Microsoft introduces Surface Hub, an 84 inch “team device”

Microsoft revealed a new large format touch-sensitive device, intended for groups working together remotely or in the same conference room, called Surface Hub. This will run on Windows 10, and will leverage aspects of Office and Skype. This is the outgrowth of the company’s acquisition of touchscreen company Perceptive Pixel two years ago.

In the image below you can see the video images of two remote coworkers who are skyped into the meeting, while others are participating locally. The Surface Hub has two 1080p video cameras and microphones to act as a Skype client, and the camera and microphone track movement — using Kinect technology — so they point to the appropriate person in the room.


Microsoft’s OneNote is the basis for the Whiteboard tool, which allows for annotation of other elements being displayed.

Microsoft is hoping to enlist other developers to build or port large format applications for the Surface Hub. The device has an 84 inch 4K display, with a very fast 120Hz refresh, so it should have very little or no lag.

Screenshot 2015-01-24 10.37.17

I have to say it: Microsoft may have built a category-defining device, one that seems a step ahead of Google’s Chromebox for Meetings. And where’s the Apple product for this niche? They have all the pieces, too.

Microsoft has not revealed price or release date. More to follow.

Coworking platform company WeWork raises $355M on $5B valuation

WeWork has had phenomenal growth, reaching a $150 million annual run rate, according to reports. In New York City alone it has leased 1.6 million square feet of office space, making it the fastest-expanding company on a square-footage basis.

This latest round was led by T. Rowe Price, clients of Wellington Management, and Goldman Sachs Group, according to the company. Investors from prior rounds also joined the round, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Harvard Management Co. and Benchmark.

The investors are not focused on the specific real estate that the company is leasing — although the firm looks for offices in popular parts of the cities where it operates — but the possibility of the company establishing itself as a platform for coworking between the users.

I wrote about WeWork recently, when the company announced WeWork Commons, which is a pay-as-you-go plan for more casual coworkers. It’s a good plan for someone like me, since I generally work from home, but occasionally find myself in NYC or other major cities and needing a place for meetings or just to work while there. The Commons plan also allows members access to the company’s benefits programs, like insurance, and gym membership discounts.

The company also has a software product strategy, a social network for members. Here’s a screenshot. I described the features at some length in the recent post.

WeWork is clearly more than the sum of its parts, and the community that the app engenders is part of the charm of being a member of WeWork, and why the firm can charge a premium of $400 per month for a desk in the company’s Financial District headquarters.

The company apparently is planning an IPO in the next few years. The way it’s growing, it’s likely to be above $10 billion at that point.

WeWork announces WeWork Commons, a new pay-as-you-go plan

I caught up with my friend Kakul Srivastava the other day. She’s now working a head of product for WeWork, the largest coworking company. WeWork has locations in nine US cities, and in the UK, Amsterdam, and Israel, and has over 15,000 members.

I knew a little about WeWork, because I had a membership for a few months two years ago when I was working in New York frequently. But when I logged in this morning, I found that the WeWork network has been dramatically improved. I bet that is Kakul’s doing.

But she hadn’t contacted me just to talk about the network: she had other news. WeWork is now supporting a new tier of membership, called WeWork Commons. For $45 per month, Commons members gain access to these benefits:

  • the ability to reserve space — desks, conference rooms, or lounge space — in selected locations in New York, Boston, DC, San Francisco, LA, and Seattle.
  • the opportunity to get discounted services, like health insurance, web hosting, payroll, gym membership, and others.
  • membership in the WeWork community, enabled by the WeWork social network.

I was particularly interested in the health insurance option, because the Freelancers Union has notified its members that it will be getting out of the health insurance business, and as a result freelancers are scurrying to find alternatives (like me). This is another example of a for-fee business filling the economic gap that the government and other institutions — like unions and non-profits — might have filled in earlier times. I’ve written about the freelance worker platforms — like eLance-Odesk, or TaskRabbit — playing a similar role, too (see Let a thousand placeforms connect us, even as we loosen our connections, and Where are the boundaries in a rapidly changing world of business?).

Note that booking rooms and desks is integrated into the network tools.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 10.21.19

The network has features that really help the community connect. As shown in the top post below, the ‘listing’ type of post is designed with specialized replies:  ‘I know someone’ and ‘I can help’.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 10.13.45

Note also that the network is trying to connect me to people with shared interests. The system supports @mentions, as well as direct messaging. You can see me chatting with Kakul, here. Events and listings are accessible by city and building, too.

I think going to enjoy using the network, even if I am only an occasional drop-in. It will make me feel connected to the larger WeWork community, and much more so than I did with the Freelancer’s Union.


What is the architecture of work/life balance… in Silicon Valley?

