Microsoft design executive Jon Friedman on remote work

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Over the previous 12 months, a lot has been product of the place, when, and the way we work. However the sweeping shift to working remotely has raised a deeper query that we’re nonetheless undecided reply: Who’re we at work? 

The pandemic has scrambled a lot of the “regular” skilled expertise—commutes, workspaces, enterprise hours, childcare, enterprise journey—that it’s additionally rewiring our idea of professionalism itself. 

For me, “professionalism” started 18 years in the past once I began as an intern at Microsoft. Immediately, I lead a crew of greater than 500 designers and researchers creating the following technology of communication and creation experiences for Microsoft 365, throughout each work and life. As you’ll be able to think about, design at Microsoft has modified dramatically through the years, and that features how folks collaborate. 

In relation to conventional modes of expression, each Microsofties and our prospects sometimes drew a transparent line between work type and private type. Take emoji or reactions for example. I take advantage of them freely in texts or on social media, however on a productiveness platform like Microsoft Groups? As a lot coronary heart as I put into my work, I by no means thought I’d “coronary heart” issues there. I do this at house, the place my guard is down. However now that the workplace is my house, there are hearts in every single place. I coronary heart every little thing (until I’m giving it a thumbs down). 


[Photo: courtesy of Microsoft]

I see this with my colleagues, too. I nonetheless stifle amusing when a famously stone-faced executive “hearts” a message due to the truth that the indication of affection on this context catches me without warning. Why ought to it, although? Over the previous 12 months I’ve personally come to see many extra of my colleagues in any respect ranges in a brand new manner—as complete folks with pets, children, Wi-Fi that fails them, and rubbish vehicles that cross by on the incorrect second. 

Weathering the skilled results of COVID-19 collectively has launched an authenticity to digital communication that may strengthen how we relate at work, even—or maybe particularly—in remote environments. It gives humanizing glimpses into areas of our lives which will have beforehand been walled off from our coworkers, and it’s ironic that that is occurring by way of instruments not historically recognized for deep human connection!

Extra holistically exhibiting our lives and personalities, the pandemic is accelerating a brand new definition of professionalism that’s refreshingly human. Listed here are three key methods I’m seeing this occur inside and past Microsoft.

Vitality is the brand new time administration 

For years, product designers have centered on designing collaboration and productiveness instruments with time administration in thoughts. In the event you might simply handle your time higher, you’d be capable to get extra executed. However the pandemic made it clear that much more essential than time is power.  

Acknowledging particular person methods of working can catalyze the collective energy of our greatest power and concepts.

A brand new sort of always-on work tradition, dad and mom making an attempt to focus whereas nonetheless serving to their children be taught, social isolation—the exhaustion is palpable and the effects are very real. We see it in our coworkers’ faces, in consumer analysis research, in information headlines, and this saps the power that fuels achievement. 

That is crucial as a result of so many industries now not outline productiveness as how a lot an individual can churn out in a time period. As a substitute, productiveness is measured by the creativity and innovation delivered to the office. That type of deep considering and originality takes power, and we battle with inspiration after we are fatigued, overworked, distracted, and even simply whereas digesting lunch.


We are able to choose up on these energetic cues in individual, sensing when somebody’s batteries are low and wish recharging. To assist digitally talk this, we’ve been actively exploring methods to assist folks’s emotional and physiological realities. Let’s make it straightforward for somebody to share their private desire for afternoon busy work however not artistic brainstorms, as a result of that’s when their power dips. Acknowledging particular person methods of working can catalyze the collective energy of our greatest power and concepts—with actual particular person and organizational advantages.

Expressive suggestions promotes belonging

Productiveness, creativity and innovation all thrive on real-time, in-person suggestions, which our largely remote actuality has vaporized. The nonverbal cues that encourage you to proceed your presentation on the proper velocity, point out somebody has a query, or reassure you that joke landed the correct manner are crucial to our work and the way we really feel about it. 

Whereas augmenting this sort of interplay with extra expressive digital communication channels has been within the works at Microsoft for years, this disaster has added urgency and intentionality to our efforts to introduce new features like immediate reactions or chat bubbles, and elevated folks’s curiosity in utilizing them. If an image is value a thousand phrases, then why not the identical for a GIF, a response, or an emoji? 

[Photo: courtesy of Microsoft]

On the floor, possibly you don’t suppose there’s something emotionally nuanced about utilizing a GIF to reply to a remark in a gathering chat, nevertheless it reveals a willingness to be weak, introduce levity, and join by way of humor. When folks can’t get that chortle or clap or figuring out aspect look in response to some extent well-made, a praise given in passing, or a serendipitous hallway chat, we want new mechanisms to specific ourselves, to approve or respectfully disagree, to point out that we care and really feel that we’re cared for.  

[Photo: courtesy of Microsoft]

These modes of expression may also assist stability energy and character dynamics. In individual, it’s straightforward for extroverts and folk in positions of energy (by function or by race) to dominate conversations. This definitely nonetheless occurs remotely, nevertheless it’s far much less intimidating to love a remark or “elevate a hand” to ask a query. The latter is one thing not often executed in individual after we now have outgrown the school rooms of our youthful days, however is completely regular in Groups, creating an efficient manner to assist everybody’s voice be heard. 

So, even when this is probably not your most well-liked communication type, it might resonate with others, notably those that already really feel sidelined. And whenever you may give company and create area for different folks in your group—which in the end enhances productiveness and innovation—it’s value reconsidering your private definition of “skilled.”

Skilled ≠ Impassive

That likelihood to redefine skilled norms—notably as a world collective—is uncommon and thrilling. Work norms have persevered because the daybreak of the nine-to-five within the 1800s and particularly because it went mainstream with the automotive business increase within the Nineteen Twenties. They’ve dictated “acceptable” office behaviors and hierarchies. However these techniques even have created biases, inequities, and assumptions—particularly amongst those that aren’t a part of the dominant tradition. 

We’re creating non-hominoid avatars with human expressions and GIFs and emojis that eschew extra Western norms.

It’s unrealistic to suppose that inside a 12 months, and even the following few years, folks gained’t really feel the necessity the compartmentalize, cowl, or code-switch in skilled areas. But when we will create modalities that assist genuine expression after which promote a tradition that normalizes their use . . . it’s a step, and hopefully a silver lining of all we now have needed to endure over the previous 12 months. 

My crew at Microsoft plans to proceed to take a position and innovate throughout all the surfaces the place somebody “reveals up” on-line. Past immediate reactions and higher backgrounds for video calls, we’re creating non-hominoid avatars with human expressions and GIFs and emojis that eschew extra Western norms. Extra expressive themes and chat stickers are amongst different design-led explorations of how we talk and join.

The hope is that these experiences really feel comfy and real, underpinned by confidence, power, and positivity. That’s what we must be bringing to work with us every day, whether or not we’re going to an workplace constructing or to the kitchen desk.

For these of us who’ve been working remotely for greater than a 12 months, the return to the workplace shall be gradual, making a hybrid environment for the foreseeable future—possibly endlessly. It’s thrilling to think about the lasting influence on what it means to be skilled. Maybe we’ll all come to embrace a distinct, sturdy, extra human type of professionalism so we will all obtain extra and know one another extra deeply.


I ❤ that.

Jon Friedman is company VP of design and analysis at Microsoft. He’s presently centered on how deep human insights can result in broad world product innovation.