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New remote work patterns taught Microsoft a lot about its people New remote work patterns taught Microsoft a lot about its people
"What we learn about these changes will be key to organisational resiliency in the months and years to come." New remote work patterns taught Microsoft a lot about its people

Last week Microsoft published an article in the Harvard Business Review on some the patterns that have emerged from the company’s shift to working from home.

The report highlighted a mix of unexpected, positive, and negative behaviours that have emerged as people have made the switch to working from home. These included a strengthening of personal networks; a shift in meeting times; the lengthening of the work day; and an uptick in productivity.

The analysis was done by Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics team, which used anonymised data generated by Microsoft 365 as well as anonymous sentiment surveys to make the discoveries.

The exercise was an experiment launched by the team to track the changes brought about by the “…immediate and unplanned shift to remote work” that happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The article goes into considerable detail about their findings, and it’s refreshingly honest about the fact that not all of the changes have been positive.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the article.

Workdays are longer

People tend to start work earlier and end work later, working on average more than an hour extra each day, balancing that with running errands or doing family things during the day.

Meetings are shorter, 1hr+ meetings less frequent

The data showed the rise of the sub-30-minute meeting, and meetings going on for longer than an hour declining.

Says the article, “And according to our sentiment survey, the change [to meeting length] was appreciated. Suddenly the specter of an hour-long meeting seemed to demand more scrutiny. (Does it really need to be that long? Is this a wise use of everyone’s time?) This is one of the many ways that the remote-work period could have a long-term impact.”

Managers are more vital than ever to employee success

Those who had more one-on-one time with their managers worked fewer extra hours than those that didn’t.

Managers form a buffer for employees against the worst of the remote-work changes. Their volume of Teams meetings increased from around 7 hours a week to over 14 hours as they worked to support employees.

Flexibility follows disruption

Microsoft found that its teams quickly adopted a flexible mindset in response to the changes brought about by COVID-19, but that the changes weren’t always good.

Instant messaging increased during lunch breaks, night-time working took hold as people used the quiet time to catch up on work, and work-life blurred as some people worked more on weekends.

Human connection means a lot

Instead of isolating and insulating themselves, Microsoft found social engagements via online meetings increased by 10%, as employees arranged fun virtual get-togethers for things like online happy hours and meetings where everyone got to meet everyone else’s pets.

People’s need to connect to others has not gone away in these trying times, and if anything, has increased.

The Way Forward

The Workplace Analytics team ended off their article with a pleasantly honest sentiment: that they need to do more research to figure out how to progress so that the good trends that emerged during the lockdown aren’t lost, and that the more negative aspects of remote work – and work in general – are streamlined and improved.

All using real-time data and cutting-edge analytics to figure out a path forward.

They end off with: “Is work today permanently different from what it was before Covid-19 and the work-from-home shift? We don’t know yet, but the data can give us ongoing, real-time information that we can use to influence what happens next. We believe that what we learn about these changes will be key to organisational resiliency in the months and years to come.”

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