Finish work in a treehouse, then go have a haircut or play soccer

By Deepthi Nair

What if heading to work felt like going to college? What if there were no boring cubicles, meeting rooms and PowerPoint presentations and instead you were greeted with soccer fields, tech-free zones and Xbox lounges?

That’s the feeling one gets when visiting Microsoft’s 500-acre Redmond campus in Seattle, Washington. A recent underground tour at Microsoft’s Redmond campus was a revelation to me in more ways than one.

Soccer fields, ping pong and pool tables are scattered across the campus. They even have tree houses on campus to make employees connect with nature. Imagine meeting your deadline listening to birds with a gentle breeze blowing… ah, the little pleasures of life! The tech giant believes employees who are inspired, work better and harder than the uninspired ones.

Employee hours are officially the usual 9-to-5, but there is flexibility of working hours as well as the location. They can work remotely as well as from any location on the campus.

At The Commons, a town centre of sorts, employees can take a break from work and finish mundane chores such as banking and dry cleaning. They can even get their eyes examined, package a gift for a loved one and get a haircut. What’s more, there is even an array of cuisines: you have a choice of 14 restaurants at the food court.

You can also play pinball, get a new bike or sort out any cellphone issues at the various telecom carrier counters. Microsoft is aiming to make the daily lives of its 45,000+ employees more convenient on campus.

Feras Aldahlawi, a software engineer says, “I am encouraged to get out of the office often. In my free time or during the lunch hour, I play soccer. I get to meet people outside of my organisation. Microsoft encourages employees to branch out more through other groups such as yoga, ultimate frisbee and cricket.”

Executives can be seen in a huddle, brainstorming in large, shared rooms called ‘neighbourhoods’ or collaborating in glass team rooms.

There are also spaces where employees can blow off steam. In the tech-free zone, staff can take their shoes off, put their feet up and take a digital detox. The ‘Xbox lounge’ features cabinets of video games. Employees are free to yell and whoop.

They also have an ‘Inclusive Technologies Lab’ that encourages differently abled people to enjoy gaming as well. The facility aims to engage the creators of Xbox to make games inclusive to people with different abilities. As you walk into the space, a message on the wall reads: “When you do not intentionally, deliberately include, you unintentionally exclude.” The facility aims to make as many people as possible to enjoy gaming and inform game creators and the wider public what it means to play, with a disability.

Bartosz Nyczkowski, a principal software engineer at Microsoft told Khaleej Times, “Whether you’re an early bird, who prefers working at night, or enjoy working remotely, different employee work styles are honoured. My managers understand the importance of work-life balance and that family takes precedence over work. Having the flexibility to take my kids to the doctor, help with school trips and take time to go to the gym removes a lot of stress and lets me do my best work.”

And it’s no mean feat to traverse the Redmond campus, with its 125 buildings. There are 156 free shuttles to ferry you from one building to another for free. Or you could jog: jogging trails meander through the campus. There is also the free and eco-friendly ‘Connector’ shuttle service to transport employees living close to the Redmond campus.

And since the tech giant is big on innovation, it has established a concept called ‘The Garage’ where workers can work outside normal hours on their pet experimental projects. The Garage encourages employees to challenge conventions, work on their passion and move ideas forward.

Magdalena Kasiewicz, senior business programme manager, says, “I’ve worked here for five years. I have never felt that my work in any way limits my aspirations. On the contrary, it gives me the energy to try new things outside of my career. I have three kids, am very active, and feel that the flexibility at work allows me to be more efficient, creating more time for my family and hobbies.”

The aspect that struck me the most of a tour of the company’s work space was the tech titan’s new work culture under CEO Satya Nadella. The company aims to transform a ‘know-it-all’ mindset to a ‘learn-it-all’ one. If one of the world’s biggest tech businesses can pioneer such change within its ranks, I don’t see why smaller workplaces should not follow suit and create transformational and inspiring workplaces.

Deepthi writes on Dubai property. She loves to be in the thick of all that’s fun in this city

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