How Microsoft Canada approaches workplace collaboration

TORONTO – The ideal collaborative environment often changes as employees age, but with five generations sharing Microsoft Canada’s office, human resources vice president Cherise Mendoza considers it a professional obligation to provide all of them.

During Work ReWorked, an event cosponsored by Microsoft and office furniture company Steelcase held at the latter’s Toronto-based Steelcase WorkLife Centre on Jan. 18, Mendoza said that rather than focusing on one type of collaboration, Microsoft Canada prefers to offer its employees a flexible approach, one that’s constantly re-evaluated for potential improvement.

For example, contrary to the stereotype she said it’s millennials that frequently want to collaborate in person and work in teams, while boomers prefer the flexibility of collaborating remotely while working from home.

A mother of four herself, Mendoza takes advantage of Microsoft Canada’s flexibility to work from home one day per week.

“I think part of it is where they are in life – many are parents, so being able to come into the office only when they need it is really important,” said Mendoza, a parent of four who typically works from home at least once a week herself.

“Part of it is helping my kids feel like suddenly the week isn’t so long,” she said. “But I also find it’s a nice reflection point, actually having some me time to think about if I need to start planning something, or what feedback I need to give my business clients or employees.

In fact, the majority of Microsoft Canada’s human resources team works remotely at least two days per week, she said.

Another way the company connects its disparate generations is through what Mendoza calls a “reverse mentorship” program.

“We often connect what we call our early career hires to more senior people, and it generates this really nice dialogue where they feel like they’re having an impact and being able to contribute, and we’re learning what matters to them,” she said. “In the end, both feel very valued.”

Technology, of course, also plays a role, with Microsoft striving to be “a company that eats our own dog food, so to speak,” Mendoza said.

For example, employees outside Microsoft Canada’s Mississauga office frequently use Skype for Business to attend virtual meetings, and during Work ReWorked, employees with Hololenses were able to chat with avatars representing coworkers three provinces away.

On the screen, you can see the model she’s viewing through the HoloLens – and the avatar of her Calgary-based coworker to the right.

And each time the company produces a new type of collaborative hardware – during Work ReWorked, Microsoft employees were demonstrating its new Surface Studio tablets, which had been connected in pairs and to nearby screens so the demonstrators could show off their work – employees test it, provide feedback, and even suggest new uses.

These two are able to work on the same architecture project from two different screens…
…And when finished, show off their handiwork on a television screen four feet away.

In fact, every step of Microsoft Canada’s collaborative process is continuously re-evaluated, Mendoza said, by setting development expectations and following them up with performance management evaluations and employee assessments that measure contributions to both the company and each other, regardless of each worker’s age.

“We talk a lot, very openly, about how we can actually manage to meet everyone’s needs, not only through technology, but also based on what matters to them,” Mendoza said. “Do we get it perfect? No. I don’t think we do. It continues to be a journey, but we have a strong foundation and the type of technology that allows us to experiment and improve.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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