Before the COVID-19 pandemic made work from home (WFH) necessary and common, many companies were experimenting with it. Some offered WFH as a reward to boost employee morale. Others used it as a tool to recruit and retain candidates who might otherwise have time and geographic constraints.
However, most employers made a point of not making WFH available to everyone. They assumed that workers wouldn’t be as productive remotely as they were in the office. Their remote work agreements still included requirements that employees spend a certain amount of time in the office, both to stay in touch and as a form of oversight. In fact, as an IT consulting firm, we had many discussions with our clients about how to monitor remote employees to make sure they were as productive as their on-site colleagues.
Then the pandemic kicked off a massive, forced experiment in managing a remote workforce that almost never met in person. Managers spent less time with direct reports. Employees juggled child care duties and other stresses of working from home. And businesses braced for a resulting loss of productivity.
But it never happened. Not only did employees get just as much done, they actually spent dramatically more time working. In fact, in a survey of 500 people over three months, LinkedIn researchers found that the transition to remote work correlated with more meetings and longer workdays, including more than 50% more after-hours meetings and about 40% more after-hours instant messages.
Fortunately, companies are starting to recognize what a burden this puts on employees. Citibank recently announced a plan for Zoom-free Fridays, asked employees to take their vacation time, and designated Friday, May 28, a companywide holiday for all workers.
The bank’s new CEO, Jane Fraser, announced this plan in a March 22 memo published in The New York Times, writing, “The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being. After listening to colleagues around the world, it became apparent we need to combat the ‘Zoom fatigue’ that many of us feel.”
Now that employees and employers are beginning to understand the ramifications and impact of long-term WFH, new tools are emerging to help managers better understand when employees may be engaging in practices that appear to increase productivity, but don’t. For example, Microsoft Viva Insights allows managers to see when employees may be overloaded with too many meetings, are sending messages late into the night, or are not setting aside uninterrupted time to focus on their work.
These tools represent a dramatic shift in corporate thinking, away from monitoring employees to make sure they aren’t “slacking” in favor of focusing on employee well being. And considering research has shown that firms that focus on employee well-being significantly outperform their peers in earnings and stock appreciation, we can really get behind these tools. We look forward to helping you prevent employee burnout, and to sharing new features in Microsoft Viva Insights that are due out in Q4 of 2021.