I am leaving aside the political and societal arguments of high tech companies in the Silicon Valley — like Apple, Google, Facebook, etc — busing (or ferrying) their very well-paid employees to and from San Francisco to Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Redwood City and other Silicon Valley towns.
From a business proposition level, there are huge inefficiencies involved: while the employees might be productive — to some extent — while sitting in buses or trains commuting many miles to and from San Francisco, there has to be a real time loss involved.
The largely-young employees living in San Francisco want to live in a hip and dense urban setting, not in a bedroom community near San Jose. But what if these tech giants actually invested some of their billions to building denser, more urban communities close to their headquarters?
The folks at First Cultural Industries have taken a first pass at this, with these renderings of company housing right on the properties of Google, Apple, and Facebook. They lack the detailed treatment of related amenities — like restaurants, museums, schools, public transit — but consider these a starting point for imagining a densification of Silicon Valley: bringing the urban to Edge City. (Click images to expand.)
facebook city
To generalize this a bit, the rise of urbanization has been leading many large companies to open smaller offices in dense city centers, while at the same time keeping older, larger headquarters in areas of lower land values. This leads to commuting for some, because hipsters don’t want to live in a ’60s split level ranch in San Mateo where they have to drive to do anything other than watch TV.
Is it possible for a reverse urbanization to happen? Would Google be willing to undewrite not only the construction of these towers on its Googleplex, but the wholesale creation of a dense, urban cityscape within and around it? And if they did so, would employees want to live there? Could Google offer them the space at a big discount to do so?
I can speak a bit from own experience in Reston Virgina, where I lived for almost 20 years. Reston is one of the first planned communities, like Levittown NY, started in the mid ’60s. It had a dreadful sort of sameness when I first moved there, but by the time I left in 2011, a small urban core had been created at Reston Town Center, surrounded by the regional headquarters of Oracle, PWC, Accenture, and many others. While still relatively small, and lacking some obvious amenities, progress was being made. And the new Silver line of the regional Metro is now open in Reston, allowing commuting into DC, and soon to connect to Dulles Airport.
The shape of our cities and surrounding has a large impact on the work/life balance, and my belief is that businesses have a strong incentive to decrease commuting of their workers. So the tech giants have to decide: will they buy extremely costly land in dense urban centers and accelerate gentrification and the social costs associated with that, or will the invest in creating new dense city-ettes around and on their suburban campuses? And could these giants link together the various city-ettes with a light rail, creating a network of connected urban oases?
This is a large social question, and one not easily solved. One thing is sure though: these companies have the money to invest in either course of events.
The First Cultural folks also consider the idea of combined coworking spaces with apartments, so in principle, those renting or owning the apartments would have access to a coworking space in the same building, which seems like another great way to architect work/life balance.

Why CIOs will screw things up in 2014

More evidence is appearing that supports the theme that CIOs are madly out of sync with business needs (see IT leaders are out of sync with the enterprise’s new prioritities).

Shvetank Shah of CEB confirmed that 70% or more of IT experimentation in the business is done outside of IT, and they try to cast aspersion on this by calling it shadow IT. The reason that more business leaders don’t pull in CIOs to their experiments? The IT teams have the wrong mindset, and instead of working with business leaders, they seek to preempt all experimentation by others.

And Shah zooms in on the worst problem, that of so-called ‘collaboration’, otherwise called social business or work management tools. 10% of IT project budgets in 2014 will be allocated to work management, but that’s woefully inadequate considering how essential these tools are in a connected world, and how poor the state of affairs are at most companies. Companies have settled for inadequate tools, and imperfect social scaling. Perhaps worst of all, Shah say, very few employees are good at coworking:

More worryingly, only 20% of employees are effective at collaboration, so even if the tools met expectations, companies would still fall short of their collaboration goals. That’s why leading companies’ collaboration strategies focus on employee skills and behaviors, not just technologies.

And why are IT leaders not stepping up to the mark and doing more? Perhaps it’s because IT staff are the least engaged workers at most companies, says Shah:

Twenty percent do not perceive significant opportunity for career progression at their organization, and 30% of CIOs would change members of their leadership team if given the opportunity.

If they can’t get their own house in order how can they possibly get up to speed and solve a problem that is blocking the enterprise as a whole?

I rest my case.

Coworking leads to work for freelancers, not just a desk

Vareska van de Vrande

Associate Professor Vareska van de Vrande of the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University conducted a study on the impacts of coworking and discovered that there more going on than heads-down working: there’s a lot of networking. The increasing popularity of coworking worldwide is having a real impact on work, especially with freelancers who are the most likely to use coworking facilities and services.

She surveyed 500 users of the Dutch coworking service Seats2meet and found the following:

  1. More than one in four had started professional partnerships or opportunities to collaborate with other coworkers.
  2. One in eight found a job or consulting work from peopel they met at a coworking site.

The majority — 65% — of those surveyed were entrepreneurs, 10% were students, and 5% are unemployed.  The most common reason for using Seats2meet is a change of working environment, and 19% who have no office of their own. Also commonly mentioned are the results that the study uncovered: the desire to find others to work with, or to find paying work.

The results are what you might expect, but it’s still beneficial to see the intuitive benefits of coworking captured statistically. I hope she makes it a longitudinal so we can see if the trends are accelerating.