Microsoft’s Jared Spataro on How the Pandemic Sped Up Technological Change (and Moved Us Closer to the Metaverse)

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Jared Spataro heads Microsoft’s Modern Work team, which is looking at the future of work and the technologies that will get us there. They just finished their second annual Worker Trend Index, which analyzes a survey of 31,000 people in 31 countries as well as other data and trends. This year’s index discovered that the people coming back to the office post-pandemic are very different from those who left it two years ago. But many leaders don’t fully understand just how different.

HBR editor in chief Adi Ignatius sat down with Spataro, who also wrote the HBR article 5 Key Trends Leaders Need to Understand to Get Hybrid Right, in this episode of our video series “The New World of Work” to talk about:

The “worth-it equation”: employees are asking themselves what they’re willing to give up for an employer—and that has really changed over the last two years. Ways to avoid burning out as workloads have increased, in spite of—or because of—remote work. Shorter, unscheduled meetings are one key. Why we may all be using digital avatars in the very near future. A very rough timeline for when holograms, the metaverse, and other technologies may finally facilitate true hybrid collaboration.

“The New World of Work” explores how top-tier executives see the future and how their companies are trying to set themselves up for success. Each week, Ignatius interviews a top leader on LinkedIn Live — previous interviews included Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooryi. He also shares an inside look at these conversations —and solicits questions for future discussions — in a newsletter just for HBR subscribers. If you’re a subscriber, you can sign up here.

ADI IGNATIUS: So, Jared, welcome.

JARED SPATARO: Thank you. Great to be here with you.

ADI IGNATIUS: I know you’ve just finished a survey related to all the topics that we’re interested in, that our audience is interested in. Talk about one or two findings you think are important.

JARED SPATARO: You bet. The survey is called the 2022 Work Trend Index. It’s our second annual publishing of that survey. We’re very excited about it. In breadth and depth, we think it offers a pretty good view of what’s happening. 31,000 people across 31 countries. And if I just take a step back for a moment and give you a headliner, I would simply say that there are some amazing expectations that employees have as they’re headed back to the workplace in a more hybrid type of way. And that really kind of is how we think about the findings, say, in aggregate. Maybe one other thing I’ll add is it just feels like the people who left the office are so different from the people who are coming back now. We’ve changed in some really fundamental ways, and that’s going to have a big impact on the future of work.

ADI IGNATIUS: What does that mean?

JARED SPATARO: Well, I’d start with this. If we had gone back home to work for two months, three months, maybe even six months, it would’ve been a blip. It would’ve been something that we managed through. We wouldn’t have thought much about it. Two years later, we have all adapted in really significant ways. We’ve adapted our lives. We’ve learned how to use this flexibility. Last year, the survey showed us that over 70%, 73% of people said, “Hey, post pandemic when we head back to an office, I hope that the flexibility that we have will stay. And that has persisted. We see that throughout the results this year again.”

But listen to this, leaders in companies say—in fact, over 50% of leaders in this survey said—”But guess what? We want you back in the office full time. We want you back here so that can be five days a week together.” And we think that those expectations of the employee and the employers are really going to clash here in the coming months, really over the coming years as we try and figure all of this out. There’s some major expectation changes in employees and what they think an employer should offer. But many leaders don’t fully understand how their employees have changed.

ADI IGNATIUS: Let me push a little bit at the idea of change, because any survey is a snapshot in time. This is what people are feeling right now. When we surveyed people when the pandemic first broke out, people were heartbroken that their work-life relationships had been broken up. Now people are at a different place. In some cases, they can’t imagine going back to the office. Wouldn’t you expect that would change, that would continue to evolve, and that gulf between what employers are feeling and what workers are feeling will continue to narrow?

JARED SPATARO: That’s the most common question I get asked by business leaders when I present some of these findings. They say, “Isn’t this a pendulum, Jared? And aren’t we going to swing back to the middle?” And in many ways I’d say yes. But what I would highlight is that we’ve swung to the far side with remote. We won’t stay remote. We’re definitely going back to this place where people are going to gather together. That’s going to be an important part of business, but flexibility is something that is here to stay from our perspective. Just a couple of data points that really caught my attention, over half of the people we surveyed, 53% said that they were more likely to prioritize their health and wellbeing over work now, after two years. 47% of people said that they were more likely to put family and personal life over work.

