A major perception gap between employees and leaders could make hybrid work unsustainable at companies around the world if left unaddressed, Microsoft cautioned Thursday as it released the findings of a new workplace study.
- 87% of surveyed workers say they are productive at work.
- 12% of leaders say they’re fully confident employees are productive.
This paradox, which Microsoft calls “productivity paranoia,” is one of the key findings from the survey of 20,000 people at companies in 11 countries, conducted for Microsoft by a third-party firm in July and August.
One of the causes of the disconnect is the decline in the age-old practice of “management by walking around” due to remote work. The survey found that a lack of trust in employee productivity is more common among managers whose teams are continuing to work away from the traditional office at least part of the time.
At the same time, data gleaned from usage of Microsoft software and online services indicates a sustained increase in overall activity by workers.
- The number of weekly meetings was up 153% vs. the start of the pandemic for the average Microsoft Teams user as of this spring, and the trend shows no sign of abating, the company said.
- About 42% of meeting attendees are multitasking by sending email and other messages. That doesn’t include other forms of multitasking, such as reading email or browsing the web.
Apart from potential burnout, one risk is that employees are trying to look like they’re working, rather than actually doing productive work, a phenomenon that has been identified as “live action role playing” their jobs.
Speaking on a live webcast from London, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said one key is recognizing and understanding the new realities of work, and not expecting to able to turn back the clock to 2019, before the pandemic.
“Work as we know it has structurally gone through a massive change,” Nadella said during the virtual event. “I think we have to reground ourselves, in some sense, on what the fundamental meaning of work is.”
Seth Patton, a Microsoft 365 general manager, said in an interview the company sees clear communication, goal-setting, and ongoing feedback loops as key ways to address the challenges.
“What’s needed right now is not measuring hours of work,” Patton said. Instead, companies should be “really focusing on the outcomes that [they] need to drive, and provide clarity to employees that otherwise are just going to be doing a bunch of busy work, and then get feedback on what they need to support them to be successful.”
Patton said Microsoft opposes the trend in which companies use technology to actively monitor individual employees’ computer activity, using workplace surveillance tools, to determine productivity and pay.
The company in November 2020 faced a backlash over a “Productivity Score” tool in Microsoft 365, ultimately announcing that it would remove the ability for companies to see data about individual users in the feature, to address concerns from privacy experts over the potential use of the technology for snooping on workers.
In announcing the survey results, Microsoft also cited the importance of helping employees connect with each other as a motivation for working in-person. In addition, the company said it’s important to “re-recruit” existing employees with to help them identify the best internal roles and growth opportunities, rather than seeking jobs elsewhere.
“People want to feel very connected to their work,” said LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky, appearing alongside Nadella during the company’s virtual event Thursday. “They want to feel connected to the company, connected to their manager. They want to know that their work matters. And one of the most important ways to do that is to ensure you have the right people, with the right skills, in the right role.”
Of course, this not purely academic for Microsoft. The company cites the findings from the report as the basis for several new and updated features in its Viva employee experience platform, including tools for conducting quick employee surveys, establishing clear goals for work, and encouraging employee learning and growth.
Microsoft announced Viva in March 2021 as its entry into the increasingly competitive market for technology that aims to help companies improve employee engagement and productivity, and the overall working environment.
The company says Viva now has 10 million monthly active users, with more than 1,000 paid corporate customers who were not previously purchasing Microsoft 365 or Microsoft Teams.
Earlier this year, Microsoft also announced new integrations between Viva and Glint, the employee feedback tool that Microsoft-owned LinkedIn acquired in 2018. Viva also integrates with LinkedIn Learning.
Microsoft is competing against an array of services in the market for communication and collaboration technology, including Zoom and Salesforce’s Slack. The Seattle-area employee experience company Limeade, which acquired workplace survey tool TINYPulse last year, announced an integration with Microsoft Viva around the same time.