Research reveals how we really feel about working from home

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microsoft research work from home

Workers in the UK are happier working from home but also feel more pressure to be always available to bosses, according to new research published today.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a dramatic shift to remote working over the past year, with a large number of people in the UK working from home.

A new report from Microsoft Surface and YouGov, entitled Work Smarter to live Better has found that almost nine out of 10 (87%) employees reported their businesses have adapted to hybrid working.

This new way of working has given workers the opportunity to live life in a different way. Fifty-five percent now use their lunch break to focus on their personal life and 56% reported an increase in their levels of happiness working from home.

However, many employees said that they are being stretched further in the work they need to deliver. Nearly one in three (30%) reported an increase in their hours while working from home, and more than half (53%) feel they have to be available at all times.

As a result of these new pressures, 36% of those surveyed said mental health and resilience resources were the most popular options when it came to choosing training to build remote working skills.

Logo of Surface campaign showing a sofa and clock in a home

Employees miss seeing their colleagues in person, and the opportunity for social interaction is a key driver for people’s decision to go into the office when guidelines allow. For the majority (65%), socialising is what they miss most when they work remotely.

Of those whose organisations have a formal working from home policy. Sixty-three percent disagree they didn’t feel pressure to return to the office, even if guidelines allowed them to do so.

Although firms across the UK are currently taking a digital-first approach, few plan to have a 100% remote workforce for the long term. The likeliest scenario is that most organisations will adopt a hybrid working model, with the workforce split between working remotely and working in the office.

Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at CIPD , the professional body for HR and people development, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the biggest homeworking experiment we have ever seen in the UK. However, this is not homeworking in normal times. Much of this experience has been enforced homeworking and many people have been dealing with a range of additional pressures and anxieties. It is therefore crucial that line managers ensure people are not overworking and provide flexibility and support to anyone struggling with any aspect of working from home.

“Senior leaders need to role model the behaviours they expect of others and businesses focus more on equipping managers with the people management skills they need to manage and support home and remote workers. Employers also need to do more to provide more flexible working opportunities to people whose jobs mean they can’t work from home through greater use of practices such as flexi-time, job sharing and compressed and annualised hours.”

A woman sits on a sofa at home, working on a laptop

The CIPD recommends four areas of focus for UK organisations and people professionals:

  • Support hybrid workers through good people management – Design work processes that suit all locations, concentrating particularly on knowledge-sharing, coordination of work and team relationships to encourage performance and innovation
  • Ensure fairness of opportunity – Provide ongoing access to development and career conversations for all employees
  • Put health and wellbeing front and centre – Ensure that employees are not overworking and remind them about the importance of maintaining their physical and mental wellbeing and taking regular breaks, fresh air and exercise
  • Offer a range of broader flexible working options – Go beyond remote working and look at introducing wider flexible working options like job shares, compressed hours and flexible start and finish times. Support flexibility from the start by recruiting flexibly and making the right to request Flexible Working a day one right.

Howard Lewis, Surface Business Group Lead at Microsoft UK, said: “Flexible working has taken on a whole new meaning, with remote work suddenly feeling ‘the norm’. Employees have been empowered to think about where and how they are most productive, while employers have been tasked with ensuring the devices they provide to their organisations are fit for today’s purpose. The ability to successfully support remote operations and distributed teams is now indispensable for business resilience and innovation, with technology playing a vital part.”

The Work Smarter to Live Better research saw more than 4,000 UK office workers surveyed online via a YouGov survey, in addition to in-depth interviews with senior business leaders from across the UK. The findings have been analysed in partnership with the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

Click here to download the full report.

To learn more about the results of this study, or to speak with someone about sourcing tools to help your organisation facilitate a successful hybrid working environment, visit the Microsoft Surface website .

The total sample size was 4,282 employees surveyed that work in an office, of which there were 2,863 that work in an office and work from home. Fieldwork was undertaken between October 27 and November 5, 2020. The survey was carried out online.

