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What do business leaders think about WFH?

What do business leaders think about WFH?

27 January 2021

We’ve all heard of ‘Zoom fatigue’. The experts generally agree that too much time spent on video calls can sap our energy. But would you expect Eric Yuan, the multi-billionaire owner of Zoom, to admit that it’s something he suffers from?

“To be honest with you,” he told an interviewer this summer, “even I get tired of Zoom meetings sometimes.”

As if feeling the need to compete with this unexpected moment of corporate candor, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella decided to reveal his own videoconferencing issues during an interview with the Wall Street Journal in October.

“When people say you’re working from home, it feels sometimes like you’re sleeping at work,” said the boss of the company responsible for the Microsoft Teams videoconferencing platform. “Thirty minutes into your first video meeting in the morning, because of the concentration one needs to have on video, you’re fatigued.”

Perhaps both Yuan and Nadella should take a look at the Harvard Business Review’s useful tips on how to avoid Zoom fatigue. These include taking mini-breaks during longer calls by minimizing the video window, encouraging others to use plain backgrounds or even trying (imagine!) phone calls or emails instead.

Nadella certainly hasn’t allowed his own experience of working from home to color his view of its benefits. He predicts that in the next three years the proportion of Microsoft employees working in a flexible way will rise from the current 20-30% to as much as 60%

Meanwhile, over at the Bank of England in London, Chief Economist Andy Haldane has been talking about his own experiences of working from home, something he has found himself doing for the first time in his life this year.

“Full-time home-working has, for me, been a radical shift,” he said in a speech in October on the implications of home working for the UK economy. “For the past 30 years, my working week has been five to zero, office versus home. Nonetheless, like many others, if you asked me how my future working week might look, I think it unlikely I will revert back to the five-to-zero model.”

Research shows that people tend to work longer hours when based at home, which might be expected to lead to less happiness, but a survey conducted for the ‘Engaging Business’ Summit, at which Haldane was speaking virtually, found the opposite. Those surveyed felt happier and more empowered, and preferred working at home to working in an office. (There were some caveats, however: this was truer for managers than for workers, and also truer for men than for women.)

Haldane expressed himself to be “pleasantly surprised” by the survey findings and said he believed the lack of a commute was a major factor in people’s increased happiness, citing a 2017 study showing that an additional 20-minute commute reduced people’s wellbeing as much as a 19 per cent pay cut.

But perhaps the idea that we’re all working longer hours is not quite correct. Research by Microsoft about its own WFH employees suggests that people take time out during the day for domestic essentials such as walking the dog or teaching a child, which can make the working day appear longer than it really is.

Christine Trodella, Head of Americas at Workplace from Facebook, made a similar point recently when talking about measuring productivity among home workers. “It’s impossible to expect employees to remain heads down at their desks from nine to five, but it’s likely they can meet their work responsibilities when it suits their schedule,” she said. “Some employees may prefer to wake up earlier and sign off earlier, while others need frequent breaks throughout the day to care for loved ones. As long as both are meeting the duties of their jobs, they should be encouraged to do so at their own pace.”

But back to Nadella at Microsoft and the implications of the lack of a daily commute. His company’s research suggests that it actually has a unique benefit, in that it’s a ‘transition time’ that defines the start and end of the working day. When those lines are blurred, wellbeing can be negatively affected. Therefore, consciously building those transition moments into your day is important, says Nadella.

To this end, Microsoft has announced it is partnering with meditation app Headspace on a customizable ‘virtual commute’ feature in Teams, to be launched in the first quarter of 2021.

“Scheduling a ‘commute’ for the beginning of a workday means setting aside time to prepare for work, whether it’s going for a walk or planning tasks with a cup of coffee,” says the company. “End-of-the-day commutes can be customized with prompts to reflect emotionally, celebrate accomplishments, add tasks to a to-do list for later and meditate with Headspace to fully disconnect.”

Who knows? With the right kind of transitional behavior, the CEO might even make it to mid-morning before his first yawn. That would certainly be worth celebrating at the end of the day.

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