And what we really have seen happen here over the course of this last two years has really been a fundamental shift of how people perceive work as fitting into lives. And we talk about that as the “worth-it equation”. What they’re willing to give up for an employer or for employment. And that has really changed, we think, over the last two years. Will there be some kind of swinging back? For sure. But I think that the labor market has changed in fundamental ways because people’s psyche has changed, their values have changed.

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ADI IGNATIUS: Does your data suggest what that “worth-it” calculation is? Whether it’s in terms of number of days in the office or length of commute or what happens in the office? Any data on that?

JARED SPATARO: We have a little bit, we did ask people, well, if you had to tell us what’s important to you from your job, what would it be? Unsurprisingly, pay tops the list. People think of work very much as an economic transaction and we think that’s the right way to think of it. But right below pay were the following: positive culture was the second. Wellbeing benefits was number two. A sense of purpose and meaning was number three. Flexible hours, number four, and then vacation time, number five. So, boy, that gives you some sense, we might not be able to have the mathematical calculation for the whole labor market, but it does give you a sense of what 31,000 people were saying was really important to them from their job. And I think that’s very different than what we’ve seen prior to the pandemic.

ADI IGNATIUS: I’ll ask you the question that I pretty much ask every week to every guest, and that is: what is the point of an office? If employers want people physically back, and maybe not just two days a week, maybe more than that, what is the point of the office and how do we ensure that people are coming to the office for some productive reason rather than it’s where I go to work?

JARED SPATARO: I would start with that kind of underlying assumption. Before the pandemic, I think, the point of the office was that it was the place to essentially punch the clock. You were showing, “Hey, I’m working now, boss. See what I’m doing?” And in fact, we see many people in their survey telling us, you know what? I don’t even know why or when I go into the office anymore. I’m not quite sure I understand.

In our research, the thing that we’ve uncovered is that it’s really about social capital. In other words, moving an organization forward isn’t just about projects and transactional completion of tasks, it really is about the way that people are bound together so that they honestly create a greater whole. They can compound their efforts. They can be more innovative and that’s all based on social capital. What the research has found is when we’re apart, we draw down social capital. There’s just no two ways about it.

But when we’re together in person, the interactions are so rich. The cues and clues we pick up from those types of conversations, discussions, and work together are so rich that they fill our social capital bank accounts back up. And so we really believe as we look at the go-forward pattern for work, that the office is going to be a place where you create social capital, where you build it up and you’ll draw down out at other times and you’ll build it back up. So this continual kind of shepherding of social capital, we think, is going to have to be something that leaders have on their minds going forward just to make sure that the organization really runs well.

ADI IGNATIUS: Are you suggesting then that you build up that social capital not merely by physically being in the office, but by being more purposeful about why we’re having people come to the office whatever it is—twice a week, once a month—to do certain types of tasks? How do you build that social capital?

JARED SPATARO: What we’re finding is almost 40% of the people we surveyed said that they are confused about why they come into the office, or in particular when they come into the office. And so as we’ve gone out and done the qualitative follow-ups and asked the employers and asked the employees and then combine that with some of the research, Microsoft research, we would say: you have to be really deliberate about bringing people together to solve problems, bringing people together to have what I would call messy meetings. Meetings where you’re really trying to get over the domain and understand kind of the surface area of a situation. Reason across that surface area by taking clues that each person has from their own experience and then solving the problem together.

You can even just have it be a relationship building opportunity. In my own team, for instance, we’ve been focused on some onsite, offsites. And we’ve seen that as a trend across the industry where people are coming together now to kind of really coalesce around a particular initiative and to get that initiative started to talk about what they’re trying to accomplish, about what the contours of the problem are. And then they go away. They disperse, they can solve that. But they come back together again, really thoughtfully at the right times, to be able to have that just super high bandwidth type of communication.

I think what we forget is that digital technologies are fantastic, but they do flatten the communication. They do reduce almost the bitrate that you’re transmitting signals to each other. There’s just nothing like being in person. We hope we can get there, we may talk later about holograms and things that can help us get there. But right now there’s nothing like being in-person.