Tags: microsoft , Modern Work , research , surface

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  • Published: 09 September 2021

The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers

  • Longqi Yang   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6615-8615 1 ,
  • David Holtz   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0896-8628 2 , 3 ,
  • Sonia Jaffe   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8924-0294 1 ,
  • Siddharth Suri   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-1318-8140 1 ,
  • Shilpi Sinha 1 ,
  • Jeffrey Weston 1 ,
  • Connor Joyce 1 ,
  • Neha Shah 1 ,
  • Kevin Sherman   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5793-3336 1 ,
  • Brent Hecht   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7955-0202 1 &
  • Jaime Teevan   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2786-0209 1  

Nature Human Behaviour volume  6 ,  pages 43–54 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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An Author Correction to this article was published on 05 October 2021

This article has been updated

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused a rapid shift to full-time remote work for many information workers. Viewing this shift as a natural experiment in which some workers were already working remotely before the pandemic enables us to separate the effects of firm-wide remote work from other pandemic-related confounding factors. Here, we use rich data on the emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls and workweek hours of 61,182 US Microsoft employees over the first six months of 2020 to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Our results show that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts. Furthermore, there was a decrease in synchronous communication and an increase in asynchronous communication. Together, these effects may make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, at most 5% of Americans worked from home for more than three days per week 1 , whereas it is estimated that, by April 2020, as many as 37% of Americans were working from home (WFH) full-time 2 , 3 . Thus, in a matter of weeks, the pandemic caused about one-third of US workers to shift to WFH and nearly every American that was able to work from home did so 4 . Many technology companies, such as Twitter, Facebook, Square, Box, Slack and Quora, have taken this shift one step further by announcing longer term and, in some cases permanent, remote work policies that will enable at least some employees to work remotely, even after the pandemic 5 , 6 . More generally, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift away from traditional office work, such that even firms that do not keep full-time remote work policies in place after the pandemic has ended are unlikely to fully return to their pre-COVID-19 work arrangements 7 . Instead, they are likely to switch to some type of hybrid work model, in which employees split their time between remote and office work, or a mixed-mode model, in which firms are comprised of a mixture of full-time remote employees and full-time office employees. For example, some scholars predict a long-run equilibrium in which information workers will work from home approximately 20% of the time 1 . For long-term policy decisions regarding remote, hybrid and mixed-mode work to be well informed, decision makers need to understand how remote work would impact information work in the absence of the effects of COVID-19. To answer this question, we treat Microsoft’s company-wide WFH policy during the pandemic as a natural experiment that, subject to the validity of our identifying assumptions, enables us to causally identify the impact of firm-wide remote work on employees’ collaboration networks and communication practices.

Previous research has shown that network topology, including the strength of ties, has an important role in the success of both individuals and organizations. For individuals, it is beneficial to have access to new, non-redundant information through connections to different parts of an organization’s formal organizational chart and through connections to different parts of an organization’s informal communication network 8 . Furthermore, being a conduit through which such information flows by bridging ‘structural holes’ 9 in the organization can have additional benefits for individuals 10 . For firms, certain network configurations are associated with the production of high-quality creative output 11 , and there is a competitive advantage to successfully engaging in the practice of ‘knowledge transfer,’ in which experiences from one set of people within an organization are transferred to and used by another set of people within that same organization 12 . Conditional on a given network position or configuration, the efficacy with which a given tie can transfer or provide access to novel information depends on its strength. Two people connected by a strong tie can often transfer information more easily (as they are more likely to share a common perspective), to trust one another, to cooperate with one another, and to expend effort to ensure that recently transferred knowledge is well understood and can be utilized 10 , 13 , 14 , 15 . By contrast, weak ties require less time and energy to maintain 8 , 16 and are more likely to provide access to new, non-redundant information 8 , 17 , 18 .

Our results show that the shift to firm-wide remote work caused business groups within Microsoft to become less interconnected. It also reduced the number of ties bridging structural holes in the company’s informal collaboration network, and caused individuals to spend less time collaborating with the bridging ties that remained. Furthermore, the shift to firm-wide remote work caused employees to spend a greater share of their collaboration time with their stronger ties, which are better suited to information transfer, and a smaller share of their time with weak ties, which are more likely to provide access to new information.

Previous research has also shown that the performance of workers is affected not only by the structure of the network and the strength of their ties, but also by the temporal dynamics of the network. Not only do the benefits of different types of ties vary with their age 19 , but people also benefit from changing their network position 20 , 21 , 22 , adding new ties 23 , 24 and reconnecting with dormant ties 25 . We find that the shift to firm-wide remote work may have reduced these benefits by making the collaboration network of workers more static—individuals added and deleted fewer ties from month-to-month and spent less time with newly added ties.

