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Not your Common workplace

I noticed an article the other day which highlighted the weird and wonderful world of the Microsoft Commons; essentially an entire food and shopping centre built just for Microsoft employees on their Redmond campus in Seattle. 

If they needed their eyes testing, their hair trimming or their guitars re-stringing, Microsoft staff need not leave the building as it’s all contained under one roof. 

There is a pub, but it must be the only pub in the world that has a rule against serving alcohol before 3pm, and even then you can only partake by group reservation.  Clearly Microsoft wish their employees to be inspired, but perhaps not too inspired.

Here are some of the highlights:

The aforementioned pub that doesn’t really serve alcohol, also known as the Spitfire

The elephant in the room

Football pitch just outside the Commons 

Microsoft’s main operations are all in Redmond.  A short trip across a bridge from the Commons will take you to the office headquarters including CEO Steve Ballmer’s centre of operations and there are over 125 buildings on the campus including the Entertainment and Devices unit which is responsible for, among other things, making the new Xbox One.  

Just over 25 years ago all of this space was nothing more than an 88 acre forest.  The Commons was opened in 2009.

As insular as the Redmond campus might appear (there was even a recent flash mob at the Commons to the song ‘We Are Family’ – not a great deal of hidden messaging there and Microsoft continue to talk about the ‘family of devices’) there are some things I wanted to pick up on in line with Microsoft’s new company direction.

Services and Devices Business

The main aspect of the Commons which caught my eye (ok, the second main aspect after the giant elephant in the foyer) was the considerable array of Microsoft devices on display for employees to test out and have a play around with.

Microsoft have been proclaiming for a while about their new direction as a ‘services and devices’ business, not just a software business.  It’s something that was incredibly prevalent at the partner conference.

And it seems they’re leading from the front by ensuring their employees are fully immersed in the Microsoft device world. 

Case in point - there are phone shops from all the major American operators (AT & T, Sprint etc.) but they only sell Windows phones – not an iPhone or Android in sight.  There’s probably a reason why I’m humming the ‘Hotel California’ tune whilst I’m writing this…

Microsoft Reliability Lab

Across from the Commons is the Microsoft Reliability Lab which bears a resemblance to our own R & D department in its tendency to operate in secrecy (not in a bad way – they’re just creating some pretty cool new technologies that like all good inventions need to be a little cloak and dagger until ready for public eyes).

It’s the job of the Microsoft Reliability guys to try and break things.  They try to do all the damage that might happen to a device in 5 years, in the space of 2-3 weeks.  This includes dropping it from a great height and shaking it to within an inch of its life - it’s like a torture chamber for devices.

This video will tell you more:

The sheer infrastructure of the Microsoft labs as a whole (there are 350 researchers employed at the Redmond campus alone) just goes to show how serious Microsoft is about developing their own PCs and devices.  In the past, I'm not sure that Microsoft would have tested their keyboards and mice (the only type of hardware they used to make) by frying an egg on them.

In terms of infrastructure, Microsoft say they have taken an ‘internet of things (see my earlier blog post for more info on this) meets Big Data approach’ for their Redmond campus.  This ‘smart’ approach has slashed the operating costs of the 125 buildings.

There’s too much to talk about for this post so stay tuned for another blog shortly about the Microsoft smart city…

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