The Register took a trip to Microsoft's shiny new Stockholm HQ to check out what the company's employees have to look forward to over the next decade - and came away more informed about smart metred loo roll.
While the bulldozers continue doing their thing in Redmond (and social media is alive with staffers dealing with the horror of open-plan working), Microsoft unveiled its brand spanking new HQ in central Stockholm as part of a drive to show off its sustainability cred to a carefully selected crowd of "influencers" (including, inexplicably, El Reg).
It is probably best not work out just how big the carbon footprint of a collection of hacks flown on BA's finest came to.
The new office, which looks for all intents and purposes like a really nice WeWork, is a pointer to what the Windows giant sees as the future for its workers. And that future involves remote working – there are only 237 workstations for the approximate 600 workers employed in the region. The space is a third smaller than the original out-of-city site.
Should everyone decide to pitch up at once, there is overspill scope thanks to WeWork floors being in the same building, you lucky people.
There are, of course, no individual offices for bosses to hide in, nor are there partitions to facilitate even the illusion of privacy. Hey, it is the modern world after all, although we'd have to suggest maybe the company might want to invest in some filters for those big screens to protect data from passing prying eyes (not that we would do such a thing).
IoT – Internet of ... toilet tissue?
Unsurprisingly, the whole place is instrumented in order that the dead eyes of Azure can keep track of consumption of everything from lighting to, er, bog rolls. As a spokesperson proudly told us: "In the toilets, we have connected the paper holdings for handkerchiefs and the paper…"
Nice. Similar systems have also been sold into airports.
While The Register enjoyed pawing at the Surface Hubs and connected workstations scattered around the place, we had to ask the obvious question: can you monitor the employee badge and see who is hitting the bog roll hardest?
The spokesperson looked a bit thoughtful before telling us: "No, that I think we won't do – we'd have some PII [Personal Identifying Information] issues there." So no Xbox-style leaderboards for toilet trips then.
Joking aside, it is an interesting challenge, since employee IDs are used to access office resources, and Microsoft is very sensitive about PII nowadays, particularly with ever-increasing oversight from regulatory authorities and the company going Dutch on GDPR.
Microsoft was also keen to show off the next stage in smart metering, having equipped the office with a €2,000 Vattenfall smart meter aimed at adding a bit more transparency into electricity consumption.
The theory goes that rather than getting an annual statement showing where the power consumed came from, the origin can be shown on an hour-by-hour basis. Thus a company (such as Microsoft) that boasts its commitment to renewable energy is able to see just where its provider is sourcing the power and wield a stick accordingly.
The tech remains at the pilot stage and we can't see Blighty's homes being bothered by it any time soon. Eye-watering price tag aside, the UK government admitted this year that only half of households would have smart meters by next year, and maybe 85 per cent by 2024 as the delay-hit programme continued its rollout. And that's without upgrades required should Vattenfall's pilot go mainstream.
We asked UK energy regulators Ofgem for when such units might become standard kit for industry and homes on these shores and will update if the organisation responds.
In the meantime, there's always Microsoft's Stockholm office and its slightly creepy toilet tissue dispensers. ®
Microsoft has got in touch to point out that for this event, it offset the carbon emissions caused.