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Episode #24

Thomas Floberg is the COO of Microsoft Sweden. We discuss the past and future of work, productivity, leadership, and artificial intelligence.

This post is based on our podcast episode with Thomas Floberg, the COO of Microsoft Sweden. You can watch the entire conversation here.

1. How to take advantage of AI

“Instead of writing an AI strategy, start trying and testing prototypes in the organization by having workshops, by having hackathons.”

Companies like Microsoft are rolling out many AI-powered solutions and features to help companies become more productive. Tools like Microsoft Viva help companies understand e.g. how people are interacting and working together. Features like Recap allow you to automatically summarize the content of any meeting held over Microsoft Teams.

When it comes to building your own tools or improving processes with AI, Thomas is a big believer in ideation and experimentation. You don’t need an advanced AI strategy: companies and organizations can simply start by empowering and encouraging their teams to build and test prototypes for various use cases.

Thomas shares an example from the Swedish fashion retailer Lindex, which has built a tool called Lindex co-pilot to help its store employees provide better customer service.

2. The productivity paradox

Microsoft has for many years been tracking trends related to how knowledge work is done. With the advent of digital tools and remote work, they’ve observed a phenomenon that Thomas calls the “productivity paradox”.

This is where employees who work remotely feel that they are highly productive or effective, because they answer all emails, complete all tasks, and attend all mandatory meetings. However because managers can’t physically see their employees and interact with them, they perceive the employees as being less effective.

How can companies bridge this gap in the age of remote and hybrid work?

Thomas suggests moving away from simply measuring input (for example, the number of hours spent at the office) and instead focusing on clear output measures. Tools like OKRs (objectives and key results) can be very useful for this, and Thomas uses OKRs with some of his teams.

3. The importance of the physical meeting

Enterprise and B2B-buying behavior is becoming more and more digital, and this trend is likely to accelerate due to AI. Customers do more research on their own, before choosing to engage with a salesperson.

While it’s important for companies to leverage this trend through digital content and tools, physical meetings have become potentially more valuable than ever before.

And because customers show up more prepared, the meetings can become much more impactful and you can go deeper in the conversations. But it also requires the seller to be more prepared.

In the age of increased digitalization, physical meetings and human connection are not going anywhere.

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Watch video: Thomas Floberg, Microsoft Sweden’s COO on remote work, leadership and AI

