Back in 1998, Microsoft opened its first headquarters outside of the US, at Thames Valley Park. Starting with just a single building, the site expanded steadily with a 5th building opening in 2008 and a 6th considered all but inevitable within the next few years. So what exactly became of it?
Working the problem
The trick to planning how much office space a business actually needs has always been to balance staff comfort, well-being and productivity with energy and water efficiency – something made even more challenging by Microsoft's 2012 pledge to reach carbon neutrality within two years. However, this has made the construction of a massive new building on the outskirts of Reading seem increasingly counter-productive.
Finding the answer
To address these contradictions, Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities teams came up with an ambitious strategy called 'Workplace Advantage'. Starting with a series of 6-month reviews involving each business working at the site, strategic long term planning was implemented to predict how the current estate could best accommodate its predicted staffing levels. However, what began as a purely theoretical exercise was soon made real by a quantum shift taking place in how people could work together, even within the same location.
For instance, why walk all the way across campus for a meeting, when the combination of superfast Wi-Fi and Unified Communications such as Lync, Skype, and Office 365 was now allowing people to see and talk to their colleagues in a few mouse-clicks, as well as share presentations, documents, whiteboards and so much more? Today, as a result of more people working from home, other Microsoft sites or even customer premises, there are now 28% fewer desks than staff at TVP, with ample capacity for that ratio to rise in the future.
Gone but not forgotten
All of which means less need for meeting rooms, less travelling between them and much less energy and CO2 spent on heating, lighting and cleaning the entire estate. In fact, Workplace Advantage, smart planning and even smarter software now delivers million-pound savings to Microsoft worldwide - as well eliminating the need for all those raw materials, traffic, pollution and years of disruption that a 6th building would have entailed.
Which is good news for staff, visitors and the local environment - in fact, almost everyone except the Building 6 architects!