Existing theoretical perspectives and empirical results suggest that knowledge transfer and collaboration are also affected by the modes of communication that workers use to collaborate with one another. On the theoretical front, media richness theory 26 , 27 posits that richer communication channels, such as in-person interaction, are best suited to communicating complex information and ideas. Moreover, media synchronicity theory 28 proposes that asynchronous communication channels (such as email) are better suited for conveying information and synchronous channels (such as video calls) are better suited for converging on the meaning of information. There is also a rich body of empirical research that documents the myriad implications of communication media choice for organizations. For example, previous research has shown that establishing a rapport, which is an important precursor to knowledge transfer, is impeded by email use 29 , and that in-person and phone/video communication are more strongly associated with positive team performance than email and instant message (IM) communication 30 .

Remote work obviously eliminates in-person communication; however, we found that people did not simply replace in-person interactions with video and/or voice calls. In fact, we found that shifting to firm-wide remote work caused an overall decrease in observed synchronous communication such as scheduled meetings and audio/video calls. By contrast, we found that remote work caused employees to communicate more through media that are more asynchronous—sending more emails and many more IMs. Media richness theory, media synchronicity theory and previous empirical studies all suggest that these communication media choices may make it more difficult for workers to convey and/or converge on the meaning of complex information.

There is a large body of academic research across multiple disciplines that has studied remote work, virtual teams and telecommuting (see ref. 31 for a review of much of this work), including previous research studies that examined the network structure of virtual teams and how individual network position in virtual teams correlates with performance 32 , 33 , 34 . During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been renewed public and academic interest in how virtual teams function. Recent analyses of telemetry and survey data show that the pandemic has affected both the who and the how of collaboration in information firms—while working remotely during the pandemic, workers are spending less time in meetings 35 , communicating more by email 35 , collaborating more with their strong ties as opposed to their weak ties 36 , and exhibiting patterns of communication that are more siloed and less stable 37 . However, these analyses, like much of the previous research on remote work, virtual teams and telecommuting, are non-causal 31 and are therefore unable to separate the effects of remote work from the effects of pandemic-related confounding factors, such as reduced focus due to COVID-19-related stress or increased caregiving responsibilities while sheltering in place. Although previous research on the causal effects of remote work does exist, this work has mainly studied employees who volunteer to work remotely, and has focused on settings such as call centres and patent offices 38 , 39 where, relative to the majority of information work, tasks are more easily codifiable and are less likely to depend on collaboration or the transfer of complex knowledge.

In this article, we contribute to the research literatures on remote work, virtual teams and telecommuting by analysing the large-scale natural experiment created by Microsoft’s firm-wide WFH policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. As remote work was mandatory during the pandemic, we are able to quantify the effects of firm-wide remote work, which are most relevant for firms considering a transition to an all-remote workforce. Furthermore, as our model specification decomposes the overall effects of firm-wide remote work into ego remote work and collaborator remote work effects, our results also provide some insight into the possible impacts of remote work policies such as mixed-mode work and hybrid work.

We analysed anonymized individual-level data describing the communication practices of 61,182 US Microsoft employees from December 2019 to June 2020—data from before and after Microsoft’s shift to firm-wide remote work (our data on workers’ choice of communication media goes back only to February 2020). Our sample contains all US Microsoft employees except for those who hold senior leadership positions and/or are members of teams that routinely handle particularly sensitive data. Given the scope of our dataset, the workers in our sample perform a wide variety of tasks, including software and hardware development, marketing and business operations. For each employee, we observe (1) their remote work status before the COVID-19 pandemic, and what share of their colleagues were remote workers before the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) their managerial status, the business group they belong to, their role and the length of their tenure at Microsoft as of February 2020; (3) a weekly summary of the amount of time spent in scheduled meetings, time spent in unscheduled video/audio calls, emails sent and IMs sent, and the length of their workweek; and (4) a monthly summary of their collaboration network. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, managers at Microsoft used their own discretion in deciding whether an employee could work from home, which was the exception rather than the norm.

The natural experiment that we analysed came from the company-wide WFH mandate Microsoft enacted in response to COVID-19. On 4 March 2020, Microsoft mandated that all non-essential employees in their Puget Sound and Bay Area campuses shift to full-time WFH. Other locations followed suit and, by 1 April 2020, all non-essential US Microsoft employees were WFH full-time. Before the onset of the pandemic, 18% of US Microsoft employees were working remote from their collaborators. For this subset of employees, the shift to firm-wide remote work did not cause a change in their own remote work status, but did induce variation in the share of their colleagues who were working remotely. For the remaining 82% of US Microsoft employees, the shift to firm-wide remote work induced variation in both their own remote work status and in the remote work status of their coworkers.