ADI IGNATIUS: I definitely want to talk later about holograms. But before we get to that, we do work effectively remotely, we do work effectively in hybrid situations. But, we do complain that we’re burning ourselves out, that there’s something about work from home that means sort of always plugged in, always working. Any thoughts on how to handle that and did that maybe come out in the data that you were looking at?

JARED SPATARO: It absolutely did. And let me frame it, when we talk about hybrid work we focus on one word, it’s flexibility. Flexibility in how, when, and where you work. That’s how we define it, we think that the simplicity of definition really helps us. Unfortunately, what flexibility means is: my flexibility is different from yours and different from our colleagues. When you try and overlap all that flexibility, you get people working in all hours of the day, in all sorts of different ways, and it can become very overwhelming.

In fact, we found that there are four things that just continue to rise for us, those are what we call the workday span. The time from when you start work to when you end, that’s increased worldwide on average by 46 minutes. That’s a big deal, and it continues to climb. After hours and weekends work continues to climb. Time spent in meetings has increased significantly, over 252%, but it’s kind of leveled off. We only have so many hours in the day to meet with each other so that’s the one thing that’s leveled. Then asynchronous work through chat, that continues to climb. What that adds up to is, essentially, this overwhelming wave of work coming at us all the time in a way that just isn’t sustainable, that really came out in the data.

The good news is we also saw another pattern in the data. As we started to track how people were using their time we were able to do this with just aggregated calendar compare. So all across the world, looking at how people were using their time. We found some interesting trends. We’ve found that people were starting their meetings later on Mondays, that they were ending their meetings earlier on Friday. We love that, giving them some flexibility. We found, as an example, that they had moved many of their scheduled Teams meetings, that’s our video conferencing and collaboration tool, to be unscheduled. In fact, 60% of those meetings now were less than 15 minutes and were unscheduled. So we got the sense they were starting to pick up on, hey, you and I don’t have to schedule 30 minutes for everything that we’re trying to do, instead we can transactionally kind of ping each other and use the technology more effectively. The overwhelming kind of wave of work coming our way, but also at the same time, some encouraging patterns.

ADI IGNATIUS: I want to do a little detour. Companies around the world are trying to figure out what to do, how to respond to what’s happening in Ukraine. I read a little bit about what Microsoft is up to, but can you talk a little bit about how you think about what is the appropriate response to Ukraine from where you are at Microsoft?

JARED SPATARO: Well, like everyone in the world we are watching very closely, following very closely the tragic and unlawful invasion of Ukraine. I think it has the world transfixed at this point. There are four ways that we have outlined that we’re trying to help, and I’m sure this will continue to be fluid. Brad Smith, who’s our president published a blog on this and I’ll just quickly hit on them. The first is we’ve been trying to help protect Ukraine from cyber attacks. The second is we’ve been trying to protect the world from state sponsored disinformation campaigns—this is both a kinetic and a digital war. The third is we’ve been involved in humanitarian assistance, we’ll continue to be involved that way. And the fourth, of course, is we care deeply about the protection and safety of our own employees. So those four things have been what we’ve outlined to the world as really our areas of focus as we try to do our part.

ADI IGNATIUS: I want to go to an audience question now, and this is from Carol from the Netherlands. He or she has been sharing the Microsoft study on the impact of taking breaks between meetings. What other strategies have you found to be helpful to prevent for burnout?

JARED SPATARO: Let me start with that study, it’s one of my favorites. If I just shortcut the study for a second, what we found is that even a five minute break between video conference meetings makes a huge difference. It’s almost like a pallet cleanser for the brain. So personally, as an example, I have a piano that’s 20, 30 feet from here, I’ll kind of run out and play the piano. I’ve been trying to learn how to play over the course of the pandemic and it’s been a great way to kind of reset. So those five minute breaks are probably one of the most impactful things that we have seen from our studies.

But then I’ll cut over to this idea of unscheduled meetings. We really have encouraged people to do less of the, “Hey, we need to talk, let’s block 30 minutes.” Because not every conversation needs to be 30 minutes, and instead use the technology particularly beginning with chat and then escalating up if you need it.

