Navigating Remote Teams
Prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, only about 5% of Americans worked from home more than three days per week, however by April 2020, it is anticipated that up to 37% of Americans will be working from home full-time. Information workers had to adapt to this new method of working not only in the face of a global pandemic, but also in the face of school closures, shelter-in-place orders, and heightened overall stress levels. A team from Microsoft sought to know what implications working remotely would have on work patterns once the COVID-19 epidemic was ended, even though it was evident that work patterns had changed throughout the pandemic.
To answer this question, the team looked at data from Microsoft workers' work patterns before and after the company's firm-wide work-from-home requirement in March 2020. Before the epidemic, the team knew there were Microsoft employees who worked from home. The team assumed that any observed change in their behavior following the work from home requirement was due to other causes, many of which were most likely COVID-19 related. Many Microsoft employees, on the other hand, worked in the office prior to the work-from-home rule. The team hypothesized that any changes in their behavior were attributable to a combination of working from home and the same external circumstances that affected employees who had previously worked from home.
Overall, the team discovered that Microsoft's formal business groups and informal communities became less integrated and more segregated as a result of the shift to remote work. Remote employment reduced the amount of time employees spent collaborating with cross-group contacts by roughly 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Separate groups become increasingly interconnected as a result of firm-wide remote work by building more links among themselves. Microsoft's organizational structure became less dynamic as a result of the transition to remote work; employees gained fewer new collaborators and dropped fewer current ones.
Employees at Microsoft changed not only whom they worked with, but also how they worked with them. The team findings show that the move to firm-wide remote work increased unplanned call hours while reducing total meetings and call hours by 5% compared to pre-pandemic levels. This shows that the increase in meetings many people encountered during the epidemic was due to the virus and related causes, not distant work. Asynchronous communication, such as email and instant messaging, increased as a result of remote work. The team believe that the move to less 'rich' communication technologies has made it more difficult for workers to express and comprehend complicated information, based on previous studies.
Companies will need to take proactive efforts in light of these findings to enable workers to acquire and share new information across groups, ensuring that productivity and innovation are not harmed. Separating the effects of working from home from COVID-19 necessitates statistical expertise. Furthermore, determining the impact of these policies on corporate culture and creativity could take years. Because distant and hybrid work is expected to endure beyond the pandemic, it's critical to understand how these policies affect how individuals engage with one another.1
1 Microsoft, September 2021, Jaime Teevan, Brent Hecht, Kevin Sherman, Neha Parikh Shah, Connor Joyce, Jeffrey Weston, Longqi Yang, David Holtz, Sonia Jaffe, Siddharth Suri, Shilpi Sinha, The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers, Accessed 23 Apr 2022, < https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/the-effects-of-remote-work-on-collaboration-among-information-workers/
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