We analysed this natural experiment using a modified difference-in-differences (DiD) model. Standard DiD is an econometric approach that enables researchers to infer the causal effect of a treatment by comparing longitudinal data from at least two groups, some of which are ‘treated’ and some of which are not. Provided that the identifying assumptions of the DiD model are satisfied, the causal effect of the treatment is obtained by comparing the magnitude of the gap between the treated and untreated groups after the treatment is delivered with the magnitude of the gap between the groups before the treatment is delivered. Our modified DiD model extends the standard DiD model by estimating the causal effects of changes in two different treatment variables (one’s own remote work status and the remote work status of one’s colleagues) and by introducing additional identifying assumptions such that it is possible to draw causal inferences in the presence of an additional shock (in our case, the non-WFH-related aspects of COVID-19) that affects both treated and untreated units, and is concurrent with the exogenous shock(s) to our treatment variables. The time series trends shown in Fig. 1 suggest that the identifying assumptions of our modified DiD model are plausible; further details on the model are provided in the Methods .

figure 1

a – d , The average number of bridging ties per month ( a , c ) and the average unscheduled video/audio call hours per week ( b , d ) for different groups of employees, relative to the overall average in February. These plots establish the plausibility of the ‘parallel trends’ assumption that is required by our modified DiD model. The error bars show the 95% CIs and are in some places thinner than the symbols in the figure; s.e. values are clustered at the team level. a , b , The graphs show employees who, before COVID-19, worked from the office (blue; n  = 50,268) and a matched sample of employees who worked remotely (orange; n  = 10,914). c , d , The graphs show two subgroups of the blue lines in a and b —employees who, before COVID-19, had less than 10% of their collaborators working remotely (dashed; n  = 36,008) and those who had more than 50% of their coworkers working remotely (dotted; n  = 1,861). Both variables were normalized by subtracting and dividing by the average across the entire sample of that variable in February. Most employees transitioned to WFH during the week of 1 March 2020, although our analysis omits the month of March as a transition period.

In all of the analyses that follow, we cannot report the actual level of our outcome variables due to confidentiality concerns. Instead, throughout the paper we report outcomes and effects in terms of February value (FV)—the average level of that variable (for example, number of bridging ties) for all US employees in February.

Effects of remote work on collaboration networks

We start by presenting the non-causal time-series trends for different collaboration network outcomes across our entire sample. These trends provide insights into how work practices have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also represent the type of data that many executives may use when making decisions regarding their firm’s long-term remote work policy.

Descriptive statistics

Figure 2 shows the average monthly time series for various aspects of workers’ collaboration egocentric (ego) networks from December 2019 to June 2020: the number of connections, the number of groups interacted with, the number of and share of time with cross-group connections, the number and share of time with bridging connections, the clustering coefficient, the share of time with weak connections, the number of churned and added connections, and the share of time with added connections. Mathematical definitions for these measures are provided in the Methods . Although we did not find evidence of a clear pattern of change around the shift to firm-wide remote work for many of these measures, we did observe large changes in the average shares of monthly collaboration hours spent with cross-group ties, bridging ties, weak ties and added ties, which all decreased precipitously between February and June.

figure 2

a – k , The monthly averages for the collaboration network variables for all employees relative to the February average. Each variable was normalized by subtracting and dividing by the average FV for that variable. The vertical bars show the 95% CIs, but are in most places not much taller than the data points; s.e. values are clustered at the team level. The variables are employees’ average number of network ties ( a ), distinct business groups in which they have a collaborator ( b ), cross-group ties ( c ), ties that bridge structural holes in the network ( e ), individual clustering coefficient ( g ), collaborators from the previous month that they did not collaborate with that month ( i ) and added collaborators they did not collaborate with the previous month ( j ), as well as the share of time spent with cross-group ties ( d ), bridging ties ( f ), weak ties ( h ) and added ties ( k ). n  = 61,279 for each panel.

Causal analysis

We next used our modified DiD model to isolate the effects of firm-wide remote work on the collaboration network, which are shown in Fig. 3 . Although we found no effect on the number of collaborators that employees had (the size of their collaboration ego network), we did find that firm-wide remote work decreased the number of distinct business groups that an employee was connected to by 0.07 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.05–0.10). Firm-wide remote work also decreased the cross-group connections of workers by 0.04 FV ( P  = 0.008, 95% CI = 0.01–0.07) and the share of collaboration time workers spent with cross-group connections by 0.26 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.23–0.29). In other words, firm-wide remote work caused an overall decrease in the number of cross-group interactions and the fraction of attention paid to groups other than one’s own.

figure 3

The estimated causal effects of both an employee and that employee’s colleagues switching to remote work on the number of collaborators an employee has, the number of distinct groups the employee collaborates with, the number of cross-group ties an employee has, the share of time an employee spends collaborating with cross-group ties, the number of bridging ties an employee has, the share of time an employee spends collaborating with bridging ties, the individual clustering coefficient of an employee’s ego network, the share of time an employee spent collaborating with weak ties, the number of churned collaborators, the number of added collaborators and the share of time spent with added collaborators. The reported effects are ( β  +  δ ) from equation ( 1 ), normalized by dividing by the average level of that variable in February. The symbols depict point estimates and the lines show the 95% CIs. n  = 61,182 for all variables. The full results are provided in Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 .

