In HindsightThis is an exciting time in history. New technology is connecting the world like never before and is fueling innovation and collaboration. The level of energy in the workplace is inspiring.

We’re proud to be part of the revolution that’s underway. This year, as we mark our company’s 25th anniversary, we are pausing to think about how we got here, and ensuring we continue to empower people with technology well into the future.

To do so, we need to be able to learn from the past—to use our valuable hindsight wisely. Here are three important lessons we have learned as a company over the years:

1. Communication is key

Two-way communication was not always a priority for leaders, in business or otherwise. In an often-cited 2011 New York Times opinion article, Thomas L. Friedman explains how globalization and the information technology revolution democratized information, innovation, and individual expectations. He quotes ethics expert Dov Seidman to explain the shift: “The old system of using ‘command and control’… to exert power over people is fast being replaced by ‘connect and collaborate’—to generate power through people.”

We’ve witnessed and contributed to this shift over the past 25 years. With organizational transformations such as software migrations or implementations, for example, communication has always helped drive project success. Whether it’s with the “big bang” migrations of the past or the smaller updates that have taken their place, when employees have context—what will change, why the change is necessary, how it will affect them—they have a greater stake in the outcome, and are more engaged. When they have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, they are more effective. When they feel like their actions and opinions matter—regardless of level or career stage—they are more involved, and even more innovative.

But, in addition to the messaging itself, companies can take further steps to drive success by continually communicating small and large milestones, encouraging dialogue with pulse surveys and progress parties, and engaging employees with social media and live feedback tools.

When employees have context—what will change, why the change is necessary, how it will affect them—they have a greater stake in the outcome, and are more engaged

2. Modern L&D is critical

Employees increasingly depend on new applications and technologies to complete their tasks quicker, streamline their processes, and make decisions that impact their organizations. More frequent software updates deliver unexpected changes to applications they rely upon. It is estimated that today’s employees have about 20 minutes a week for “learning.”

Despite these changes—and despite the greater scientific understanding of how people learn and retain information—corporate learning and development has been slow to keep up. Traditional L&D approaches that rely on one or two methods of instruction are still king.

Using simple approaches for modern, complex challenges often doesn’t work. For example, despite Office 365’s pervasiveness in business1, survey data shows that adoption of the applications and features that are designed to increase productivity is low. The data suggests that many employees are sticking with what they know—using webmail to collaborate, for example—instead of discovering new approaches with applications like SharePoint, OneDrive or Skype.

Just having the tools isn’t enough, especially not today, when employees are struggling to keep pace with changing technology and juggling an increasing number of distractions. If people do not know better approaches exist, how can they ask for help learning them?

The good news is that business leaders are beginning to understand that, to stay competitive, they must change their perception of L&D’s value to the organization, and begin providing blended approaches that put employees at the center.

And, while much has been written about the differences in learning styles between current workforce generations, the reality is that each person, independent of age or generation, learns differently. Companies that embrace those differences will stay ahead.

3. Work is changing

Not too long ago, the office was a very different place and a company’s strength came from what its employees knew. Most used one device for work, and it usually was of the non-portable desktop variety. When they left the office, they left work.

Today, workers are always-on, nearly always working, and use multiple devices to accomplish their tasks. For organizations, success is more dependent upon how capable their employees are of quickly learning new technologies, getting up to full speed, and identifying new opportunities for organizational growth.

To stay competitive, organizations must embrace this change by providing not only current technology, but also support and services that are designed for today’s employees—short, relevant, job-specific, mobile-friendly, 24×7, on-demand and more.

Much has changed in our industry in the last 25 years. Today’s employees are expected to have higher levels of technology proficiency and greater flexibility than their predecessors. Technology is no longer ancillary to work, but essential—not to mention rapidly changing.

Although things have changed, these three points confirm what we’ve believed all along: Despite an increasing reliance on technology—personally and professionally—people are the key drivers of success.

Here’s to 25 years, and many more.

1. According to recent surveys, Microsoft has 60 million Office 365 commercial customers, 1.2 billion people use at least one Office product, 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies have at least one Microsoft Cloud offering, Office 365 has been used to send 4 trillion emails to date, and users spend an average of 38 minutes a day on Skype calls.

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