Culture

Working from home during the pandemic is consuming your life, Microsoft study confirms

Workers are also taking more — but shorter — meetings.

Desperate businessman working in the office late at night and overloaded with work, his desktop is covered with paperwork: business management and deadlines concept
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Switching entirely to distributed workforces has changed everything about the ways in which we work, and a new study from Microsoft reflects that. The company monitored the habits of 350 of its employees working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic and found that people are working longer hours and collaborating with their colleagues more than before.

Commuting sucks — The findings aren't surprising if you think about it. By working from home you're cutting out a lot of time spent commuting to and from the office. And then there are all the small moments throughout the day when you might hang out in the office kitchen, or otherwise fraternize with coworkers. With of all that dead time out of the way it makes sense that people are spending more time actually getting stuff done.

It could also be the reality that with everything else stripped away, it becomes blindingly obvious who is actually getting work done and who isn't. Whereas in the past a manager might see a body in a seat and assume that person is working, in a remote world, output is front and center. It will be interesting to see if more remote work going forward leads to higher productivity beyond the pandemic as people feel a greater need to demonstrate their worth.

Teams are talking more — Despite the fact that meetings are universally loathed by everyone, Microsoft's study found that its employees are on average spending 10 percent more time in meetings overall, but the meetings are shorter in length. It's as if people hate meetings (go figure) but overcompensate with more communication to keep everyone on the same page. Manager check-ins have become more frequent, and companies are hosting new happy hours to relieve social isolation. Microsoft says it saw a 22 percent jump in meetings of 30 minutes or less and 11 percent fewer meetings longer than an hour.

Find a balance — Unfortunately, the research also suggests that the fading line between work and home life is causing people to lose any healthy balance. There's been an uptick in the amount of work activity happening in the evening – and messages sent between 6PM and midnight have increased by 52 percent. That can be stressful for people who try and disconnect, as receiving a late-night message from a boss might trigger them to start thinking, and worrying, about work again.

Microsoft says it hopes to find ways to encourage effective communication amongst remote teams while also helping its employees balance work and life. With the pandemic raging on and the economy effectively in freefall, it's no surprise we're seeing spikes in depression and anxiety. Just because there's less time being spent commuting doesn't mean you need to be more productive. It's perfectly fine to spend that extra time on your own health and wellbeing.

Which is to say, don't feel guilty turning off your Slack notifications at night. The tech giants are doing just fine and don't need you working harder.