Although formal organizational boundaries shape informal interactions 40 , the formal organization of firms and their informal social structure are two distinct, interrelated concepts 41 . Connections that provide access to diverse teams may not bridge structural holes in the network sense 9 , and connections that bridge structural holes in the network sense may not provide access to different parts of the formal organizational chart. We therefore also analysed how the shift to firm-wide remote work affected the structural diversity of employees’ ego networks with respect to the firm’s observed communication network, as opposed to the formal organizational chart. We label each tie as ‘bridging’ or ‘non-bridging’ on the basis of its local network constraint, which is a measure of the extent to which a given tie bridges structural holes in a network 9 , 42 . We then measured the effect of firm-wide remote work on the number of bridging ties that each worker had and the amount of time that each worker spent with their bridging ties. We found that, on average, firm-wide remote work decreased the number of bridging ties by 0.09 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.06–0.13) and the share of time with bridging ties by 0.41 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.35–0.47). The fact that firm-wide remote work caused workers to have fewer bridging ties, and to spend less time with their remaining bridging ties, suggests that firm-wide remote work may have reduced the ability of workers to access new information in other parts of the network. These results, in conjunction with our finding that firm-wide remote work reduced workers’ cross-group interactions, also suggest that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network to become more siloed, both in a formal sense and in an informal sense.

We also found that firm-wide remote work caused a 0.06 FV ( P  = 0.005, 95% CI = 0.02–0.10) increase in the individual clustering coefficient, which provides a measure of what proportion of an individual’s network connections are also connected to each other (the higher a person’s individual clustering coefficient, the more dense their ego network). Given the fact that we did not observe a statistically significant effect of remote work on the number of colleagues with whom workers collaborate, this result suggests that, on average, firm-wide remote work caused workers to substitute ties that were not connected to one another for those that were. In other words, different portions of the network, which became less interconnected, also became more intraconnected.

The ability of a worker to effectively access knowledge from other parts of an organization is a function of not only the organizational and/or topological diversity of their connections, but also the strength of those connections. For each month, we classified ties as strong when they were in the top 50% of an employee’s ties in terms of hours spent communicating, and as weak otherwise. Although we have not seen strong and weak ties defined in this exact way elsewhere in the research literature on social networks, the research community has not, to our knowledge, converged on a standard way to measure tie strength. Our operationalization is similar to a common tie strength definition that simply counts the amount of contact between ties 43 , 44 , 45 and allows tie strength to vary over time on the basis of the relative amount of contact between two people 46 . Also, it is consistent with Granovetter’s original notion that tie strength is determined by a combination of “the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie” 8 .

Although weak ties by definition will always get less of an employee’s time than strong ties in a given month, we found that the shift to remote work reduced the share of time that workers spent collaborating with weak ties by 0.32 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.29–0.35). As the median is just one possible cut-off to distinguish between strong and weak ties, we also analysed the entire distribution of collaboration time for each worker and confirmed that the average ego-level-normalized Herfindahl–Hirschman index (HHI) 47 of the collaboration time is increased by remote work, and that the average ego-level Shannon entropy 48 of collaboration time is decreased by remote work. The effects of firm-wide remote work on both of these outcomes are provided in Supplementary Table 2 . In total, these results indicate that, above and beyond the impact of firm-wide remote work on the organizational and structural diversity of workers’ ego networks, the shift to firm-wide remote work also made the allocation of workers’ time more heavily concentrated.

