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Microsoft Warns of a Growing Problem

Since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the organization and working conditions have changed for all employees.
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Work has completely changed over the past two years. This change was prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic which forced companies to accept that their employees work from home. In doing so, the working conditions have also changed, as have the employees.

This new paradigm is one of many factors that explain the Great Resignation, which refers to the large number of people quitting their jobs.

One of the trends that has also been revealed is that the boundaries have become increasingly porous between work and private life, especially as employees work more and more at home even with the return to the office decided by certain companies. Many companies opt for either a hybrid work mode -- days in the office and days remote -- while others have simply adopted remote working as a principle.

It is the disappearance of these boundaries between private life and professional life that worries Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft  (MSFT) - Get Free Report. He has just issued a warning that sounds like a warning bulletin against the lengthening of working hours that work at home has caused. 

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The End of 9 to 5

Nadella believes that it is the well-being of the employee which suffers the most. He is particularly concerned about the situation of white-collar employees who are often managers or team leaders. 

The CEO knows what he is talking about because Microsoft is one of the companies that has developed one of the new communication tools that have become essential in the new work organization. This com tool is Teams messaging app.

“We think about productivity through collaboration and output metrics, but well-being is one of the most important pieces of productivity,” he said recently at the Wharton Future of Work Conference, according to Bloomberg. 

“We know what stress does to workers. We need to learn the soft skills, good old-fashioned management practices, so people have their well-being taken care of. I can set that expectation, that our people can get an email from the CEO on the weekend and not feel that they have to respond,” he said.

Microsoft recently studied the impact of remote work on collaboration in an effort to improve Teams. The study shows that employees are most often productive at two times of the working day: before lunch and after lunch.

But a third moment of intense activity has emerged since the pandemic: white-collar employees are also productive at night.

"The rise of the triple peak day," observed the Microsoft study. "After work, do you … get back to work? For some, there’s a new pattern replacing the 9 to 5."

A woman works at a desk,

'Always On Mentality'

Findings from Microsoft and its researchers suggest that the 9-to-5 workday is fading in an age of remote and hybrid work and more flexible hours. That pattern was first spotted early in the pandemic, when Microsoft Teams chats outside the typical workday increased more than in any other time segment, particularly between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m, the research said.

“Having your kids at home, having no breaks to eat or exercise, we see that one of the ways to cope is to take a break, eat dinner, and then spend time in the evening actually getting things done,” said Mary Czerwinski, research manager, human understanding and empathy, at Microsoft Research. 

"Parents who tend to their children in the afternoon make up for that time by working in the evening. Others optimize newfound work-from-anywhere flexibility by varying their hours. Some just require the extra breathing room at night, away from pings and business calls, to really focus," Czerwinski continued.

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Any way you slice it, the boundaries between office hours and everything else became thinner this past year and a half. The average Teams user now sends 42% more chats per person after hours, according to Microsoft Work Trend Index findings.

When Czerwinski and her team studied the activities of some Microsoft employees this summer, they noticed that about 30% of them had an evening spike in work, as measured in keyboard usage. The timing and amplitude varied from person to person, but it was less intense than the two work peaks earlier in the day.

Likewise, teams working across different time zones often schedule meetings during non-traditional hours to accommodate core collaborators, the researchers observed.

"A key to mitigating the 'always on' mentality is to have managers work with teams on explicit norms. It’s also essential to check in with people who may feel like they need to work round the clock to keep up," the research advised. "Different workers have different needs and challenges, many of which go unseen. Empathy and communication are essential."