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At Office, cubicles go out the WindowsMicrosoft goes for open-office plan in radical revamp that others may followJoyce Hooi03 July 2012The cubicle is set to go the way of landline phones and the eight- track, Microsoft reckons.Employees at its Marina Boulevard office are free to roam with laptops across an open-plan space that looks more like Starbucks than white-collar purgatory.If this internal effort - called New World of Work - takes off within Microsoft, the external payoff could be even larger.The labyrinth of the newfangled that such an office needs - video conferences, meeting room bookings, and an app that helps you locate a colleague in the office - runs on a dense network of Microsoft software that other firms might soon find they need.Already, enterprise customers have trooped into the Singapore office by the hundreds, trying to wrap their heads around how such a work environment can be adopted.This revamp of the local office is part of a global undertaking by the software giant that has seen more than 70 Microsoft offices transformed into cubicle- less workspaces.At workstations scattered throughout the several storeys occupied by Microsoft Singapore, desk phones are conspicuously absent. Employees are kept connected through laptops and smartphones, and have a wireless earpiece for phone calls.Every day, employees - senior management or not - go forth and find a spot to work at, anew.This is the way people are increasingly inclined to work, especially if they are expected to work with each other, Microsoft believes. “We really started to be able to collaborate and use technology to its fullest,” said Davina Yeo, a senior manager at the Asia-Pacific headquarters.Post-revamp, 54 per cent of local employees believe that productivity has increased and 77 per cent feel that the working environment has improved.On the business end of things, Microsoft is already eyeing the opportunities in this market, even if it means sorting through a tangled web of iPhones and Android devices - a growing preoccupation of businesses. “Everyone has their own device and (is using) social media. So (they want to know), how do we do that in an environment that is safe?” said Jessica Tan, managing director of Microsoft Singapore.While everyone at Microsoft has a smartphone with the Windows OS on it, the new mobile workplace has room for an amalgamation of devices and back-end systems. “We don’t tell (customers) that it’s all or nothing. We don’t say that it’s got to be all Microsoft. Even in systems management, for example, we manage non-Microsoft environments,” Ms Tan said.While she declined to reveal how much this revamp cost (except to concede that it was “quite a bit”), the firm will doubtless be forthcoming with customers about the 16 per cent savings in square footage that this produced.The ratio of desks to people now stands at one-to- two, but the office still has enough room for the next four years, Microsoft said.Even its energy bill is smaller, now that meeting rooms have been moved away from windows and ambient lighting is increasingly used.Even so, old habits die hard. Some amount of technology has been invested in saving people from themselves at Microsoft. A workstation can be electronically occupied only by actually plugging in a laptop, and not by other means (such as a packet of tissue paper).And while some might welcome the sight of the boss desperately hunting down a vacant work surface during peak hours, Ms Tan’s staff have taken to choosing a particular work area for her. “I told them that I want to change this. From next week, I am going to sit wherever I want to sit. They’re going to have to deal with that,” Ms Tan said, laughing.
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