We also found that the shift to firm-wide remote work caused workers’ ego networks to become more static; firm-wide remote work reduced the number of existing connections that churned from month-to-month by 0.05 FV ( P  = 0.006, 95% CI = 0.02–0.09), and decreased the number of connections workers added month-to-month by 0.04 FV ( P  = 0.015, 95% CI = 0.01–0.07). Furthermore, the shift to firm-wide remote work decreased the share of time that workers spent collaborating with the connections they did add by 0.29 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.24–0.34). Of the added ties we observed in June 2020, 40% existed in at least one month between January 2020 and May 2020, whereas the remaining 60% did not. This suggests that the added ties that we observed are a mixture of dormant ties 25 and ties that are truly new. Overall, the changes that we observed in the temporal dynamics of ego networks may have made it more difficult for workers to capture the benefits associated with forming new connections 23 , 24 , reconnecting with dormant connections 25 and modulating their network position 20 , 21 , 22 . These results are robust to the use of alternative definitions of added and deleted ties (full details are provided in the Supplementary Information ).

In summary, our results suggest that firm-wide remote work ossified workers’ ego networks, made the network more fragmented and made each fragment more clustered. We tested for heterogeneity in the effects of the shift to firm-wide remote work on collaboration ego networks with respect to a worker’s managerial status (manager versus individual contributor), tenure at Microsoft (shorter tenure versus longer tenure) and role type (engineering versus non-engineering), and did not find meaningful heterogeneity across any of these dimensions (Supplementary Figs. 1 , 2 and 4 ).

The effects of remote work on the use of communication media

In addition to estimating the effects of firm-wide remote work on workers’ collaboration networks, we also estimated the impact of firm-wide remote work on workers’ choice of communication media.

Figure 4 shows the non-causal time-series trends for workweek hours and different communication media outcomes across our entire sample. Detailed definitions for each of these outcomes are provided in the Methods . For unscheduled call hours, meeting hours, total video/audio hours and IMs sent, we observed considerable increases around the time of the switch to firm-wide remote work; these increases are sustained through our data timespan. The change in email volume is much smaller and shorter-lived. Figure 4f shows the change in workweek hours, a metric that measures the total amount of time between the first observed work activity and the last observed work activity on each work day in a given week. Although there was a sustained increase in workweek hours, it was too small to account for the large increases that we observed in the use of various communication media without a simultaneous shift in the way that employees were conducting work.

figure 4

a – f , The weekly averages for each variable, relative to the February average. Each variable was normalized by subtracting and dividing by the average FV for that variable. The vertical bars show the 95% CIs, but are in most places not much taller than the data points; s.e. values are clustered at the team level. The variables are the employees’ average number of unscheduled audio/video call hours ( a ), scheduled meeting hours ( b ), total hours in scheduled meetings and unscheduled calls (the sum of a and b ) ( c ), IMs sent ( d ), emails sent ( e ), and hours between the first and last activity (sent email, scheduled meeting, or Microsoft Teams call or chat) in a day, summed across the workdays ( f ). The dips in all six metrics during the weeks of 16 February, 24 May and 14 June were due to four-day workweeks, in observance of Presidents’ Day, Juneteenth and Memorial Day, respectively. n  = 61,279 for all variables.

Figure 5 shows the estimated causal effects of firm-wide remote work on the amount of communication conducted through different media, as well as the length of workers’ workweeks. Relative to the baseline case of all coworkers working in an office together, we found that firm-wide remote work decreased scheduled meeting hours by 0.16 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.13–0.19) and increased unscheduled video/audio call hours by 1.6 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 1.5–1.8). The increase in unscheduled calls was more than offset by the decrease in scheduled meeting hours. To observe that, we defined the sum of unscheduled call hours and scheduled meetings hours as the synchronous video/audio communication hours. We estimate that firm-wide remote work caused a slight decrease of 0.05 FV ( P  = 0.006, 95% CI = 0.01–0.08) in the total amount of synchronous video/audio communication. Given that, by definition, a shift to firm-wide remote work causes in-person interactions to drop to zero and synchronous video/audio communication decreased overall, our results also indicate that firm-wide remote work led to a decrease in the total amount of synchronous collaboration, both in-person and through Microsoft Teams.

figure 5

The estimated causal effects of both an employee and their colleagues switching to remote work on the employee’s hours spent in scheduled meetings, hours spent in unscheduled calls, the sum of meetings and call hours, IMs sent, emails sent and estimated workweek hours. The reported effects are ( β  +  δ ) from equation ( 1 ), normalized by dividing by the average level of that variable in February. The symbols depict point estimates and lines depict 95% CIs. n  = 61,182 for all variables. The full results are provided in Supplementary Table 3 .

