At Microsoft Dubai, the X-factor is the diversity angle. Image Credit: Silvia Baron/ANM

People are definitely a company's greatest asset. It doesn't make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps." - Mary Kay Ash, proprietor, Mary Kay cosmetics, New York, US.

A company's true merit is usually the sum total of the talent of its workforce. Keeping them positive, motivated and progressive is the true test of its success.

Microsoft Middle East proved this by winning the coveted Great Place to Work award for 2011. The Great Place to Work (GPTW) Institute, at Knowledge Village, Dubai, is an international organisation with its origins in the US and has offices across 45 countries that monitor corporate culture, work ethics and employer-employee synergies.

Paula Leech, manager, Microsoft Dubai, says her formula to get employees to fall in love with the company they work for is to pick a great team, build team spirit, boost employee morale, provide flexible work hours, encourage synergy and top all this off with a generous dash of trust and faith.

While mutual trust, motivational incentives and a good work ethic did play a part in Microsoft clinching the title ahead of several other organisations that were in the running, it was its policy of diversity (cultural, gender and talent) and policies of individual inclusion that became the crucial ‘X' factor.

Friday spoke to Leech to find out how Microsoft Dubai harnesses the enthusiasm of its employees. 

Getting the right motivational mix

Leech believes that creating a great place to work is a constant journey. It starts with the interest and a commitment to focus on the right issues, making sure any subsequent action taken has a steady momentum. Lending an ear to employees is an important part of this.

MS worldwide, says Leech, seeks open feedback, listens and prioritises employees' needs. "Microsoft worldwide has a core set of values which absolutely and positively influence the employee experience of everyone who works for it. At the same time, there is also the awareness that every Microsoft office will have its own focus areas, priorities or activities that suit the needs of that local employee base."

Although Microsoft did not expect to win the award, Leech says it did hope to do well. "We benchmarked ourselves locally using the GPTW survey and we hoped, of course, to be placed somewhere in the top ten."

The company has been working actively across the Gulf to focus on employee engagement. It ensures its environment attracts great people and allows them to do their best work and reach their full potential.

"From my perspective," says Leech, "a great place to work is where there is trust between leaders, management and employees, where people are known to be open in their communication even when messages are tough and where everyone is treated fairly and with respect. I think it is also critical that people enjoy what they do and be themselves in a connected, welcoming and fun way."

Every individual has to regard his or her work as a very important contribution towards the whole. "An organisation and its leaders," says Leech, "should articulate a clear direction and vision, make sure they seek an employee's opinion, and where possible, involve them in important decisions and deliver on their promises - but ultimately this is not one person's responsibility.

"Microsoft is a place where we are constantly raising the performance bar for ourselves. We have our own internal annual employee opinion survey, the ‘MS Poll', and together with external benchmark surveys like GPTW, we constantly keep listening and learning."

At Microsoft Dubai, the X-factor is the diversity angle. This diversity has myriad facets - of culture, gender and talent. Says Leech, "We at Microsoft believe diversity enriches our products, empowers us to provide excellent customer service, enhances the lives of our employees, and connects us to all the communities in which we live and work.

"In the Gulf, we have an employee group, sponsored by senior management, that focuses on promoting diversity and inclusion through education, local activities and events and networking."

One of the main reasons Microsoft Dubai is a great place to work is its insistence on female diversity. The company has initiated several programmes to attract, develop and retain a strong female employee population. These programmes include the Leadership and Management Development Programme which has a strong women representation. Feedback from women employees highlighted a desire to create a strong network within the workforce. As a result, Microsoft hosts quarterly get-togethers to create a sense of community among its female employees that drives and activates the female diversity workstream across the Gulf. In addition, a targeted Gulf female development programme is in place, which includes networking and mentoring for women to help the organisation get feedback on how it can support them in their careers.

Microsoft has also been hosting an annual Microsoft Women's Conference for the past four years focusing on networking opportunities and career guidance and advancement strategies.

Employee support groups such as Women@Microsoft, which has 2,000 members worldwide, serve as effective tools for providing a sense of community and career development support for the female population throughout the organisation.

Employees are not statistics or numbers at Microsoft. Each employee's name holds deep significance for the company in terms of who they are and what they aspire to.

In order to ensure they are able to balance work-home life, the company provides incentives such as flexible working hours, opportunities to work from home, the chance to work part-time and job share. "These programmes also underpin our approach to making life work for employees and in allowing employees autonomy in planning and managing their work time," says Leech.

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In 140

Birsen Tomar (@Birsenss), design consultant and CEO of Home Makeovers FZ
LLE, gives her take on what design elements can make a workplace inspiring, in less than 140 characters.

Friday: What are the main interior features that make for a great workplace?
Birsen Tomar: The office furniture and furnishings, the amount of light and the interior colours all add up to make for a great workplace.

Friday: In our times when offices are large and impersonal how does one add that cosy touch?
Birsen Tomar:
Personalise but keep it professional. Always keep 1 or 2 items that make you laugh (a quote or picture frame).

Friday: Open plan or cabins, what works better and why?
Birsen Tomar: Both hv advantages. Open plan needs less space & furnishing. People r more interactive unless individuals need quiet focus.

Friday: Would you recommend a relaxation or slumber room for better employee efficiency?
Birsen Tomar: Ha ha! Why not both? Honestly not sure, both sound absolutely a must for workplace. A proper relaxation room can b costlier.

Friday: What colours would you suggest to add a touch of joy and enthusiasm?
Birsen Tomar: Colours are very personal. To add joy & enthusiasm one should keep away from the blacks/whites but add some warm colours to it.

Friday: How does lighting play a role in relaxing people at the workplace?
Birsen Tomar:
Lights that help define contours & textures of surfaces rather than a ‘uniform glare’ is essential to a sense of well-being.

Friday: Is it a good idea to have large potted plants around the workstations?
Birsen Tomar:
Plants purify air and increase productivity besides their health benefits. If space allows why not have a big office plant?