The following is a report done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods Program, the capstone class for the Temple Journalism Department.
On the whole, if you have a job that has a physical office space, you are more interested in working from home, or the coffee shop or some other suitable environment for a change of pace than a generation ago.
The annual Work without Walls survey from Microsoft and Ipsos Public Affairs has taken to ranking how well adjusted employers in big American cities are to teleworking.
Philadelphia ranked twelfth out of the fifteen cities surveyed, coming out ahead of Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago, with 55 percent of the companies in the Philadelphia region allowing some kind of remote working for employees. Atlanta was the most well adjusted city to teleworking, according to the survey.
This movement toward shared space — both to cut business costs and feed employee desires for more flexible work options — is something Microsoft sees as an opportunity. Back in March, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Governor Tom Corbett opened the Microsoft Technology Center in Malvern. The company now has a dozen of these in the country and that many internationally. That backdrop brought Technically Philly to the space: something of a suburban, sales-driven, corporate coworking office, with more resources at a greater price, tucked inside a sleek and modern 17,500 square foot facility.
Bob Kuhns, director of the Microsoft Technology Center, showed off some of Microsoft’s newest technology and software and how it can be tailored to fit the business needs of a regional or global client looking to expand into teleworking.
Regional companies in the health care and life sciences, financial services, utilities, manufacturing, communications and retail sectors among others utilize Microsoft’s remote working technology, Kuhns said. Nearby financial services giant Vanguard, with some 22,000 Microsoft workstations, is a strategic partner. Other regional customers are in talks for booking engagements at the center, said spokeswoman Lindsay Karpinskas. Costs range widely for the resources offered and the organization’s size.
Kuhns stood in front of the server display center — a long row of servers in the lobby — which powers the MTC. Glowing neon lights changed colors behind the servers, slowly shifting through the spectrum, which made them light up as if they were a flashy sound system for a club.
Beyond the sleek, modern dÃ©cor of the lobby were two large, steel doors. Behind them, a large screen at the front and center of the room is faced by two rows of theater seats. Four smaller monitors hung from the ceiling above the monitor on either side and showed what was happening at the terminals below it.
“This is the Envisioning Center,” Kuhns said, swiping his hand across the large touch screen and selecting an option from the menu.
The Envisioning Center is where clients get to see how the technology works. During the demonstrations, which Kuhns said typically last about an hour and a half, clients get to see how software like Microsoft Lnyc and Windows 7 can be used to make social interaction and productivity easier for teleworkers.
Teo De Las Heras is a technical architect with Microsoft who joined Kuhns for the remaining part of the demonstration. He took a seat across the room from Kuhns at the teleworking station designed to be a home office, complete with stone fireplace and family picture on the mantle.
“Software like Microsoft Lync allows people to interact in meetings, instant messages, videos and chat,” Kuhns said.
Kuhns and De Las Heras demonstrated how Microsoft Lync can be used by an individual to search for a person within their company, using keywords, and then connecting with that individual and others in a virtual conference call, with a more personal interface.
“It is very similar to searching keywords in a program such as Facebook,” De Las Heras said. You can search for a person based on their job title, or a description of the qualities you are seeking, similar to searching for a friend based on interests on a social networking site.
“This is called My Site,” De Las Heras said, gesturing to one of the large monitors overhead. “It has a very social feel to it. It looks a lot like Facebook.”
My Site is basically a one-stop shop for managing all of your documents, contacts, links and content and making the information accessible and shareable with others on the server.
“This is all internal though, so corporations can monitor it,” De Las Heras said.
Users can also search within the organization to see what projects their party has worked on and with whom they have collaborated to make sure they are a good match for whatever they need done.
Other software, such as Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint make it easy for a user to stay socially connected with others in their company and still be productive, whether they are working in the office or elsewhere.
De Las Heras referred to this as the “water cooler” interaction, referring to the social interactions that often occur between employees around an office watering hole.
“Just because I am remote doesn’t mean I don’t get that day to day interaction,” he explained. “I can get a lot of that right from this internet page.”
The demonstration continued with Kuhns and De Las Heras demonstrating how they could query a search for a person, invite them into a meeting and conduct that meeting via video, telephone or instant message all within mere clicks, and without having to input phone numbers or passwords and pin numbers.
Teleworking is no longer a perk, Kuhns said. Employees generally want to be working from home about eight days a month, but, according to that survey, they are only working from home about three.
“There is certainly room for improvement in that area,” Kuhns said.
For more information on the Working Without Walls survey, or to schedule a demonstration, visit Microsoft’s homepage.