Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, released a study that revealed working from home may decrease teamwork, creativity, and communication. Researchers evaluated data from 61,000 employees at the technology company from December 2019 to June 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented an interesting opportunity to study the effects of working from home on communication and collaboration. Previously, only certain groups of employees were granted permission to work remotely. At Microsoft, 18% of its employees worked remotely pre-pandemic. During the pandemic, however, the tech giant issued a company-wide work-from-home mandate.
A major finding was that working from home (WFH) made individuals less likely to engage in real-time conversations. Additionally, WFH made it more challenging for employees to share and receive information across departments. This made communication more siloed, meaning it occurred within teams rather than between teams. Organizational silos create barriers to collaboration, innovation, and productivity because workers don’t engage in cross-departmental communication.
More Hours Worked
Microsoft’s study found that WFH led to an increase in the average number of hours worked in a week. Some may view this as employees working harder, but one could also question whether the extra time spent working is less productive than in-office work time. Additionally, longer work hours could lead to employee burnout.
One possible benefit to WFH was a decrease in the time spent in meetings. Many believe excessive meetings decrease productivity. For example, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, discourages long meetings and encourages his employees to walk out of time-wasting meetings. Jeff Bezos, former CEO of Amazon, had a two-pizza rule: every meeting should be small enough that the whole group can be fed by two pizzas.
The Big Five Push Transition Plans
Microsoft, along with many other technology companies, faces the challenge of deciding how and when employees should return to the office. The COVID-19 Delta variant has caused many company’s plans to return to the office. Microsoft has pushed its transition plans indefinitely while Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are waiting until 2022.
Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon make up the so-called Big Five tech companies. As leaders not only in the tech space but also in WFH, many believe how these companies handle the transition back to the will greatly influence businesses across America.
Microsoft Embraces Flexibility
Looking to the future, Microsoft will use a hybrid model, enabling employees to choose what is best for them. This is because the company’s ongoing research has shown that employees wish to retain the benefits of remote work but also desire more in-person time with their teams. This phenomenon has been dubbed the Hybrid Work Paradox by Microsoft.
“Our new data shows there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work, as employee expectations continue to change,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, during a livestream LinkedIn event.
Nadella hopes Microsoft can embrace flexibility across the company’s operating model, from policies and technology to mission, culture, and teamwork.
In the Classroom
This article can be used to discuss teamwork and communication (Chapter 7: Organization, Teamwork, and Communication).
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of working from home?
- According to Microsoft’s study, why are teamwork, communication, and creativity stifled when working from home?
- Why do you think Microsoft is using a hybrid model?
This article was developed with the support of Kelsey Reddick for and under the direction of O.C. Ferrell and Linda Ferrell.
Microsoft, "Microsoft and LinkedIn Share Latest Data and Innovation for Hybrid Work," September 9, 2021, https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2021/09/09/microsoft-and-linkedin-share-latest-data-and-innovation-for-hybrid-work/
Jonathan Chadwick, "Time to Head Back to the Office? Working From Home Reduces Creativity, Communication and Teamwork, Microsoft Study Warns," Daily Mail, September 9, 2021, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-9973617/Microsoft-study-says-working-home-stifles-creativity-teamwork.html
Michael Liedtke and Barbara Ortutay, "Silicon Valley Finds Remote Work Is Easier to Begin than End," Associated Press, September 8, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/lifestyle-technology-business-software-san-francisco-9e49f60362702a18dc7180e6294599b4