Microsoft's research found thatemployees averaging the most weekly one-on-one time with theirmanagers experienced the smallest increase in working hours.(Credit: VDB Photos/Shutterstock.com)

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Americans appear to have adapted to remote work exceptionallywell during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent national survey from Chubb found notonly that productivity was up among those working from home, butnearly three-quarters of workers say they want to continueworking remotely more frequently than they did before the shutdownsbegan.

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These statistics don't mean there weren't speed bumps along theway, and study after study has looked at how to mitigateissues that have arisen as a result of the move to remote work. Onecompany—Microsoft—decided to take a deep dive into how itsemployees were handling the myriad of changes related to workingfrom home, the results of which they shared with the HarvardBusiness Review in its seven-part series, "The New Reality of WFH."

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Related: Work-from-home apps are on the rise; can you guesswhich is on top?

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Natalie Singer-Velush, Kevin Sherman, and ErikAnderson write about launching "an experiment to measure how thework patterns across our group were changing, using WorkplaceAnalytics, which measures everyday work in Microsoft 365, andanonymous sentiment surveys. We didn't know what we'd find, but wefelt certain that it would help us, our partners, our customers,and other organizations navigate the phases of this shift."

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So what did they find? First and foremost: The 30-minutemeeting.

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The authors write that the transition to shorter meetingshappened organically, without a mandate from above, and the changewas welcomed. Suddenly they found themselves asking questions aboutthe previously accepted concept of the hour-long meeting: "Doesit really need to be that long? Is thisa wise use of everyone's time?"

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Speaking of meetings, another discovery was the increasedfrequency of one-on-ones between managers and employees. Researchfound that employees averaging the most weeklyone-on-one time with their managers experienced the smallestincrease in working hours. "In short, managers were bufferingemployees against the negative aspects of the change by helpingthem prioritize and protect their time," the researchers wrote.

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Manager workloads also increased significantly during the shiftto working from home. The authors learned that senior managers werecollaborating more than eight hours a week, and in working tosupport employees and manage dispersed teams, they sent 115% moreinstant messages in March.

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Another key finding concerned flexibility. Teams shiftedmeetings from an 8 AM to 11 AM window toward a 3 PM to 6 PM window.Research also revealed a new "night shift" forming, when employeeswould catch up on both individual and teamwork. Collaborationincreased on weekends, as well. This reveals, the authors write, "ashift in our work culture that was neither intended nor wanted. Wewill continue to closely monitor these trends."

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More welcome, perhaps, was the growing trend of virtual socialmeetings in order to stay connected during this time of separation.From group lunches to "meet my pet" happy hours, social meetingsincreased by 10% in a month. Scheduled one-on-one meetings betweenemployees also went up by 18%. Another surprise: Employees not onlymaintained their existing networks but extended them to includeother teams, increasing their connections.

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As crucial as this research has been for Microsoft, the"trickier and equally critical" next step will be to decide whichchanges to address. The researchers believe that "now is a perfecttime to carefully and deliberately reshape our work culture."

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Richard Binder

Richard Binder, based in New York, is part of the social media team at ALM. He is also a 2014 recipient of the ASPBE Award for Excellence in the Humorous/Fun Department.