From time to time, Microsoft likes to share its vision for the future in far-reaching videos full of concepts of what work will one day look like. In addition to a new intranet product called Viva, Microsoft unveiled a significant shift in vision: it embraces a future where we all work from home ̵
Microsoft buried its new vision in an announcement about Viva, its new intranet product. Viva builds on Sharepoint but works in a more social and friendly way. More importantly, while Sharepoint is a concept for keeping you informed in the office, Viva wants to help you work from home.
However, pay close attention and you will see a concept video from Microsoft about what the work could look like in the future. It’s worth watching the entire video, but don’t mind the usual cheap acting:
This concept video is notable for some drastic differences in Microsoft’s melody. In past vision videos, Microsoft seems to be looking to a future when every surface is a Windows device. Your counters, your mirrors, your windows (real windows), your newspaper and even your fashion accessories.
Microsoft’s vision videos have been consistent over the past decade and we can check out the video released in 2015 to see what the company was thinking about. That video stated that within five years (now!) We would be using any surface as a work device: your walls, your windows, your countertops. Microsoft suggested making new foldable devices along the way, similar to newspapers, new tablets, wireless earbuds and larger touchscreens.
Some of that is true! We now have early examples of foldable devices, larger touchscreens and wireless earbuds are everywhere. But while Microsoft focused on concept devices, the message behind its vision is that we can be more productive in the office and on the go. “More productivity means you can take it anywhere.” And almost every collaboration takes place personally.
Microsoft’s new vision video is clearly different. Ignore the CGI holograms for a moment and you’ll notice something – none of the devices are concepts. Behind the holograms you see Surface Pros and Surface Duos, real devices.
It’s not about what our devices will ever look like, but how our work life changes. In previous videos, Microsoft envisioned a world where our gadgets made us more productive in the office and in a restaurant. The videos dreamed of how we would work together personally. The latest video shuns all that and focuses on working from home almost entirely.
The video introduces us to ‘Mila’, a woman about to start her first day at work. Is she going to the office to meet her colleagues and fill out paperwork? No, she calls home via video conferencing. In the morning she gets up, makes breakfast, gets ready for work (with hints of a plausible smart mirror), and then heads to her office in her house to get to work.
And there she stays. We see her appearing in the office for a short meeting, but otherwise she always works from home. When it’s time to give a presentation about a new idea, she also does it from home (via a strange hologram we call telepresence). It’s the most important day of her job yet, and she’s not leaving home.
That’s a big deal because while more people are currently working from home because of the pandemic, most companies (including Microsoft at one time) have treated it as a temporary measure. Something that will end when the world returns to normal.
But now Microsoft seems to be embracing where working from home is the new normal. It says more people will permanently maintain their offices in their apartments and homes. We can come into the office from time to time if needed, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Virtual calls work for even the most critical tasks.
The fact that Microsoft is not showing any real future technology outside of the holograms is the most telling part. All actual processes are plausible with the technology and devices we have now. We don’t need holograms to see six faces in a video call; a larger monitor is sufficient.
We can give feedback, prepare documents, make proposals, everything virtually. And Viva, Microsoft’s new “intranet” program, now makes that possible. Microsoft’s vision of the future is a world in which companies embrace today’s reality, even after the pandemic has subsided. Working from home is now plausible. And while there is always a place for offices, you may rarely get there. You do not take your work with you everywhere, your work is with you before you leave home.
And for once, Microsoft’s vision seems to be carried in reality and plausibility, and it’s working on tools we could use to make it a reality. We’ll see how it stands out – in five years.