And probably the third one that really comes to mind is what I call time blocking. We have found tremendous success as we have been studying this idea of within a work week, that bounding, kind of creating these blocks of time so that you can do focused work. One of the biggest issues we find with remote and hybrid work is it’s easy to interrupt people or to be interrupted. So you can block off your time and concentrate, it matters a ton. All the brain studies tell you that it takes a while to get into a piece of work, you do your best work after you’re ramped up, and boy things coming at you all the time they can really throw you off your game. So those are three things and we’ve got more coming, so it’s a great question.

ADI IGNATIUS: A lot of us have Microsoft, it’s kind of part of our workday and I know you guys have developed a lot of new technologies, new software to enhance how we work, how we interact, to analyze our emails, to look at how we’re spending time. Some of these debuted during the pandemic. What’s worked and what has not panned out in terms of developing this new machine-learning assisted software that you’ve rolled out?

JARED SPATARO: Like everybody else we’re trying to feel our way through this and trying to understand what’s happening. I’ll cite some things that are simple that really we believe are starting to work. One of them that we’re rolling out right now is what we call Outlook RSVP. It is so simple because all it does is it allows you to tell the meeting organizer if you’re going to attend in person or you’re going to attend online. It’s simple, but it really leans toward the future of like, “Oh yeah, you know what, for every meeting somebody’s likely to be online.” It’s a great example of something that works really well for us.

Early on we developed a piece of technology that we called Together Mode. That was really interesting: it allowed us to cut you out of your background and put you on a shared background. For those who have been tracking, the NBA picked that up then and used that for virtual fan experiences during their in-the-bubble season. We were really proud of that. We still think there’s a lot of application of Together Mode, but that’s going to be morphing into something that we’re calling Front Row now, which is all about how you present digital attendees in more of a physical setting. So I think we’ll see less of Together Mode just in a purely digital sense and more of that in the shared—some people physical, some people digital.

We’re also doing some really interesting things about putting you within the content that you’re presenting. We have this really cool feature called Cameo, it kind of allows you to be almost like a weather man or weather woman who stands up in the midst of their weather map and points things out. We think it’s going to be the future of walking through digital content, whether you are physically present or not. It’s even small things like that can make a difference. Really, what you’ll see is the theme is the fusing of the digital and the physical, I think that’s going to be a huge theme in the technology here over the coming years.

ADI IGNATIUS: When in a hybrid situation or remote situation, you can’t tell if your colleagues are okay. You ask them, “You okay?” And they’re like, “Yeah, I’m okay.” Are you developing tools that can tell us if our team members are okay?

JARED SPATARO: Wellbeing and mental health, by the way, was cited as one of the most important things that people value going back to that equation. So you’ve really put your finger on something that’s very important. However, it’s also a source of a lot of discussion because of the privacy implications of being okay, if you will, and projecting how okay you are. So a lot of what we’re doing right now is working with customers, we actually work with government entities, we’re working with research to try and understand what people want to share about themselves and what they want to keep private. Some of the work that we have done with our products that allows you to help with your own wellbeing, for instance, customers, individual users will tell us, I don’t want that information shared. You can tell me that I’m overbooked, you can give me signals that I’m stressed out, [but] please do not project those out to my boss or the company or my colleagues, unless I choose to do that.

I think you’re touching on a subject that’s really important. People do want to work on their wellbeing, but they aren’t very excited about projecting that out. I don’t blame them, I kind of am in that camp where we all go through ups and downs.

ADI IGNATIUS: And look, a lot of your technology, it’s analyzing email and there’s a whole level of, “Is that helpful? Is that creepy? How do you find the balance?” You mentioned a couple things about physical, virtual interaction, and that leads inevitably to the metaverse. When your [Microsoft] boss Satya Nadella, or Mark Zuckerberg, talk about the metaverse people get excited, because we’re wondering if that’s the next big thing. But I’d love to hear your insight and you’re thinking about all this stuff. To what extent do you think the metaverse will be a significant part of our business and social lives in the not-so-distant future?

