Microsoft: Work From Home Blocks Innovation, Teamwork & Productivity

Researchers in the study looked at data from over 61,000 employees at the company from December 2019 — right before the pandemic — to June 2020 — right in between the pandemic. 

The data was based on anonymised data describing the emails, messages, calls, meetings and working hours of Microsoft employees in the US. Data also included the roles of the employees, their managerial status, length of tenure at the company as well as the share of their co-workers who were working remotely prior to the pandemic. 

Before the mandate that was put in place due to COVID-19, around 18 percent of Microsoft employees worked remotely. Researchers looked at the changes in behaviour caused by remote work specifically, rather than the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the employees.

Difficulty communicating, stifling innovation

Researchers found work from home would prefer communicating via emails or instant messaging as opposed to real-time communication mediums such as phone or video calls. Researchers also discovered that remote workers had reduced communications between different sections of the workplace. This, according to the researchers, could have impacted the company’s productivity and innovation.

Affecting collaboration 

The study highlighted that remote work caused workers to spend around 25 percent less time collaborating with colleagues across groups compared to pre-pandemic times, while also causing workers to add new collaborators at a more gradual pace.

Strengthening inner networks

However, working from home enabled workers to communicate more often with people in their inner network while also building more connections with them. They also saw the number of hours people spent in meetings to reduce working from home by about five percent.

Effect of remote working on co-worker’s habits

Researchers split the effects of work from home into two separate categories — how your own collaborations are affected when you work remotely and how your collaboration patterns are affected when your collaborators are working remotely. 

Researchers found that both these components are important, especially for a conglomerate like Microsoft that’s working on a hybrid model.

David Holtz, an assistant professor at the Haas School of Business, the University of California, who led the study, explained, “The fact that your colleagues’ remote work status affects your own work habits has major implications for companies that are considering hybrid or mixed-mode work policies. For example, having one’s teammates and collaborators in the office at the same time improves communication and information flow for both those in and out of the office. It’s important to be thoughtful about how these policies are implemented.”

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