Microsoft Sweden’s COO on remote work, leadership and AI – Youtube transcript


today’s guest is Thomas Floberg the CEO and director of marketing and operations at Microsoft Sweden welcome to the show Thomas thank you so much it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here I’d love to just start with your backgrounds you’ve been working at Microsoft for for quite a long time what got you there and why have you decided to stay stay for so long so I think I’ve been at Microsoft for 17 years before that I was in the Telco industry and I’ve always been fascinated by technology and that starts working for one of the uh companies that have a large impact on so many people’s you know life and the impact people can make that really uh got me fascinated and the reason why I stayed for 17 years or so is that I you know every day see the impact that technology can make in organizations in companies and on individuals so that’s what keeps me staying and keep going at Microsoft and I love it yeah I can imagine um many more exciting companies in Microsoft if you want to see like massive scale like impact of technology on a massive scale um One Piece uh that you’ve been really Hybrid work at Microsoft focused on personally and of course Microsoft as a company has been really involved in is this new situation of hybrid work or remote work um can you talk a little bit about how you guys at Microsoft have once you’ve been your approach to hybrid work are you doing fully remote fully fully you know five days a week in the office or something in between yeah so of course I think you know for sure the the pandemic that happened what is it now two and a half years so ago or so that had that or sorry three and a half years that had that profound impact on how we are working and where we are working before the pandemic we all had the choice do we want to go to the office or do we want to stay at home and I think that many of us experienced going to the office as the place to do work and now again we have a choice but I think that the pandemic have changed the way we work for a very long time if not forever where hybrid the possibility to choose and to feel that you are included in the first class meeting citizen no matter where you connect from is here to is here to stay you know at Microsoft we started this journey more than 10 years ago and Microsoft in Sweden we started with that’s actually started like a slogan Where we talked about work is not a place it’s something you do and we had this during the kind of a campaign called the the new workout the new way of working and which started as a slogan really you know moved in to become a central central part of how we do our work but for sure just as everyone else or most other you know businesses we went home full time in in March 2020. so even before that I know after we have full flexibility so we offer individuals employees at Microsoft not just in Sweden but across the globe to decide where do they want to work in the office or remote most likely at home or somewhere else wherever they are while traveling or or whatnot so full flexibility with that said though I think that there are there are instances where we see that it is creative individuals come together and meet physically in the office so when we designed our new office at Microsoft in Stockholm where we moved in in November 2019 we moved from a suburb outside of Stockholm called shista into Central Stockholm we designed the office to be centered around social gatherings the core intention was not to fill the office with workspaces where you actually didn’t just come in and do do the same type of work same type of work that you could do anywhere we wanted to design social spaces we have a barista and a barista place where you can come in and get world-class coffee but you can also show socialize with with colleagues and we have also other parts of the office where there are social Gatherings or workspaces that are intended for cross-group collaboration so the if we come to a position where the office feels like a magnet which just drags or draws people into it and you want to come there to be creative you want to socialize you want to get inspiration from your colleagues then I think we have achieved something Processes and habits for making hybrid work successful I I really like that uh you mentioned you started this journey way before the pandemic a long time ago um what are some of the things you’ve learned about processes for instance when it comes to online meetings or a documentation or things like that that you need to make sure that if people are working whether they’re working remotely or at the office everyone is aligned they feel included and everyone is kind of yeah excited part of some in some way part of a community anything that kind of stands out in terms of learnings that you’ve made over the years yeah so I think that there is tons of learnings on this and the core principle I think that needs to be curiosity and a willingness for for leaders for managers and employees to try new things because I don’t think that anyone has found the optimal solution yet we need to be on a constant Learning Journey and during the pandemic we just ask everyone else we tried so many things on how we can replace social Gatherings like after Works happy hours or fee cast we say in Sweden or or one-on-one meetings or team meetings how can we find a good alternative to those meetings and we tried a lot so that’s a that’s number one to be you know curious and and want to try new things but there are a couple of things that we have learned and I think that one of them is if in this hybrid world if you want to allow and enable people to connect to a meeting wherever they are I think the the meeting experience needs to be first class you have to feel that you are included from a technology perspective that you use the technology at hand both when you’re remote and when you’re in the actual meeting room so you have first class sound your first class video you have first class you know um meeting notes and what have you everything that builds up a highly effective meeting that needs to be available depending on irregardless of where you’re connecting from so that’s from a technology perspective but then when it comes to the habits that you everyone is is engaging in we have you know drawn down a number of those habits they are not kind of hard rules they are just suggestions on good habits where you know always try your best to uh to put on the camera but if you have one of those days where you don’t want to show off there’s a show who you are you can actually use an avatar to have someone represent you to make sure that you raise your hand you know physically or virtually in the Techno the client that you’re using to not talk over each other and be respectful to each other and make sure that you take notes and prepare the meetings but that has been around for for such a long time but you know Leverage good meeting habits but there are also a couple of other things that we have done there’s one thing that I have used in my team meetings is that we have a check-in we spend the first I don’t know 15-20 minutes allowing for everyone participating in the meeting to do a check-in where they can talk about you know um what state I am in what am I doing on right now what’s happening in my private life what am I working on what kind of projects am I working on right now and what type of help do I need from this group so just do a short check-in so that you feel that I have checked into this meeting