Microsoft cites risk of digital overload as flexible work creates potential “24/7 workday”

Microsoft released new data on work trends at companies around the world, along with new Microsoft Teams features to support hybrid meetings. (Microsoft Photo)

The average workday span has increased 13%, or 46 minutes, in the past two years, as people continue to log on earlier and sign off later than they did prior to the pandemic — and the trend doesn’t appear to be changing.

That’s one of the takeaways from a new Microsoft study that combines a survey of more than 31,000 workers at companies around the world with anonymized data from Microsoft Office 365 usage, such as Outlook calendar invites.

An increase in average workday span and other remote work trends are remaining in place in the emerging era of hybrid work, according to a new Microsoft study. Microsoft Chart / Valerio Pellegrini

Microsoft released the 2022 Work Trends Index study on Wednesday morning along with new features for Microsoft Teams and a new Surface Hub 2 smart camera.

Many of the features are designed to support hybrid meetings, such as a new option in Outlook to indicate virtual or in-person attendance when accepting a meeting invite. Microsoft, competing against rivals such as Zoom and Slack, wants keep Teams growing beyond its existing 270 million monthly users as work trends make another shift.

But even as some people return to the office for a portion of the week, some of the habits that began in the pandemic persist. Examples include ongoing increases in after-hours work, weekend work, and meetings per person.

The numbers show the flip side of the flexibility that has emerged during the past two years of remote work.

“It’s a rising tide that we believe is not sustainable,” said Jared Spataro, a Microsoft corporate vice president, summarizing the findings in a briefing with reporters this week. In a blog post Wednesday morning, Spataro wrote that “managers will need to create new norms and set boundaries to guard against a 24/7 workday.”

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More meetings are taking place in the afternoon in 2022, compared with 2021. Microsoft Chart / Valerio Pellegrini

At the same time, Microsoft says flexible work is creating some positive trends for work-life balance. Here are some of the other findings from the analysis of anonymized Microsoft 365 usage data:

  • The number of overlapping meetings declined by 44% between March 2021 and February 2022.
  • Meetings are starting later on Monday and ending sooner on Fridays, with fewer meetings in the noon hour.
  • Out-of-office blocks on calendars are up 10%, suggesting more employees are using vacation time.
  • 9-11 a.m. remains the most common meeting window, but 2-3 p.m. is becoming increasingly popular.

One of Microsoft’s suggestions: managers should do more to accommodate asynchronous work, identifying situations when people don’t need to be speaking or communicating live. For example, recording meetings for subsequent playback allows participants to catch up when their schedule allows.

“Because everyone is working at different times and in different places, it’s important to shift as much work as you can to be asynchronous and get really intentional about the use of the synchronous time you have together,” said Jaime Teevan, Microsoft’s chief scientist, in a summary of the findings.

Another trend is an increase in ad hoc calls, which Microsoft says are becoming the digital equivalent of hallway conversations. Sessions of less than 15 minutes now represent a majority (60%) of all meetings, the data show.

Although the study focused on workers from different companies around the world, Microsoft workers are part of the trend toward hybrid work. Microsoft fully reopened its Redmond headquarters starting Feb. 28, giving employees a 30-day window to work out arrangements to start going back into the office again.

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Microsoft said it expected working from home part-time (less than 50%) to become standard for most of its employees, with variations among different teams, depending on the arrangements employees make with their managers.

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