Recent Gallup Panel data shows that 62% of the U.S. workforce has or currently is working from home (an increase of 23% since early May). With organizations like Amazon, Facebook and Google all extending their WFH policies until the fall of 2020 (or beyond), we’re already seeing many other companies following suit. Understanding how to be productive while effectively managing others remotely has suddenly become more important as companies face prolonged WFH policies and a “new normal.”
But how is this shift toward a heavily remote workforce impacting the digital behavior of leaders and managers?
In a recent study with one of our enterprise customers, we were able to get some insights into how the landscape has shifted since the emergence of Covid-19. The data compared several months of normal in-office work against a month of mandatory WFH due to the current health crisis. Our AI/ML platform can measure user’s digital behaviors by looking at digital communications like emails, instant messages (like Microsoft Teams and Slack for Business), and calendar meeting invites (I’ve written more about digital behaviors here).
We found some striking changes in digital behavior. Since starting to work from home full-time, managers at all levels are:
- Digitally communicating 28% more frequently.
- Giving recognition 45% more frequently via digital channels.
- Asking for feedback 140% more frequently via digital channels.
- Scheduling ad-hoc meetings almost 200% more frequently.
- Sending 40% more after-hours messages and 75% more messages on the weekends.
- Sending 200% more requests to their direct reports after hours.
Let’s dive into these data points in a little more detail.
Leaders at all levels (from junior managers to senior managers) are communicating about 28% more frequently with their direct reports in terms of days per month where they share digital communications (not the volume of messages per day). This is more pronounced for teams that worked in the same office, indicating that in-person meetings and interactions are moving online.
This study defines “giving recognition” as complimenting someone’s work or thanking them via digital medium with a phrase like “Good work” or “Nice job running that planning meeting.” There was a modest increase of 45% in this digital behavior among managers at all levels. The increase was slightly greater for managers who used to work in the same office as their teams and also greater for lower-level managers than higher-level ones. With more digital work happening and crucial information being shared online, it would make sense that giving recognition for that work moves online as well.
Asking for Feedback
Asking for people’s thoughts or directly requesting feedback by saying things like “How do you think we can do XXX?” or “Do you have any thoughts on the latest proposal?” have increased significantly across all leadership levels. Interestingly, the highest increase (212%) was among junior managers working with team members that had been remote before WFH.
The amount of requests for ad-hoc meetings and chats (using phrases like “can we touch base today about XXX”) has increased by an enormous 200% across all levels of management during the WFH period. Curiously, there is no significant change in the number of meetings scheduled via Outlook calendar, so these meetings seem to be taking place via phone, chat or video calls. It’s possible these are replacing informal office conversations, or stopping by someone’s desk to ask a question.
After-hours Messages and Requests
By far, the biggest change that our data shows is that managers are sending more messages and making more requests of their teams outside of normal work hours. Managers sent a staggering 200% more requests to their direct reports after hours. These increases varied based on the seniority of the manager, but are large enough overall to suggest that people are actually working more hours while WFH, not just rearranging their workday.
It might surprise you to learn that the sharpest increases in after-hours messages and requests are between managers and reports that used to be remote before the health crisis. While it may seem reasonable that WFH wouldn’t affect communications between people that were used to not being in the same physical space, that isn’t what our data shows.
More work, more check-ins and more feedback!
All together, this data suggests that managers are working more hours while at home, communicating with their teams after work hours significantly more often, and checking in and soliciting feedback via digital channels more frequently.
Some of these increases are likely due to conversations that used to be in-person moving to online (like asking for feedback or ad-hoc meetings). Also, an increase in overall workload could account for more digital interactions across the board. But the dramatic increase in weekend and after-hours messages (between 100 and 200 percent for most managers) suggests that people are working more hours.
On one hand, this data seems to counter many business leader’s fears that their teams will be less productive if they work from home. On the other hand, poor work-life balance can also lead to burnout (if this is a problem for you or your team, we have a free Chrome for Gmail extension that could help). What’s clear is that having access to this kind of concrete, actionable data that shows patterns in manager’s digital behaviors can be incredibly important as organizations try to help their people leaders navigate the new WFH world.
As Head of AI, Andy is building smart tools to facilitate healthy, frictionless workplace relationships. He is inspired by the ideals of intelligent infrastructure: machine learning woven into our lives to help us synthesize large quantities of information, overcome cognitive biases, and navigate the world at a higher abstraction level.