Flexible work doesn’t have to mean “always on.”

One of the key trends in Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2022 focussed on the need for virtual teams to embrace new and advancing norms surrounding the concept of flexible work. Leaders can achieve this by reducing meeting times and empowering their employees to take downtime during their day. Importantly, Microsoft determines that this should not be a solo effort, but a team-led movement to establish more sustainable hybrid work practices. 

Work is more flexible, but digital overload is still a risk

The report found that since February 2020, there has been a 252% increase in weekly time spent in meetings for the average Teams user. With an additional 32% increase in chats sent per person since March 2020 with these figures continuing to rise. 

Notably, workday span for the average Teams user has increased more than 13% (46 minutes) since March 2020, and after-hours and weekend work has grown even more quickly, at 28% and 14%, respectively.

 

Meeting habits are changing

Whilst the report evidences examples of digital overload, people are still making flexible work their own, subsequently taking control of their work day. Productivity patterns on Outlook show people are becoming more intentional about taking breaks, avoiding double booking, and establishing meeting-free work blocks. 

Compared to last year, teams are starting meetings later on Mondays and wrapping up earlier on Fridays. There are also fewer noon meetings, which may point to people taking a midday break. More employees are also using their vacation time, with out-of-office time blocks on calendars increasing by 10% in the past year.

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Finding the New Normal

Despite an increase in meetings overall, Microsoft has found that they are reducing in time and becoming more ad hoc. Employees are navigating the virtual space and are looking for ways to mimic casual “watercooler” conversations in the sense of unscheduled calls and messages. 

Findings from the report show that ad hoc calls have risen 8% in the past two years and now make up 64% of all Teams meetings. And meetings under 15 minutes now make up a majority of all meetings (60%) and are increasing more than any other meeting length (39% between February 2021 and 2022).

“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,” says Jaime Teevan, Microsoft’s Chief Scientist.

Summary

Overall, Microsoft’s key findings demonstrate that employees are doing what they can to make flexible work their own but making flexible work sustainable long-term will require new team norms to guard against being “always on.”

Read the full report here: Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work

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