The Future of Work—the Good, the Challenging & the Unknown

By Jared Spataro | Microsoft

In the last four months, work has changed drastically. But will these changes persist into the future? Our second Work Trend Index report explores this idea by combining insights from three sources: trends behind how our customers use our tools; findings from a Harris Poll survey of over 2,000 remote workers in six countries; and conclusions from over 30 research projects from across Microsoft that seek to understand the experience for remote workers today via surveys, interviews, diary studies, focus groups, and studies of the human brain.

Our goal for this research is to uncover both good and challenging aspects of remote work so we can accelerate product development in the right areas, anticipate how work will change in the future, and help our customers thrive in this new world of work.

The population reflected in the data consisted of information workers at small, medium and large enterprises and is not inclusive of the entire workforce. Read on for our key findings

Brainwaves reveal remote meeting fatigue is real

A commonly discussed pain point of remote work is that it can feel more challenging or tiring than in-person collaboration. Researchers from our Human Factors Labs recently set out to understand this phenomenon. Do remote work and video meetings actually tax our brain more than in-person work? The brain science suggests, yes.

Remote collaboration is more difficult, but the transition back to in-person work might be just as hard

In our Human Factors Labs, where we study how humans interact with technology, scientists ran an experiment to understand how the brain responds to collaborating remotely through computer screens compared to in person. This study began pre-COVID as part of ongoing work in Microsoft around the remote work experience. They asked 13 teams of two to complete similar tasks together – once in-person and once remotely. Research subjects wore an EEG device that monitored changes in brainwaves. The study found that remote collaboration is more mentally challenging than in-person collaboration. Specifically, brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork were much higher when collaborating remotely than in-person. But they found something unexpected as well: If the pair first worked together remotely, their brainwaves suggested it was more difficult for them to work together in-person afterwards. It seems that the social connection and work strategies created when working in-person transfers to a remote setting, but the opposite is untrue. This study provided two important learnings. In a world that’s moving to more remote work, people find remote collaboration more mentally challenging. But also, as people return to more frequent in-person work as the pandemic eases it may feel more difficult than it did before COVID-19.

Video meetings lead to fatigue

A second study found that brainwave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than non-meeting work like writing emails. Further, due to high levels of sustained concentration fatigue begins to set in 30-40 minutes into a meeting. Looking at days filled with video meetings, stress begins to set in at about two hours into the day. The research suggests several factors lead to this sense of meeting fatigue: having to focus continuously on the screen to extract relevant information and stay engaged; reduced non-verbal cues that help you read the room or know whose turn it is to talk; and screen sharing with very little view of the people you are interacting with.

Brainwaves reveal sustained concentration in video meetings leads to fatigue.

To help with this, we recommend taking regular breaks every two hours to let your brain re-charge, limiting meetings to 30 minutes, or punctuating long meetings with small breaks when possible.

To help address these challenges through our technology, today we also released a series of updates to Teams designed to help create more human connection with people you’re working with and to reduce meeting fatigue—two of which are Together mode and Dynamic view.

Together mode is a new option in the Teams meeting experience that uses AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background. The view makes it feel like you’re sitting in the same room, which reduces background distractions, makes it easier to pick up on non-verbal cues, and makes back and forth conversation feel more natural. The view is great for things like brainstorms and roundtable discussions where multiple people are speaking. Early research using biosensors that measure brain activity show that the brain exerts less effort when participating in a meeting using Together mode when compared to the grid view. This suggests Together mode may help with the feeling of meeting fatigue some remote workers are experiencing.
Brain activity suggests Together mode in Microsoft Teams may decrease meeting fatigue.

Dynamic viewWe’ve also made a set of enhancements to the traditional Teams meeting view to make meetings more engaging. Using AI, meetings will now dynamically optimize shared content and video participants. New controls also let you personalize the view to suit your preferences and needs, such as the ability to show shared content and specific participants side-by-side, or to minimize shared content to see more of the audience you are presenting to.

Read the full story at Microsoft.