOD (bring your own device) interest changing how companies look at these objects?

We read things almost daily now about companies, they’re opening up…they’re becoming a lot more flexible in terms of allowing employees to bring their own devices.

This trend of consumerization is going to continue, and I think that’s actually good news. But you want to be able to equip these devices with software and services that can then do the best of both worlds. You allow employees to use the tools they want to use, but you also want to give them secure access to the kinds of data and information that doesn’t compromise your business objectives, or put you at risk.

There’s, I think, some emerging strategies and best practices that we can look at today, where I can access, for example, with my Windows phone, company confidential internal information, very seamlessly. It’s almost like if I used any other publicly available app, and I have to go through double, triple steps to do so.

That’s where we think things are going, that you need to balance the information security boundaries very carefully, people want to able to access information on devices that work for them best.

Thanks Harald!

Microsoft Office labs

If you’re looking for more trends, innovative ideas or themes changing the Future of Work, check out our full report for sale here or join us for our Social Media Week discussion with leading experts and industry innovators on Feb 20th. More information here

For more exclusive PSFK Labs’ ideas, watch the summary presentation and see everything that you’ve missed so far here.  Feel free to join the conversation and share your ideas about the future of work with the #FoW hashtag on Twitter.

PSFK Future of Work report

 

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