Microsoft is redesigning the way they work by bringing modular focus pods and phone booths to their team spaces. Collaborative open-plan offices are great for teams working on the same project, but they can get really annoying for everyone else. Noise and interruptions are status quo, while concentration, productivity, and quality output takes a real hit.

Now, it is possible to evolve your entire office instantly using modular PhoneSpace and GroupSpace meeting units manufactured by workplace innovator VetroSpace. The main idea is to adapt your office to accommodate different workstyles and psychological needs of your staff. And that is exactly the mindset Microsoft is applying to their new offices.

“For me, the modern workplace is where the digital meets the physical. The modern workplace is about me. The office knows who I am. It knows my preferences. Everything from the seat height, to the lighting I prefer, to the temperature, so I can have a better day. The modern workplace reduces friction and it allows me to be more productive.” - Nathalie D’Hers - General Manager, End User Services, Microsoft.

It is great that all those niggles of the open office design are slowly becoming the driving force behind a new way of working. But, before we go deeper into the staggeringly cool innovations taking place on the Microsoft campuses...

On my end of the world, Winter is coming. After one “brave soul” ventured into the office last week with a sniffle, things have gotten apocalyptic. On Monday our manager Wight walked her way to her open-plan desk, right across from me, and spent the next four hours coughing flu-germs onto the back of my laptop as I tried to cover most of my face with my scarf. By lunch, she left - having met the minimum required time in the office to take sick-leave without sauntering to the doctor for a pricey sick note and a hand-full of unwanted antibiotics. Hot on her heels was my desk-neighbour and fellow copywriter, who also sheepishly admitted he is ill. It’s times like these that my appreciation for collaborative open spaces wears pretty [email protected]#$%ing thin.

It is sheer irony that I happened to be researching VetroSpace at the time. The company’s customisable PhoneSpace phone booths and GroupSpace pods offer an instant acoustic solution if you need to take a phone call or have a breakaway meeting. But that is not why I thoroughly love them. These modular pods by VetroSpace are currently the only ones on the market that have their own clean air ventilation system and a photon disinfection luminaire light that kills microbes, viruses and other unhealthy particles.

VetroSpace Phone Booths and Meeting Pods

Inadvertently, our building manager’s solution to the germ problem is the same as the one used by the local butcher. At present, I work in a walk-in meat locker because there is some nonsense about faulty heating coils in the main air-conditioner, and it is taking forever to fix. Which brings me to my next point - PhoneSpace and GroupSpace pods have individual temperature control. That sounds really nice… as I punch the icicles that were my fingers across the keyboard wearing a fleece-lined wool cap from Tibet, two hoodies, a pullover and a scarf. The one thing that would make my day, other than Sylvester Stallone punching carcasses next to my desk, would be to take my laptop to a quiet, virus-free, fresh-air PhoneSpace to work in the pleasant, warm glow of my own acoustically isolated farts.

The point is that the marvellous ideal of the open-plan office space that conquered the world over the last 50 years, isn’t for everyone. That idea is evolving into something new. So, let’s get back to Microsoft. They are in the process of redesigning how they work, and the team at furnify is keeping a close eye on their progress. It is fascinating to see what is possible when the pinnacle of digital technology, environmental design and office layout is integrated with the physical and psychological needs of human employees.

Speaking to Sonia Dara from modernworkplace.com, Michael Ford outlines how they will tear down 12 of the original buildings on the Microsoft corporate campus to make way for 18 state-of-the-art buildings. Michael is General Manager of Global Real Estate and Security at Microsoft, and he is in charge of implementing the next evolution in workplace design.

They are optimising for collaboration by transitioning to team suites. That means 8 to 12 employees working on the same team get their own small open-plan space that is surrounded by a variety of support spaces. To increase productivity, Microsoft is also bringing conference rooms and collaborative lounges closer to the desks.

The key to these support spaces are the modular concentration booths that they bring to the teams. Here an individual can duck out of the buzz of the office to take a call or get some real work done, or two teammates can go for a chat without disturbing their colleagues. Microsoft are also introducing modular focus rooms for small groups of four or five people to do breakaway meetings. They even have a quiet relaxation room where introverts can go to recharge.

Summarising the philosophy that is driving these changes, Michael shares five great tips to increase productivity at the office.

Focus on your employees first - This means the end-to-end employee experience covering everything from the location of the office and the commute to work, to the lighting in the office toilet. Microsoft has smart parking to tell you which open parking spot is closest to your workspace.

Choose function over form - A pretty workplace does not necessarily make for an efficient one. It has to be functional for your employees.

Incorporate your brand in the culture of your company - PhoneSpace and GroupSpace are great for this because you can customize the units to match your brand.

Make health and wellness a priority - Think ergonomics with SetMe desks and sit-stand desks. My own office does wellness sessions where everything from meditation and nutrition to financial strategy and stress management is covered. Microsoft has infused water on every floor.

Consider where teams work when designing spaces - This is for better collaboration and proximity is key.

Although few companies have the liberty to tear down their campus to build cutting-edge offices, you can easily evolve your open plan office to increase productivity and employee well-being. Adding a few modular PhoneSpace booths and a couple of GroupSpace meeting units is an easy, affordable and quick solution to upgrade your workplace.