JARED SPATARO: I think framing helps, or at least it helps for me. You’ll often hear me stand back and say, “Okay, what are the issues here?” For us, a metaverse is a shared digital space that brings together people and places because it’s creating the shared space and things so that people can accomplish certain tasks. Sometimes that’s an entertainment oriented task, in my domain it would be a much more commercially relevant task, where they’re trying to get some business done.

If you use that broad definition for a moment, we started our journey towards the metaverse in March of 2020. And the reason I say that is all of the sudden so much of what we did moved from basically being physically mediated to being digitally mediated.

These video conferences we’ve been in, this experience you and I are having right now that sometimes would’ve previously happened with us in the same studio, they’re happening in digital spaces now.

For me, if I frame it up that way, the metaverse is nothing more or less than the continuation of the development of digital spaces.

As I look at where we’re headed, we see three important mile posts coming up. The first would be the adding of avatars into these digital spaces. Today most of what we’ve done is camera on, you and I are talking, people get to see us, but adding this idea of an avatar, essentially a character that digitally represents us. That’s an important step. We’ll be doing some work in this first half of 2022, adding that to Teams. And we’ve got some interesting research I can share on how people feel about avatars.

Then the next stop for us would be what we call augmented reality. This is the ability to project digital things. They can sometimes be people or things into physical space, that already with hollow lenses is being done all across the world and all sorts of industries.

And then the third one we get into is fully immersive virtual reality. And you’re just starting to see some of that in the industry. That will take a little bit longer, though the experience is pretty impressive right now as you move into a digital space that feels like, wow, I’m here with other people.

Moving from where we are today to that first milestone of avatars, that’s not too hard, and you’re going to see that in the near future.

ADI IGNATIUS: That all sounds pretty cool. On the other hand, we were talking about social capital and there’s nothing like physical connection for building that social capital. Avatars seem to be somewhere in between that connection that we’re valuing. For those of us who might think avatars seem somewhat alienating from even this kind of Zoom/ Teams-type interaction, talk about the value of avatars for people who maybe don’t get that.

JARED SPATARO: People who are doubtful maybe, I don’t blame you for being doubtful.

ADI IGNATIUS: People are skeptical, yes.

JARED SPATARO: Right, it’s a new thing. Look, we’re learning like everybody else, so we’re doing a lot of experimentation ourselves. The place that I’d start is by saying, today if you want to indicate that you’re engaged with a conversation you basically have a binary decision. My camera’s on or my camera’s off. There are a lot of situations in which having my camera on is not conducive to us talking, when I’m in transit, as an example. A norm that’s developed over the pandemic is that we don’t keep our videos on while we’re eating, that’s another example. You can be in a very loud or visually busy environment—if you happen to be in a manufacturing environment, just as simple examples.

So in the research, what we found is that people are awfully interested in ways of indicating I’m in, I’m listening and I’m participating, even when they can’t show what’s going on at the time.

And so there is an immediate need for avatars. When we’ve gone into the lab and we’ve used avatars in meetings, and then we have pulled the people who were non-avatars and asked them, “What was that like? And would you consider doing it?”, after attending a meeting with an avatar people are more likely to consider using an avatar themselves. We have been encouraged by that.

And then just recently in this work trend index that we talked about earlier, we asked a lot of questions about the metaverse. As a simple example, 52% of the people we surveyed said that they were open to using digital immersive spaces within the metaverse for meetings as Teams in the future. And then we also saw some variation between the demographics of people. And you would probably expect that, and that’s a simple example. If I went to one side, we see 28% of boomers who thought that metaverse technologies like avatars would be useful and they were open to that. Whereas when we get up to Gen Z we see 51% of people open to it. You see the expected changes in terms of openness, based largely I think on their exposure already to these technologies and other domains like gaming.

ADI IGNATIUS: How do we deal with some of the technology fatigue, Zoom fatigue, whatever you call it? Here’s a question from Dustin in Boston. What can companies do to offset the increased workloads that ballooned during the pandemic?

JARED SPATARO: I’ll get really practical for a moment, because we’ve both done research on this. And then just within Microsoft and my own team, we’ve been trying some of these things out, and there’s some things that have really worked. Going back to this flexibility means everybody can work at different times. Part of the onslaught that we feel is that like, wow, everything is coming at me all at once. So we have found that instituting team norms around communication makes a tremendous difference.