Although firm-wide remote work caused a decrease in synchronous communication, it also caused an increase in the amount of asynchronous communication. Firm-wide remote work increased the number of emails sent by workers by 0.08 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.05–0.12) and the number of IMs sent by workers by 0.50 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.46–0.55). Firm-wide remote work also increased the average number of workweek hours by 0.10 FV ( P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.09–0.11); however, this effect is small relative to the effect on IM volume. This suggests that the increase in IMs reflects a change in workers’ collaboration patterns while working, as opposed to changes in how much workers were working. The fact that shifting to firm-wide remote work increased the number of workweek hours also makes the negative effect of firm-wide remote work on synchronous collaboration more notable. The increase in workweek hours could be an indication that employees were less productive and required more time to complete their work, or that they replaced some of their commuting time with work time; however, as we are able to measure only the time between the first and last work activity in a day, it could also be that the same amount of working time is spread across a greater share of the calendar day due to breaks or interruptions for non-work activities.

Heterogeneous effects of firm-wide remote work on communication media choice

Although the effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration networks did not exhibit heterogeneity across the worker attributes that we observed, the effects of firm-wide remote work on communication media were in some cases larger for managers and engineers. We found that the switch to firm-wide remote work caused larger increases for managers than individual contributors in IMs sent, emails sent and unscheduled video/audio call hours (Fig. 6 , left). This is probably because, relative to individual contributors, a larger share of managers’ time is dedicated to communicating with others, that is, their direct reports (for example, to address issues blocking progress or conduct performance reviews), and representatives of other groups within the organization (for example, to coordinate activity and goals across different groups). We also find that the shift to firm-wide remote work caused larger increases for engineers than non-engineers in the number of IMs sent and the number of unscheduled call hours (Fig. 6 , right). This may be reflective of the fact that software development teams are particularly reliant on informal communication 49 , 50 , 51 , much of which may have taken place in-person before the shift to firm-wide remote work. We did not find meaningful heterogeneity with respect to employee tenure at Microsoft.

figure 6

The causal effects, estimated separately for managers ( n  = 9,715) and individual contributors (ICs) ( n  = 51,467) (left) and engineers (n = 29, 510) and non-engineers ( n  = 31,672) (right), of an employee and their colleagues switching to remote work on hours spent in scheduled meetings, the sum of scheduled meetings and unscheduled call hours, IMs sent, emails sent and estimated workweek hours ( a ), and hours spent in unscheduled calls ( b ). The reported effects are ( β  +  δ ) from equation ( 1 ), normalized by dividing by the average level of that variable for all employees in February. The symbols depict point estimates and the lines show the 95% CIs. The full results are provided in Supplementary Tables 8 , 9 , 22 and 23 .

Decomposing the effects of firm-wide remote work

One benefit of our empirical approach is that it enables us to decompose the causal effects of firm-wide remote work into two components: the direct effect of an employee working remotely on their own work practices (ego effects) and the indirect effect of all an employee’s colleagues working remotely on that employee’s work practices (collaborator effects). The model is linear, so the predicted effects from having half of one’s collaborators switch to remote work would be half as large.

Figure 7 shows the ego and collaborator effects of firm-wide remote work on people’s collaboration networks. Notably, the remote work status of an employee and that employee’s collaborators both contributed to the total effect of firm-wide for most network outcomes. An employee’s collaborators switching to remote work seems to have had a particularly large impact on the amount of time that workers spent with ties that are most likely to provide access to new information, that is, cross-group ties, bridging ties, weak ties and added ties. As seen in Fig. 8 , collaborator effects also dominate ego effects when we decomposed the effects of firm-wide remote work on communication media usage. More than half of the increase in IMs sent and emails sent was due to collaborators switching to remote work, and approximately 90% (+0.09 FV, P  < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.07–0.10) of the increase in workweek hours was due to collaborators switching to remote work. Overall, we found that collaborators switching to remote work caused workers to spend less time attending to sources of new information, communicate more through asynchronous media and work longer hours. Looking to the future, these findings suggest that remote work policies such as mixed-mode and hybrid work may have substantial effects not only on those working remotely but also on those remaining in the office.

figure 7

The estimated causal effects of either an employee ( δ from equation ( 1 )) or their colleagues ( β from equation ( 1 )) switching to remote work on the number of collaborators that an employee has, the number of distinct groups the employee collaborates with, the number of cross-group ties an employee has, the share of time an employee spends collaborating with cross-group ties, the number of bridging ties an employee has, the share of time an employee spends collaborating with bridging ties, the individual clustering coefficient of an employee’s ego network, the share of time an employee spent collaborating with weak ties, the number of churned collaborators, the number of added collaborators and the share of time spent with added collaborators. All effects were normalized by dividing by the average level of that variable in February. The symbols depict point estimates and the lines show the 95% CIs. n  = 61,182 for all variables. The full results are provided in Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 .

