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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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April 14, 2008 10:30 PM

More on Microsoft's new South Lake Union 'Touchdown Space' for employees

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Microsoft employees trying out the company's new "Touchdown Space" in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood on Monday were impressed with the design and seemed genuinely pleased at what it could mean for their work-life balance.


ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Windows are given over to common areas rather than private offices.

Employees familiar with Microsoft's new "Workplace Advantage" interior design strategy will recognize many of the concepts in the interior of the Westlake/Terry Building. (Newer buildings on the Redmond campus have been given this treatment, too. Click here for an audio slide show.)

Both in the third-floor Touchdown Space and the other Microsoft floors of the building, private offices are few. What offices there are tend to be on the building's interior, leaving the generous windows overlooking the growing neighborhood to the common areas and shared workspaces.

"We're in a pretty old building at Microsoft -- Building 24 -- which is one of the ones scheduled for demolition when they do the expansion over there," said Simon Daniels, lead program manager in the typography group, who was among the first to use the space when it opened Monday. "This is great. This is state of the art."


ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

While there are no private offices, there are many small rooms for a phone call or meeting.

The Touchdown Space -- meant for employees who need a temporary spot to work before a Seattle meeting, or just to avoid the peak commute times -- has no real private offices. Instead, employees can use small phone rooms for private calls or meetings.

The open layout of the rest of the space is a surprise to some employees, who are used to the classic Microsoft individual office.

John Neuharth, a test lead in the Office group, admitted being "a little concerned" when he first saw the open layouts of new buildings in Redmond "because I have my own office and I kind of like the privacy."

After spending some time in the open layout of the Touchdown Space, he came to appreciate it. "I think it's pretty good. It's a different mindset. There's a lot of natural light, which is really important to me."



ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The Touchdown Space, which can accommodate 50 employees now, was relatively empty Monday morning -- it's first day in operation. Microsoft plans to expand its capacity to 150.

As Microsoft opens more options for employees to work remotely, the company and its many individual teams have to decide how best to use these new resources.

Neuharth said he would love to use the space every day -- particularly on days when the Mariners have an afternoon game -- but "I don't think that would necessarily build the best team."

"As a lead, I want to be around for my team there," said Neuharth, who took a bus from Ballard to South Lake Union. "I would also want to encourage them to use whatever resources are out there that are making them more effective at working. We have to figure out what a good balance is."

The Touchdown Space has everything he needs to do his job remotely. He can access the corporate network to control computers he uses to do testing and video conferencing is an option for meetings with people in Redmond.

"Really it's not any different than being in my office as far as this goes. That kind of stuff, having, you couldn't have done this 10 years ago. You need broadband, you need these technologies to connect," Neuharth said. (And by the way, Neuharth is related to this guy. It's his great uncle.)


ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Daniels works at a desk in an open space. There are a wide variety of tables, chairs and couches available.

Daniels, the typography program manager, said testers and developers might be able to take better advantage of the flexible work location than managers.

"Program managers tend to go to a lot of meetings and need to be on campus during core hours," he said. "I think it may be easier for testers and developers to work off site."

Michael Grochau, a Microsoft employee for more than nine years, is planning to use the Touchdown Space three days a week. He said in an e-mail he's planning to "take a more disciplined approach to structuring my work week, allocating face-to-face meetings ... to Tuesday and Wednesday in Redmond as much as possible."

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