Although communication technologies like videoconferencing and collaboration tools helped organizations everywhere adapt to the challenges of the pandemic and shift to a remote work model, we quickly began seeing how virtual collaboration doesn’t quite add up to what we were able to do in an in-person setting.
Workers began reporting long hours, endless video calls and siloed departments, making it hard to collaborate and get work done in a timely manner.
Now, new research from Microsoft confirms those thoughts in a new study of the company’s own employees and how they shifted to a remote work setting during the course of the pandemic. According to the study, employees are collaborating less than they were before the pandemic and they’re working longer hours.
The study of Microsoft’s U.S. employee base of about 61,100 found that the drastic changes in how enterprise employees communicate with one another wreaked havoc on the flow of information as workers spent more time using asynchronous communication like instant messaging and email.
“Based on previous research, we believe that the shift to less ‘rich’ communication media may have made it more difficult for workers to convey and process complex information,” the company said in a blog.
The study – results of which were published in the journal Nature Human Behavior – found that the shift to remote work caused formal business groups and informal communities within the company to become less interconnected.
Specifically, remote work caused the share of collaboration time employees spent with cross-group connections to fall by about 25% of the pre-pandemic level.
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The study also found that remote work caused separate groups to become more intraconnected by adding more connections within themselves.
Essentially, remote work caused Microsoft’s separate to become more siloed and less collaborative.
“The shift to remote work also caused the organizational structure at Microsoft to become less dynamic; Microsoft employees added fewer new collaborators and shed fewer existing ones,” the company said in a blog announcing the study.
Microsoft employees also reported working longer hours due to an increase in unscheduled call hours, suggesting that because of that decline in productivity and increase in unscheduled calls, it is taking employees longer to do their work.
With some offices beginning to reopen, production and collaboration should improve, but companies that continue to offer a hybrid work environment should be prepared for some of these issues to remain.
“We expect that the effects we observe on workers’ collaboration and communication patterns will impact productivity and, in the long-term, innovation,” the study found.
The study suggests organizations take proactive measures to help workers acquire and share new information across groups to help mitigate impacts to productivity and innovation.