Human communication

Microsoft: How COVID-19 Remote Work Impacts Innovation

  • A study of the technology use of more than 61,000 Microsoft employees in the United States examined the impact of the enterprise scale shift to remote work on communication and collaboration.
  • He revealed that people are less interconnected, which could negatively impact innovation.
  • He also found that the work week had grown longer, but staff were not necessarily working more hours during that longer week.
  • The study has potential lessons for a collaborative approach to hybrid work.

Before COVID-19, only 18% of U.S. Microsoft employees worked remotely – and as of April 1, 2020, all non-essential workers were working from home full time.

Now, a study of the technology use of more than 61,000 Microsoft employees in the United States, examining the impact of this enterprise-wide shift to remote working, suggests that the workweek extended by about 10%. The study also suggests that staff collaborate less, which could have a negative impact on innovation.

Researchers analyzed anonymized data from emails, calendars, instant messages, video and audio calls, and weekly working hours of U.S. employees in the first six months of 2020 to assess the impact of working from home on collaboration and communication.

Less interconnected

The results, published in Nature Human Behavior, showed that business groups within Microsoft became “less interconnected” as collaborative networks became more siled, which meant fewer opportunities to share new ideas and information between. colleagues.

Ultimately, this could affect a company’s performance, the researchers say: “There is a competitive advantage in successfully engaging in the practice of ‘knowledge transfer’, in which the experiences of a group of people within one organization are transferred and used by another group of people within that same organization.

The forms of communication changed drastically between the first months of 2020 and after the work-from-home tenure at Microsoft.

Tome trends for communication media.

Tome trends for communication media.

Image: Microsoft Human Behavior / Nature

Surprisingly, instead of replacing face-to-face communication with phone or video calls, remote working has caused employees to send more emails and “a lot more” instant messages (IMs).

The researchers said that previous research suggests that these communication choices “may make it more difficult for workers to convey and / or converge on the meaning of complex information.”

Longer working days

The study also found that the average time between an employee’s first and last work task for the day increased by 10%.

The researchers said this could indicate that employees were less productive at home or that they replaced some of their commute time with work time.

Or “it may also be that the same amount of working time is spread over a larger part of the calendar day due to breaks or interruptions for non-work activities”.

Keep workers well. It is the common goal of a global community that influences how companies will keep their employees safe. What is the role of COVID-19 tests? What is the value of contact tracing? How do organizations ensure occupational health for all employees?

Members from a wide range of industries – from healthcare to food, utilities, software and more – and from more than 25 countries and 250 companies representing more than one million employees are involved in COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative. Launched in July 2020, the project is a partnership between the World Economic Forum and Arizona State University with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

The COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative leverages the Forum’s platforms, networks and global convening capacity to collect, refine and share strategies and approaches to return to work safely in the workplace. part of broader COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Companies can apply to share their learnings and participate in the initiative as a partner, joining the Forum’s platform to shape the future of health and healthcare.

Learn more about the impact.

Lessons for the hybrid working model

Although the researchers admit that the study has limitations and that such experiments should be carefully designed to remove bias, they believe it has useful implications for long-term corporate policy and decision-making regarding remote work.

“We expect that the effects that we observe on the models of collaboration and communication of workers will have an impact on productivity and, in the long term, on innovation. ”

In the United States, job postings are now twice as likely to mention “remote work,” but researchers say having a permanent remote work policy can disadvantage businesses, “by making it harder for them to work. workers to collaborate and exchange information “.

Instead, they suggest companies consider implementing a hybrid form of working where some teams walk into the office on certain days, or where most or all employees walk into the office on certain days and work remotely if not.

“Companies could also consider arrangements in which only certain types of workers (eg individual contributors) can work remotely. “

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