For instance, on my team we’ve decided that unless it’s an emergency we’re not going to email each other after 6pm. That makes a huge difference. Especially managers, as managers don’t do that they create this expectation that I’m not going to send you something after 6. We’ve done the same thing for weekend work.

We’ve applied liberally what we call delayed delivery from Outlook. You can process your email, but just delayed delivery it so that people don’t get it until an in-work period, like a Monday morning. That already makes a huge difference.

We’ve also made some changes to how we think about meetings. We have experimented with no-meeting Friday afternoons. We’ve done no-meeting days as an example. I know some teams have done no-video-conferencing days. You can meet but you must meet in person.

People are just experimenting with various norms, and I think they’re making a difference. Again, if I go back to some of those simple ones where you’re just signaling, “Hey, I’m not going to email you after six,” you lower everyone’s blood pressure and feel like I may choose to work after 6, but I’ll choose to do the work that I can do without essentially creating pressure for other people.

ADI IGNATIUS: You started this conversation by talking about the expectations gap where employers are starting to think they want people back in the office more, maybe like the old days, and employees are not sure they’re ready for that. This is a question from YouTube, from Gordon in Canada: What’s your advice, how can leaders close that expectation gap so that there is better alignment on how we’re going to work going forward?

JARED SPATARO: I think there are just two different mental models, there are two data points that really caught my attention as I was combing through the data looking for what’s going on here. What do people really think in those camps? 80% of the general employees, so these are people who are just working, say that their productivity has remained the same or has been even better as they’ve worked from home. It’s a pretty high number. Whereas over 50% of leaders say that they believe productivity has suffered and innovation has suffered. So you have the people thinking this has been great, and leaders thinking they’re not so sure about this.

And again, getting to very practical hints, what we’re finding is it’s just important to bridge that gap by having the two talk to each other. What I’m seeing is the biggest misstep out there right now is leaders sitting in conference rooms virtually or otherwise, deciding it’s time to go back. And off they go, and they issue an edict without really talking to employees.

We would encourage people to get down, use listening systems. Microsoft, we literally listen to our employees every day. We do a poll every day of a percentage of the population. We’re all constantly trying to understand: what’s employee sentiment towards some of these really important issues? And we’re trying to create that two-way dialogue.

Just the other day, I was asking someone about this and he said, “Yeah, my leaders don’t want to do that though because they’re afraid that there’s going to be pressure to do things that they don’t want to do.” And my simple answer for that is, look, have the leaders stand up and say, “I may not do everything you want me to do but I really want to know what’s on your minds.” And that creates a bit of a free space, where a leader can listen carefully, deliberate, take input, take counsel, and then say, “Well, I’ve heard what you had to say but I’ve chosen a different path.” I think the listening gets you much further than most leaders would recognize.

ADI IGNATIUS: So for you personally, compare your workday February 2020 versus now. To what extent is it the same? To what extent has it changed?

JARED SPATARO: February 2020 I was in every day, I worked a standard schedule in the office from seven to probably five, six. I think I went home at six. I was on that typical commute pattern with everybody else in the greater Seattle area.

Now it’s not like I don’t go into the office. There have been a couple of weeks here over the last few weeks I’ve been in every day. But the interesting thing is my traffic patterns have varied. The traffic patterns here have varied. I go in at different times. I’m often in for a few hours or half a day as opposed to a full day. So that’s very different. I have implemented what we referred to earlier as time-blocking. It’s something very important that I do.

And I’ve been even more draconian about when I work. Start at seven, I’m finished at six. I have commitments outside. I’m a community church leader, and I have commitments outside. So I really am not working after six for Microsoft. I have other things that are important to me. I feel like I’ve shifted, much like the survey results kind of indicate, I’m right there along with what we’re seeing in that survey.

ADI IGNATIUS: Here’s another question, this is from James, a YouTube commenter. This isn’t exactly your field, but everything’s so related these days. So the commenter mentions that your neighbors in Seattle, Starbucks and Amazon, have been dealing with organized labor issues that have come up. And so the question is, would Microsoft support that kind of worker-led agency, or is there a view about organized labor in Microsoft now?

