Microsoft’s inspired new workspaces boost creativity and collaboration


Buildings 16 and 17 are two of the biggest at Microsoft headquarters – sturdy, brick-and-glass tributes to the practical 1980s, when the company was focused more on manifesting Bill Gates’ vision to put a computer on every desk and in every home than on the architectural prowess of its campus.

Inside, however, is a different story. There is light, air and art. There are new, retooled work spaces and vibrant common areas. Once fortresses of winding corridors, fluorescent lighting and private offices, the buildings were recently gutted and radically redesigned not just to be more interesting and modern, but to offer employees an unprecedented range of ways to get things done. In the parlance of the zip code, Buildings 16 and 17 have been totally hacked.

After all, it would be a non-starter for Microsoft to have the goal of empowering everyone on the planet to achieve more without trying to do the same for its own employees.

The buildings sport all the familiar hallmarks of a modern tech company – the plethora of free beverages, the ping pong and pool tables, the gourmet café, the standing desks. But from there, the offerings get more unusual.

For starters, Buildings 16 and 17 are office-free. Designed with the idea that there is no one best way to get work done, there are an unparalleled range of working environments. Employees and even executives work together in large, shared rooms called “neighborhoods.” They roam high-ceilinged hallways and stop for impromptu meetings in angular atriums designed to capture and perpetuate light. They head into large, glass team rooms to collaborate, or into one of the many focus rooms or cozy alcoves for privacy. They yell and whoop in an Xbox game room, and take their shoes off to quietly recharge in the company’s first-ever No Tech Lounge.

“It’s a new look for the new Microsoft,” said Jochen Liesche, a business manager for the Data Platform group who helped with the redesign. “I think ultimately the physical space really represents the culture here. It’s almost as if the physical space is a proxy for the company’s mission and its culture,” he said.

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