Microsoft’s study of corporate workplaces finds major disconnect in hybrid work

Microsoft’s study of corporate workplaces finds major disconnect in hybrid work

Jared Spataro, Microsofts konserndirektør for Modern Work, siterer resultatene fra Microsofts siste Work Trend Index <a href=during a Thursday morning webcast. (Image via Microsoft webcast)” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/TdVTq9mVMFrV97QRGUQPMQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM2OQ–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/ res/1.2/Yx83keCZaP33CQuQaoPEcw–~B/aD0zMzA7dz02MzA7YXBwaWQ9eXRhY2h5b24-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/geekwire_312/17210ea58a1e057d711ab183563c04d0″ data-src=”https://s.yimg/res/ny/api 1.2/TdVTq9mVMFrV97QRGUQPMQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM2OQ–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/Yx83keCZaP33CQuQaoPEcw–~B/aD0zMzA7dz02MzA7YXBwaWQ9eXRhY2h5b24-fs.com/zengewire.com/3ge_en. /17210ea58a1e057d711ab183563c04d0″/>
Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s executive vice president of Modern Work, cites the results of Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index during a Thursday morning webcast. (Image via Microsoft webcast)

A wide perception gap between employees and managers could make hybrid work unsustainable in companies around the world if left unaddressed, Microsoft warned Thursday as it released the findings of a new workplace study.

This disconnect, which Microsoft calls “productivity paranoia,” is one of the key findings of the survey of 20,000 people at companies in 11 countries, conducted for Microsoft by a third-party firm in July and August.

One of the reasons is the decline of the ancient practice of “management by walking around” due to remote work. The survey found that a lack of confidence in employee productivity is more common among managers whose teams continue to work away from the traditional office at least part of the time.

At the same time, data obtained from the use of Microsoft software and online services indicate a sustained increase in overall activity among workers.

  • The number of weekly meetings increased by 153% compared to the start of the pandemic for the average Microsoft Teams user as of this spring, and the trend shows no signs of slowing, the company said.

  • About 42% of meeting participants multitask by sending email and other messages. It does not include other forms of multitasking, such as reading email or surfing the web.

Aside from potential burnout, one risk is that employees try to look like they are working, rather than actually doing productive work, a phenomenon that has been identified by author Anne Helen Petersen as LARPing, or “live action role-playing” their jobs.

Speaking on a live webcast from London, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said a key is to recognize and understand the new realities of work, and not expect to turn the clock back to 2019, before the pandemic.

“Work as we know it has structurally gone through a massive change,” Nadella said during the virtual event. “I think we have to somehow get to grips with what the basic meaning of work is.”

Microsoft CEO Jared Spataro, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky during Microsoft's virtual event on Thursday in London.  (Image via Microsoft webcast.)

Microsoft CEO Jared Spataro, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky during Microsoft’s virtual event on Thursday in London. (Image via Microsoft webcast.)

Seth Patton, a general manager for Microsoft 365, said in an interview that the company sees clear communication, goal setting and continuous feedback loops as important ways to meet the challenges.

“What’s needed right now is not to measure labor hours,” Patton said. Instead, companies should “really focus on the results that [they] need to drive, and provide clarity to employees who are otherwise just going to do a bunch of busy work, and then get feedback on what they need to support them to succeed.”

Patton said Microsoft opposes the practice in which companies use technology to actively monitor individual employees’ computer activity, via workplace monitoring tools, to determine productivity and pay.

Faced with backlash over a “Productivity Score” tool in Microsoft 365, Microsoft in November 2020 eventually announced it would remove the ability for businesses to see data about individual users in the feature, addressing concerns from privacy experts over potential uses of the technology to snoop on workers.

Microsoft announced the survey results Thursday, citing the importance of helping employees connect with each other as a motivation to work in person. In addition, the company said it is important to “re-recruit” existing employees to help them identify their best internal roles and growth opportunities, versus seeking jobs elsewhere.

This Microsoft chart, based on two years of aggregated, anonymized user data from Microsoft 365 collaboration tools, shows a sustained average increase in the number of meetings per person.  <a href=See interactive version.” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/Pk1uMu_sA8gc0cPVvfTYJg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ2Nw–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2 /q4LEI0IgmGEjiOndzPXvGQ–~B/aD00MTc7dz02MzA7YXBwaWQ9eXRhY2h5b24-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/geekwire_312/543d07e0074df89c7e9667d3800d5902″/>
This Microsoft chart, based on two years of aggregated, anonymized user data from Microsoft 365 collaboration tools, shows a sustained average increase in the number of meetings per person. See interactive version.

“People want to feel very connected to their work,” said LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky, who appeared with Nadella at the company’s virtual event Thursday. “They want to feel connected to the company, connected to their manager. They want to know that their work matters. And one of the most important ways to do that is to make sure you have the right people, with the right skills, in the right role.”

Of course, this is not purely academic for Microsoft. The company cites the findings as the basis for several new and updated features in its Viva employee experience platform, including tools to conduct rapid employee surveys, establish clear goals for work, and encourage employee learning and growth.

Microsoft announced Viva in March 2021 as its entry into the increasingly competitive market for technology aimed at helping businesses improve employee engagement and productivity, and the overall work environment.

The company says Viva now has 10 million monthly active users, with more than 1,000 paid enterprise customers who did not previously purchase Microsoft 365 or Microsoft Teams.

Earlier this year, Microsoft also announced new integrations between Viva and Glint, the employee feedback tool that Microsoft-owned LinkedIn acquired in 2018. Viva also integrates with LinkedIn Learning.

Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for more than $26 billion in 2016. LinkedIn was responsible for $13.8 billion in revenue in Microsoft’s 2022 fiscal year, which ended June 30, a 34% increase from the previous year.

Microsoft competes against a number of services in the communications and collaboration technology market, including Zoom and Salesforce’s Slack. Seattle-area employee experience company Limeade, which acquired workplace survey tool TINYPulse last year, announced an integration with Microsoft Viva around the same time.

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