JARED SPATARO: I’m not the best person to comment on that. I’m sure that our HR folks could give you a position. What I can talk about would be to say it’s really important for us here at Microsoft to build a work environment where we feel like everyone’s work is valued and everybody has a voice, and we’re working together towards common goals. And under our CEO, Satya Nadella, I think that’s been one of the biggest changes, during his time as the CEO of the company, is really trying to move into what he would call growth mindset and apply that even to the employee experience overall, everything about the employee experience.

Over the last two years, I’ve been continually amazed by what our HR group is doing. And instead of reacting to what employees are saying, I feel like they’ve been very proactive, again, using listening systems to engage on topics. And we have taken stands that have been different than some of our competitors on difficult issues. But as we’ve done that, we really try to engage with a position, a point of view, and then some openness to discuss. We really do try though, to take counsel as leaders and then to decide and commit and to line up once we have a good discussion about things. So I’m not the best to comment on the first topic, but I can definitely talk about the overall employee experience we’re trying to create.

ADI IGNATIUS: I appreciate you taking that on. We’ve been talking about new technology, metaverse, whether that’s within our grasp. But project forward a little bit. I mean, you must have sessions where you really think about, “All right, what does the world of work look like in 2050,” or something like that. And I’d love to hear some of the possibilities for what this will be, how we’ll work together a decade out or two decades out. What are some thoughts?

JARED SPATARO: There’s a lot going on here, a lot going on. I would say that the focus for us right now, as we think about a decade out, two decades out, is about that human connection we started with. At the end of the day, whether it’s social capital or anything we’re trying to do, the deeper the connection, the higher the exchange of information and connection, we feel like the more people are able to be productive together. That’s our underlying assumption.

All the stuff that gets me really excited is about the use of holograms, as a simple example. We kind of pointed to those earlier. When you put a representation of a person who’s not physically there into the physical space that you’re in, there is an amazing feeling of like, “Wow, Joe or Sally is right here,” but they’re not. And I’m getting information because they are three dimensional. I have a richness to this exchange that we don’t otherwise have.

And so as we project out, what we’re trying to do, into that decade out, is to think, “Boy, how can we make it feel like we can transcend time and we can transcend space?” What does that look like? And what would the technologies be? Holograms are the easiest ones to visualize, because we can already do some of that today in a lab. Some of it also requires, for instance, using something like the HoloLens, and we want to understand, what would it take to do that without a HoloLens? Or what would it take to shrink the technology so it just feels like a pair of glasses, nothing more?

That’s where things are going. It’s all in service though, I’d say, Adi, to that deep human connection. For us, that is the future. We believe that deep human connections, they make all the difference. They make the difference in world peace, frankly. They make the difference in innovation. They make the difference in us being able to move the human family forward.

ADI IGNATIUS: That’s a great answer. I just want to follow up quickly. A couple of those things you mentioned, the hologram approach, the VR glasses that are not big goggles but are more organic, part of your clothing, whatever. Are those close or are those years and years away?

JARED SPATARO: Well, I wouldn’t say they’re years and years away. We’re trying to get the technology smaller and smaller when it comes to things that you’re actually wearing. There are also ways to do that without ever putting anything on your body. And that’s another angle or dimension we’re working. What can we do to create some of these experiences so that you can just experience them? And what’s the tech required around you to make that possible? As you simply look at these spaces that are being outfitted for connections, a conference room, as an example, people are willing to pay for the hardware. And so we’re really trying to look at, “Hey for commodity hardware prices, can we start to create some of those experiences that feel magical?” Both directions. I wouldn’t say that they’re years and years out, but they’re not ready for production here this summer yet.

ADI IGNATIUS: Got it. Jared, I want to thank you for being on The New World of Work. Really fascinating to see what you’re up to, the research you’re doing, the thinking you’re doing about the future. Thanks for coming on the show.

JARED SPATARO: My pleasure. Thank you, Adi.


This post Microsoft’s Jared Spataro on How the Pandemic Sped Up Technological Change (and Moved Us Closer to the Metaverse) was original published at “https://hbr.org/2022/03/microsofts-jared-spataro-on-how-the-pandemic-sped-up-technological-change-and-moved-us-closer-to-the-metaverse”

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