How Microsoft attracted people back to the office: Make it social

As people from all over the world return to restaurants, concerts and trips, there is one place where many of them do not go : the office.
Many business leaders who wanted, demanded or expected to return to the office nine to five days a week were disappointed and, in some cases, even had to cancel their mandates.

In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Chris Capossela - Microsoft's CMO and executive vice president, has given a detailed analysis on how tech companies are affected by the post pandemic work situation, keeping employees away from the office and exposing companies to connections and culture risks. 

Here is an explanation of how Microsoft successfully brought its employees back to the office by making it social : 

"In today’s hybrid world, “work” is increasingly something people do, not a place to go." 

There is no turning back in 2019, so it is time to rethink the role of the office, both for workers and businesses.

Independent and motivated employees create a competitive advantage. But so far, business leaders have had more questions than answers about how the office can best support and engage their employees in a hybrid world. The latest Microsoft search reveals that maybe the answer lies in what I think should be front and center for every leader : reconnecting employees.


The value of the office is in the people, not the place

Make the connection the top priority for in-person time. No one wants to go to the office just to spend the day on video calls and answer emails and pings. But that’s what could happen, unless leaders and managers intentionally create space and permission for employees to spend that time reconnecting.

Read more : How is a lack of social connection endangering your Hybrid Work Model? 

Understand that in-person socialization doesn’t take away from productivity – it fuels innovation, psychological safety, retention and more. 

To promote and protect connection time, encourage employees and teams to set standards for expected response times when in the office, so that their presence does not become a blur of overlapping deadlines. 

And to ease the anxiety of work accumulation, consider instituting days without a team meeting or encouraging employees to book and protect their concentration time so that people know they can catch up later.

"For example, consider meeting-free Fridays: Recharged from in-person time earlier in the week, employees get uninterrupted focus time and can spend the day in “get it done” mode."

Prioritize in-person connection 

Make the connection the top priority for in-person time. No one wants to go to the office just to spend the day on video calls and answer emails and pings. But that’s what could happen, unless leaders and managers intentionally create space and permission for employees to spend that time reconnecting.

Read more : How is a lack of social connection endangering your Hybrid Work Model? 

Understand that in-person socialization doesn’t take away from productivity – it fuels innovation, psychological safety, retention and more. 

To promote and protect connection time, encourage employees and teams to set standards for expected response times when in the office, so that their presence does not become a blur of overlapping deadlines. 

And to ease the anxiety of work accumulation, consider instituting days without a team meeting or encouraging employees to book and protect their concentration time so that people know they can catch up later.

"For example, consider meeting-free Fridays: Recharged from in-person time earlier in the week, employees get uninterrupted focus time and can spend the day in “get it done” mode" - Chris Capossela.

How a lack of connection is affecting an organization


Create new in-person rituals

To support the rebuilding of social capital and team connections, leaders need to design experiences that bring people together in new ways. Create opportunities for intentional connection, such as a lunch hosted by a popular nearby restaurant to attract local employees to the office, or “team weeks,” quarterly sessions that bring together local and remote staff on-site for a series of daily workshops.

Younger employees are particularly keen to use their time in the office to establish themselves in their workplace and feel more connected to their colleagues. More than their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts, Gen Z and Gen Y see the office as an opportunity to build relationships with senior management and their direct managers. But just as importantly, 78% said they were particularly motivated to work in person by seeing their work friends.

Therefore, allow more time in person to onboard new employees. And for early career employees, consider creating targeted events to help them build their networks.

"Just last month, I had the chance to do both when I spoke to our new Microsoft Marketing college hires as part of their week-long onboarding program. And although the goal was to inspire them, I walked away myself feeling inspired, energized, and — yes — connected", Chris Capossela says.

Creating office rituals to improve in-person connectivity

Whatever you do, do it with authenticity

In the latest Work Trend Index, 85% of Microsoft employees rated authenticity as the number one quality a manager can have to help them do their best. The good news is that 83% of decision-makers say it’s important for their senior management to come forward in an authentic way, so the level of awareness is relatively high everywhere.

So what does authenticity look like in practice? It begins at the top, setting the tone for an authentic culture where open, authentic and empathetic bonds can occur. You will need to lead by example using an authentic voice that communicates openness, inclusiveness and is there to help people build their social capital. 

At Microsoft, they realize that work is only possible when there is psychological security, especially for employees who come from under-represented groups and who may not see themselves in the people around them.

"As a leader, I always wonder how I can create a culture and work environment where every employee feels safe and build deeper connections beyond transactional relationships."

Authentic culture and communication must transcend physical space, as not all employees will be in the office every day, or even every month or every quarter, depending on where they live. Increasing the connection area is particularly important to ensure we don’t lose ground in terms of inclusion; as employees in under-represented groups are more likely to prefer working remotely, Leaders must ensure that their communications reach all employees, no matter where they work. Adopting multimedia formats such as podcasts or interaction on internal forums creates an ongoing conversation and two-way dialogue, helping people feel connected, informed and engaged. 


"For example, I always receive more questions than I can get in the live Q&A portion of my all-hands. But the conversation doesn’t need to end when the event does — instead, my leadership team and I follow up on unanswered employee questions in the Microsoft Marketing forum, keeping the discussion and flow of information going". 

We’re all still learning how to do the hybrid work well. Research shows that putting people at the center by fostering links between employees is key to the new role of the office.

Use Café to connect your organization : 

At Café, we truly believe the future of work is Hybrid.

We designed the ultimate social hub for hybrid teams, to enable employees to shape their hybrid work styles with flexibility, transparency, and interest-based connections at the forefront of each social interaction. 

We help hybrid and remote first companies increase workplace connectivity and build efficient, flexible and thriving cultures.

Boost office connectivity with social moments and create strong connections across teams from your social hub in Café. 

Try Café for free now

Strengthen connectivity and build a better workplace experience with Café

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Timothée Bourcier

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