Research on the Changing Workplace

One of the things that I have admired about Microsoft is their desire to invest in research and try to learn more about subjects that relate to their core business. Microsoft Research has a number of fascinating projects underway all the time, and I enjoy browsing the site once in awhile.

However, they don’t just limit research to this group. They are a data driven culture, and it seems they are constantly using metrics and instrumentation to measure how the entire business works and to glean insights into how they might work better. Recently I saw a report on Microsoft’s new work-from-home workforce, driven by a group that helps companies better work with their own employees.

Work has changed for many people in the world in 2020, and very dramatically for some. At the same time, many companies have had to drastically alter they continue to do business, recognizing that many technical employees could work from home and be as effective as they are in an office. Microsoft has analyzed their own data, and continue to do so as they seek to understand how the pandemic has changed things for employees. They do find some longer work days, more networking, and more social events.

Interestingly, meetings are slightly shorter, which is something I’ve noticed as well. It’s almost as if the effort to walk to a conference room means people have invested more in spending an hour there. With remote meetings, I find more people are willing to cut short a meeting and end it early when they can. The downside is that there are more meetings, at least for this group.

The importance of management is something they noticed, as well as a larger burden on managers that they must deal with as they have more meetings with employees. I’ve actually gone to every other week meetings with my manager for a time, though I’m not sure I like that. I’ll give it another month and then see what I think. I appreciate the extra work for managers, but I also know that managers should be enabling employees, which should be a big part of their job. If that means a bit of hand holding, I think that’s important.

The two most interesting things in the piece to me were that some of the authors’ clients are planning on a two year work from home, and that work-life boundaries are blurring, especially on weekends. For the latter, I think we sometimes find work to be an anchor, and we may need to spread our 40-ish hours across 7 days to deal with the challenges of family during the week. All the challenges of children, maybe other adults and meetings, etc. can impact when we work. The one thing we certainly need to avoid is having 40-ish hours become 50-ish.

For the former, if you plan to be at home for two years, why not just make that forever? I’d think the adaptations employees, departments, and workflows make after that amount of time might not be worth undoing.

Steve Jones

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