SharePoint Spaces – A glimpse into the future or a solution in search of a problem

On my way back from the triumphant return of SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas. This partnership between Microsoft and the SharePoint community presented a magical mixture of right-now best practices from industry experts with product team vision, announcements,  and future insights.


Investments in the core of SharePoint’s collaboration experiences generated universal excitement among every attendee I spoke with. Some favorites include external sharing links that block download, password protected anyone links, and incredible usability improvements to list and library experiences. During the keynote, a simple copy and paste from excel created the structure of a list and imported the data. This simple yet delightful user interaction lowers the barrier of entry for everyday information worker to innovate and transform their business processes.


Without a doubt, the most surprising announcement came in the form of SharePoint Spaces, a new capability to create three dimensional virtual worlds with just a few clicks in SharePoint. Users simply add a new SharePoint space using a self-service experience modeled on team site creation and then use a webpart picker to import document libraries, files, movies, 360 videos and more.


The keynote certainly highlighted cool factor of these virtual spaces and the potential value of democratizing mixed reality by enabling every day users to do something that today requires highly specialized skills and equipment.


After playing with SharePoint Spaces hands on, many I spoke to enjoyed the experience but wondered if corporate America is ready for  broad adoption of mixed reality.  One can explore the space with just a modern web browser, but the best experience requires one to wear a headset such as the Windows Mixed Reality headset. While these aren’t expensive, it’s a bit difficult for me to imagine rows of cubicles in filled with boomers through millennials wearing something clearly designed with gamers in mind.


Several people I spoke to had similar concerns about the idea living in a headset and working in three dimensions no matter how cool the experience is. It’s taken a couple days of processing for me to wrap my brain around this, but I do believe there’s a potential for real value in SharePoint Spaces.


In every successful large enterprise I’ve interacted with, connecting employees to the business and creating culture has been a key focus of senior leadership. I’ve seen culture created through programs and symbols such as president’s awards, 30 year parking spaces, programs designed to support STEM in schools, or community involvement through volunteering. These endeavors connect employees to the values and spirit of a company creating a more engaged a productive workforce.


A leadership coach I worked with years ago told me it’s not about having just the best and brightest, it’s about being able to take a diverse team of people with all kinds of skills and perspectives and align them to the same vision enabling the company to pull in the same direction. It’s taken me years to understand the wisdom and value of creating this inclusive and aligned culture to take on even the hardest engineering problems while not ignoring user experience, change management and quality.


As someone who’s made a career out of helping businesses implement solutions with Microsoft technology, my first trip to the Redmond campus was a bit like a pilgrimage to the mother ship. Between the house of the future experience and the visitor’s gallery of products one feels a strong connection to the vision of empowering people to do more and the reality that across industries, this technology can make a difference in people’s lives.

Most new hires around the world will never get the opportunity to connect in person to their company headquarters. Front line workers, field sales and technical reps and local offices may receive emails with updates from their leadership or watch a quarterly webcast but that pales in comparison with the experience of exploring and interacting with the symbols of their company culture and feeling a live connection to their mission.


As a technologist, the cool factor of a 3rd world is of course interesting.  My real excitement is about the ability for everyday users to create immersive experiences that connect us in new ways.  Every employee should experience the growth opportunities that come from an engaged culture. I don’t think that mixed reality will replace today’s established experiences on phone, tablet and desktops, but I’m incredibly excited to see how it compliments and has  impact as companies use SharePoint Spaces to support culture creation and transform their organizations.


I can imagine a robust ecosystem of web parts including integration with teams to bring live interaction, stream to let users watch company events live translated in their own language, even virtual project war rooms with planner tasks on the wall, whiteboards with notes and more.  As more employees work from home and more freelancers bring specialized skills to our teams the imperative of creating an empowered, engaged workforce becomes more challenging.  I look forward to leveraging spaces to to help bring people together and build the culture we aspire to be a part of.