and I have raised my voice at least once that will enable me to continue to you know engage and be feel included I I really like that I think small things like that they seem kind of like obvious or um trivial but they actually really make a big difference in creating a culture what about measuring kind of Measuring output and the productivity paradox productivity and output how do you guys add Microsoft approach that in a hybrid contacts you for instance for instance mentioned off air about okrs is that something that you you employ at Microsoft yeah we do uh not everywhere and in every type of project or piece of the organization but many are starting to use okrs more and more and okrs obviously stands for objectives and key results and I think this is a stems from something that we have seen in in research that is called the productivity paradox and this became evident during the the pandemic and we have been you know tracking this uh in how people work and Trends around the workplace for for several years long before the pandemic um the productivity Paradox talks about that there’s a difference between how employees or individuals see how they are being productive and how they measure their own productivity versus how management or leadership or organizations as a whole how they look at productivity or Effectiveness really where an individual who is working remotely they feel that they are highly productive because they can they participate in so many meetings they have a clean inbox they don’t have any unanswered chats and they feel that they are just you know being highly productive versus leaders see that if they don’t physically see their employees there’s this old notion of if you don’t see them how do you know if they are productive or actually working so here’s the Paradox highly productive sentiment from the employees and there’s a lot there’s uncertainty from managers and Leadership what are my employees doing when they’re not in the office so if instead of measuring number of emails responded to and meetings attended then we could lift it up a couple of notches and measure what is the organizations what is the teams objectives and measure that in key results I quantitative measurements of output from this team and of course this needs to be aligned between the employees and everyone in the team and Leadership and derivative from the organizations all up Mission if you will so we see and I’ve started to use okrs for for some of the teams that I uh that I work with what is our remit and what do we want to make sure that we achieve from an objective standpoint and then that we measure it that we can show progress towards the key results yeah that’s really good because okay I mean using something like an okr it makes it measurable but also it forces agreement and Alignment between the managers and the team to agree on and actually this is what matters most and for hitting these numbers I am being productive I’m my output is where it needs to be even if you know you don’t see me at the office even if I don’t respond to emails or or things like that yeah absolutely and I think that puts the focus on on the work itself and takes the focus away from where you are actually at where you are when you’re doing or performing your work which I think that organizations need to realize that hybrid hybrid work is is here to say here to stay and I think that you know although we’ve been talking about this we’ve been talking about leaders and managers and Leadership principles at Microsoft of course a big responsibility and a changed responsibility sits where the leaders and managers in in organizations and just as we are asking employees and individuals to adapt managers and leaders need to do that do that too you know and we have been working with a number of principals this is a global initiative a number of principles that is important for that are important for managers to to think about and it’s a you know three three types of principles the first one is coach how do you support your employees to make sure that they feel that they do the best work they can and achieve what you want to achieve at work that you act as a role model that you show this is how we’re working on inclusion this is how we make sure that we have a diverse workplace this is how we work when it comes to compliance and a number of other those role model type of initiatives that you as a leader has to do and then the third one is um what has become even more important during the pandemic is around the care dimension how do you sincerely and authentically show care and concern for your employees their mental well-being their physical well-being and their development and growth is so important and if you look at these three principles you know I 100 believe that if you start with caring for your employees you can somewhat get the permission to coach and you can get a credibility to work on being a role model so starting with care caring care and then you can get permission and credibility to do the other things that’s really good and very very actionable Switching gears a little bit to talk about something that’s become Artificial Intelligence at work really core to Microsoft’s overall strategy really core probably certainly to All Tech companies uh which is AI oh yeah Microsoft is a big investor in open AI you’ve been working on your own AI initiatives before that or in parallel to that so I think it’s safe to say Microsoft is one of the leading AI companies in the world um so I’d just be curious to know how how have you been implementing it internally uh already to improve business processes whether it’s operations marketing or um just you know HR yeah so there’s a number of internal initiatives where you know as a technology company we want to make sure that we as employees try this technology out firsthand being our our own beta testers and try new previews of Technology and there are some technologies that is actually out there in in products and solutions that we have been testing and I’m testing you know using every day something something in our employee experience offering that is called Viva where you know there are so much data that is being able to be captured in how we use Outlook how we use teams how we use any other of our productivity platforms and in in that offering if we can show some of that data to the individual uh with of course the highest respect for individual Integrity so that the individual feel that the data on how I’m working is only being shown to me on an individual level so you don’t feel that your integrity is compromised but then I can see when do my work hours start and when do my work hours end and do I want to make a difference to that if I feel that I am having working long hours how much am I collaborating and interacting with my team members do I have frequent check-ins do I disturb them off hours perhaps maybe I should reduce that how is my network across the company from various organizations or departments am I doing enough interactions outside of my immediate organization so kind of insights that is AI powered on how am I doing my work it’s that is one of the things that we have been using for some time it must be so exciting because there are so many use cases and with Microsoft I mean you have all the tools you have the entire office like business Suite so you have all the data and all the tools and you can just use AI to like I said drive those things yes is that is that available now to uh to customers it is uh and

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