Results of the tech firm’s study into employee behaviour during the radical and unprecedented shift to fully remote working in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic hold lessons about the new realities of life and work and how to adapt to them.

A new analysis published in the Harvard Business Review, by Natalie Singer-Velush, editor of Microsoft Workplace Insights; Kevin Sherman, director of Workplace Analytics; and Erik Anderson, a director on its workplace intelligence team, explores how the unplanned shift to WFH changed the work patterns within Microsoft.

Using data drawn from collaboration patterns across the 350-person Modern Workplace Transformation team, the analysis looked at “aggregated, de-identified email, calendar, and IM metadata; comparing it with metadata from a prior time period; and inviting colleagues to share their thoughts and feelings.”

The results are a mixture of surprises and confirmations. For instance, the data revealed that workers’ days are getting longer, by around four hours extra per week on average. “Employees said they were carving out pockets of personal time to care for children, grab some fresh air or exercise, and walk the dog. To accommodate these breaks, people were likely signing into work earlier and signing off later”, the authors observed.

“A new ‘night shift’ has taken root, which employees are using to catch up on work — and not only focused individual work. The share of IMs sent between 6 PM and midnight has increased by 52%.”

Similarly, employees who had previously “well protected weekends suddenly have blurrier work-life boundaries. The 10% of employees who previously had the least weekend collaboration — less than 10 minutes — saw that amount triple within a month.”

Elsewhere, there have been significant positives. “One data point stunned us: the rise of the 30-minute meeting”, they add.

“While weekly meeting time increased by 10% overall — we could no longer catch up in hallways or by the coffee machine, so we were scheduling more connections — individual meetings actually shrank in duration. We had 22% more meetings of 30 minutes or less and 11% fewer meetings of more than one hour.”

What is worth noting is that the analysis also looks to China, where some semblance of normality is returning, and notes a handful of changes seen in the observation of remote working patterns remain. “Some of the habits that emerged during remote work, such as more reliance on instant messaging and longer work weeks, have continued even after the return.”

Sourced from the Harvard Business Review