Every so often, Microsoft likes to share its vision for the future in far-reaching videos filled with concepts of what work will be like “someday.” Alongside a new intranet product dubbed Viva, Microsoft revealed a significant shift of vision: it’s embracing a future where we all work from home—permanently.
Microsoft buried its new vision in an announcement about Viva, its new intranet product. Viva builds on Sharepoint but works in a more social and friendly fashion. More importantly, whereas Sharepoint is a concept for getting you up to speed while in the office, Viva wants to help you work from home.
Pay attention, though, and you’ll see a concept video from Microsoft on what work might be like in the future. It’s worth watching the entire video, just don’t mind the usual cheesy acting:
This concept video is notable for some drastic differences in Microsoft’s tune. In previous vision videos, Microsoft seems to look toward a future when every surface is a Windows device. Your counters, your mirrors, your windows (actual windows), your newspaper, and even your fashion accessories.
Over the last ten years, Microsoft’s vision videos have been consistent, and we can examine the video released in 2015 to see where the company’s thinking was. That video posited that in five years (now!), we’d use every surface as a work device: your walls, your windows, your countertops. Microsoft suggested we’d create new foldable devices similar to newspapers, new tablets, wireless earbuds, and larger touchscreens along the way.
Some of that’s true! We now have early examples of foldable devices, larger touchscreens, and wireless earbuds are everywhere. But while Microsoft focused on concept devices, the message behind its vision is that we can be more productive in the office and on the go. “More productivity means you take work everywhere.” And nearly every collaboration happens in person.
Microsoft’s new vision video is distinctly different. Ignore the CGI holograms for a moment, and you’ll notice something—none of the devices are concepts. Behind the holograms, you’ll see Surface Pros and Surface Duos, real devices.
The point isn’t what our devices will be like someday, but how our work life is changing. In past videos, Microsoft envisioned a world where our gadgets made us more productive in the office and at a restaurant. The videos dreamed of how we’d work together in person. The latest video eschews all that and focuses on working almost entirely from home.
The video introduces us to “Mila,” a woman about to begin her first day of work. Does she go into the office to meet her colleagues and fill out paperwork? No, she calls in from home via video conferencing. In the morning, she gets up, makes breakfast, gets ready for work (with hints of a plausible smart mirror), then heads to her office in her home to start work.
And that’s where she stays. We see one instance where she shows up at the office for a quick meeting, but otherwise, she always works from home. When it’s time to deliver a presentation on a new idea, she does that from home, too (through a strange hologram we’ll call telepresence). It’s the most important day of her job yet, and she doesn’t leave home.
That’s a big deal because while more people are working from home right now due to the pandemic, most companies (including Microsoft at one point) have treated it as a temporary measure. Something that will end when the world gets back to normal.
But now, Microsoft seems to be embracing where working from home is the new normal. It says more people will permanently maintain their offices in their apartments and houses. We may occasionally visit the office if necessary, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Virtual calls will work for even the most critical tasks.
The fact that Microsoft isn’t showing off any true future tech outside the holograms is the most telling part. All of the actual processes are plausible with the technology and devices we have right now. We don’t need holograms to see six faces in a video call; a larger monitor will do.
We can give feedback, write up documents, make proposals, all virtually. And Viva, Microsoft’s new “intranet” program, enables that now. Microsoft’s vision for the future is a world where companies embrace the realities of this moment, even after the pandemic fades away. Working from home is plausible now. And while there may always be a place for offices, you may seldom visit it. You won’t take your work with you everywhere, your work is already with you before you even leave home.
And for once, Microsoft’s vision seems borne in reality and plausibility, and it’s working on tools we might use to make it happen. We’ll see how it shakes out—in five years.