Microsoft Canada’s new head office in downtown Toronto, which officially opened this week, was designed three years ago, in what now looks like a prescient moment, to be optimized for hybrid work. Occupying four floors of the new CIBC SQUARE south tower at 81 Bay St, the 132,000 square foot space includes space for employees as well as areas for partners and customers, including those using Canada’s pioneering Data Innovation Centre of Excellence (DICE).
IT World Canada sat down with Microsoft Canada president Kevin Peesker and Peter Bergeron, senior portfolio manager for Canada, who manages Microsoft properties in the country and has been overseeing the creation of the new facility, to learn more about it.
“We were already operating in a hybrid way prior to the pandemic,” Peesker noted. “And so the pandemic, I think accelerated us being able to serve our customers through the challenge of their move to hybrid and to remote work. For us, we were already there.”
“We were very fortunate that we were thinking of hybrid pre-pandemic,” Bergeron added. “And so as we delivered this site, we didn’t have a lot of tweaks we had to do. I would think probably one of the learnings that we got out of the pandemic around hybrid, though, was more realization of what it took to make sure that everybody was getting that equal opportunity and that equal experience.
“And so that’s something now that we just think about differently than we did going into the pandemic, because we all got to experience it.”
Bergeron worked hand-in-hand with Eric Wand, head of IT at Microsoft Canada, to ensure that the tech worked as well as the space did.
Each meeting room is equipped with dual screens, rather than the single one seen in most offices, so in-person attendees could view content, see their remote colleagues, and watch and participate in the chat stream during Microsoft Teams sessions. And, Peesker noted, regardless of the meeting space, the experience is the same because Microsoft Teams is always in use.
“So when you’re in the room, and you’re engaging with the individuals on the screen, with your colleagues around the table, you’re also able to engage in the chat stream, which allows for greater input from all members of the team,” he said. “Which I think has been one of the biggest benefits of us moving to remote work – people who are introverted, people who might have been a bit more reserved, you see more equality in a meeting through the engagement of both chat and voice, which has been fantastic.”
State-of-the-art microphones and speakers and AI-powered cameras further enhance the experience, with features like automatic zooming in to focus on the person speaking. And even in this shiny new office, Bergeron said, they’re already making adjustments to the technology, building in elements designed by Microsoft’s Hive, a corporate head office team of IT and real estate personnel who test everything from chairs to monitors. One adjustment: ripping out a freshly-built boardroom and revamping it with the latest from the Hive.
“This is a room that they have put out as a pilot, and really believe that it will just be again that next step for Kevin and his peers to be able to do their meetings and be just like they’re all in the same room, even though half the people are remote,” he said. “So for us, it’s just an opportunity for us to take that next step. And that’s where again, we mesh with the technology and the room type, and bringing those together to provide that best experience.”
In the office, Microsoft has standardized on electric elevator desks, widescreen curved monitors, microphones and cameras, and ergonomic chairs, and although individuals can sit anywhere when they come in, Peesker noted that most tend to pick a spot and head straight for it each time they’re in the office. As well as communal areas, there are meeting rooms and workrooms of various sizes for small gatherings, or for those who need a quiet space to work. All are equipped with the infrastructure to enable Teams meetings, and can be booked either through Microsoft Outlook, or in many cases, on the spot, on demand.
“When we were going through the design, we just accentuated – and this was flexibility, I think from Microsoft learning about hybrid work – making sure that the space wasn’t just propagated by workstation after workstation, but that there were large numbers of small rooms for individuals to go make their phone call, to do focus work, small rooms with one or two individuals to have a quick meeting that maybe have a more private nature, or they want to connect with somebody and bring that in and not disturb their colleagues in that connection,” Peesker noted. “And then obviously a number of different sized meeting
rooms for teams to connect and collaborate. So that was awesome, I think very purposefully in the design, to greatly accentuate that, which I believe looks different to most of the other offices that I’ve seen kind of pre hybrid work environment.”
Added Bergeron, “Our plans for this building are actually three years old. I’m really proud of how far ahead we were. We were already thinking hybrid before that actually became a reality now.”