In July 2020 Microsoft released a report entitled The Future of Work: The Good, the Challenging & the Unknown. In it, Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, considers whether or not the shift to remote work brought about by the spread of COVID-19 would persist into the future. The report’s goal is to ascertain both the beneficial and the challenging sides of remote work in order for Microsoft to “accelerate product development in the right areas, anticipate how work will change in the future, and help…customers thrive in this new world of work.”
Microsoft’s report combines insights from three specific sources. The first was a collection of trends pertaining to how the company’s customers used its tools, while the second was a Harris Poll survey of over 2000 remote workers across six countries. The third was a series of conclusions derived from over 30 research projects from across Microsoft that sought “to understand the experience for remote workers today via surveys, interviews, diary studies, focus groups, and studies of the human brain.”
The report contains various interesting findings, the first of which was that remote collaboration can actually be more mentally challenging than in-person work. That being said it was also found that in-person work might feel more difficult to adapt to as the pandemic eases and people start returning to the office environment.
The second finding was that video meetings can often lead to fatigue due to the sustained concentration required from their participants. Research suggested that the following factors contributed to this feeling of fatigue:
Focusing continuously on the screen in order to assimilate important information
Less non-verbal cues to help participants ‘read the room’ or know whose turn it is to talk
Screen-sharing with minimal view of other participants in the meeting
In the report, Microsoft recommends setting a 30 minute limit to meeting length or incorporating small breaks into long video meetings. If a day is filled with video meetings, then regular breaks every two hours are recommended.
In addition, the report found that the regular 9-to-5 workday may be disappearing, with people more often working in either the morning or evening hours, and even on the weekend. According to Spataro, “team chat outside of the typical workday, from 8-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m., have increased more than any other time during the day”.
That being said, it was also found that physical office spaces were unlikely to disappear. In fact, Microsoft picked up in their research that annoyances brought about by remote work included distractions, connectivity issues and a “lack of ergonomic work environments”. Office spaces do have a greater guarantee of more dependable connectivity solutions as well as less of the distractions you’d come across at home. It was also discovered that almost 60% of people felt less connected to their coworkers since they began working remotely.
Microsoft’s July report makes it apparent that some changes are on the horizon for workers, such as a shift away from traditional working hours. However, it seems that office spaces are here to stay for the time being, which is understandable considering the feeling of interpersonal disconnection COVID-19 has caused amongst coworkers.