Microsoft recently released a set of reports regarding “remote work and collaboration”. The cool, easy-to-digest version can be found here and the underlying data can be found here. I highly recommend, especially if you’re in a leadership role, perusing the former link.
The problem is that Microsoft can’t really speak to the *quality* of collaboration, or indeed the direct impact of remote work on collaboration due to the subjective nature of the subject. What they can, and tried – to do was to metric out the patterns and behaviors that encourage collaboration.
My own takeaway is that there are far more negatives inherited from WfH *from a firm leadership perspective*. There are also significant negatives for the workers as well, but their situation is strongly influenced by leadership actions and attitude.
From a purely collaborative aspect, Microsoft found that while digital comms increased between tightly-knit teams, communications outside the team dropped dramatically.
This makes sense. If you can’t lean over and ask the person next to you a question, you need to IM/email/call them. What used to be instantaneous and personal has transformed.
Additionally, the “external” outreach decline also seems to make sense. When I think back (oh so long ago) to my office days, a very large percentage of my external contact came from organic connections. Wandering around the office. Hanging by the water cooler. Seeing someone I knew well talking to someone I didn’t know well, and being able to join the conversation. And of course, the post-meeting hangaround. The walk and talk. The “oh hey, can I ask you…”.
Nowadays, I feel guilty IMing or emailing people I think are swamped busy. Casual / minor items don’t make the cut. When you can visibly see if someone is engaged or not, seems stressed or not, or even just asking “hey, got a sec?” those are all performed much easier in person than in IM or email. Even for the most digerati of us.
Keep in mind the distinct difference between Productivity and Collaboration. Yes, they may influence each other, but each require different soil in which they thrive.
Many of our clients say productivity is as good or even better than before. According to Microsoft, that’s true, but only because people are working far more hours and absolutely exhausting themselves. Remember being worried about the line between work and home life? They’re both now in the same wok.
Ultimately, your Senior Leadership will be the ones to determine if the firm, as a whole, is maintaining whatever design/creativity/collaborative production as it did pre-covid. Are you as innovative? Do the sparks still happen? Is your work product that relies on collaboration and creativity still winning projects?
But regardless of that, Microsoft makes some strong claims about the worker force and productivity. Let me intertwine them with some of my own observations.
- WfH is here to stay. Mike says: maybe. I wouldn’t assume it as a forgone conclusion. In a low-unemployment economy, yes, WfH can be a talent attraction/retention component. When firms have the upper hand, they’ll default to whatever their middle management is demanding, which leads to:
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call. Hey, Microsoft said it, not me. But yes, yes they are. 61% of managers say they are “thriving” as opposed to 38% of staff.
- Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized. Some of our clients have the full range – Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Zoomers. Generational gaps have a huge impact in terms of varying culture, not to mention technology adoption and usage. 60% of Gen Z polled said they were either “merely surviving” or “flat-out struggling”.
- Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world. If you truly believe in a full remote option, you can now source from anywhere in the nation, anywhere in the world. Time Zones now matter more than distance from the office.
My own gut feeling is that the Senior Leaders I’ve spoken to are split roughly down the middle. A large percentage feel like this is a Good Thing, better for the staff, and hence, better for the firm. The other half view it as a necessary evil, but with some potential (financial) benefit. The latter tend to be the types where a vocal set of project or studio leaders really, really want their staff back onsite and in the office. Whether for communication, collaborate, or even ease of management, who knows.
If you are one of those in charge of plotting the course for your company, I would make the following suggestions:
- Hoteling really doesn’t work. Desk sharing *really* doesn’t work. Hotels are great if someone is coming in for a meeting and wants to stay an hour or two before or after, but in general, why work at a hotel station if you can work from home? And desk sharing? Even with two people? Fugghedaboutit.
- Understand the massive inequality of meeting experience between people in the room and people joining remotely. It’s nowhere near the same, and significant effort should be taken to attempt to equalize the field.
- Don’t half-ass the home work environment. If you’re really going to do this, make sure that work done from home is as close to a replica as being in the office is. That means good equipment, multiple monitors, etc., etc. No personal devices. It needs to be factored in to WfH budgeting, and doing it sloppily will hurt a lot in the long run.
Happy to hear from those who think I’m wrong / an idiot / a luddite / a Browns fan. The fun part is, time will tell.