figure 8

The estimated causal effects of either an employee ( δ from equation ( 1 )) or their colleagues ( β from equation ( 1 )) switching to remote work on hours spent in scheduled meetings, the sum of scheduled meetings and unscheduled call hours, IMs sent, emails sent and estimated workweek hours ( a ), and hours spent in unscheduled calls ( b ). All effects were normalized by dividing by the average level of that variable in February. The symbols depict point estimates and the lines show the 95% CIs. n  = 61,182 for all variables. The full results are provided in Supplementary Table 3 .

Our results suggest that shifting to firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network to become more heavily siloed—with fewer ties that cut across formal business units or bridge structural holes in Microsoft’s informal collaboration network—and that those silos became more densely connected. Furthermore, the network became more static, with fewer ties added and deleted per month. Previous research suggests that these changes in collaboration patterns may impede the transfer of knowledge 10 , 12 , 13 and reduce the quality of workers’ output 11 , 23 . Our results also indicate that the shift to firm-wide remote work caused synchronous communication to decrease and asynchronous communication to increase. Not only were the communication media that workers used less synchronous, but they were also less ‘rich’ (for example, email and IM). These changes in communication media may have made it more difficult for workers to convey and process complex information 26 , 27 , 28 .

We expect that the effects we observe on workers’ collaboration and communication patterns will impact productivity and, in the long-term, innovation. Yet, across many sectors, firms are making decisions to adopt permanent remote work policies based only on short-term data 52 . Importantly, the causal estimates that we report are substantially different compared with the effects suggested by the observational trends shown in Figs. 2 and 4 . Thus, firms making decisions on the basis of non-causal analyses may set suboptimal policies. For example, some firms that choose a permanent remote work policy may put themselves at a disadvantage by making it more difficult for workers to collaborate and exchange information.

Beyond estimating the causal effects of firm-wide remote work, our results also provide preliminary insights into the effects of remote work policies such as mixed-mode and hybrid work. Specifically, the non-trivial collaborator effects that we estimate suggest that hybrid and mixed-mode work arrangements may not work as firms expect. The most effective implementations of hybrid and mixed-mode work might be those that deliberately attempt to minimize the impact of collaborator effects on those employees that are not working remotely; for example, firms might consider implementations of hybrid work in which certain teams come into the office on certain days, or in which most or all workers come into the office on some days and work remotely otherwise. Firms might also consider arrangements in which only certain types of workers (for example, individual contributors) are able to work remotely.

Although we believe these early insights are helpful, firms and academics will need to undertake a combination of quantitative and qualitative research once the COVID-19 pandemic has ended to better measure both the benefits and the downsides of different remote work policies. Large firms with the ability to collect rich telemetry data will be particularly well-positioned to build on the quantitative insights presented in this work by conducting large-scale internal field experiments. If published externally, these experiments could have the capacity to greatly further our collective understanding of the causal effects of both firm-wide remote work and other work arrangements such as hybrid work and mixed-mode work. Our results, which report both direct effects and indirect effects of remote work, suggest that such experimentation needs to be conducted carefully. Simply comparing the work practices and/or productivity levels of remote workers and office workers will likely yield biased estimates of the global treatment effects of different remote work policies, due to the causal effects of one’s colleagues working remotely. In conducting these experiments, it is crucial that firms use experiment designs that are optimized for capturing the overall effects of remote work policies, for example, graph cluster randomization 53 , 54 or switchback randomization 55 . Ideally, such field experiments would be complemented with high-quality qualitative research that can describe emergent processes and workers’ perceptions and, more generally, uncover insights beyond those that can be obtained through quantitative methods.

Our research is not without its limitations. First, our study characterizes the impacts of firm-wide remote work on the US employees of one major technology firm. Although we expect our results to generalize to other technology firms, this may not be the case. Caution should also be exercised in generalizing our results to other sectors and other countries. Second, the period of time over which we measured the causal effects of remote work are quite short (three months), and it is possible that the long-term effects of firm-wide remote work are different. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, workers were able to leverage existing network connections, many of which were built in person. This may not be possible if firm-wide remote work were implemented long-term. Third, our analysis treats the effects of firm-wide remote work on peoples’ collaboration networks and communication media usage as separate, whereas these two types of effects may interact and exacerbate one another. Fourth, although we believe that changes to workers’ communication networks and media will affect productivity and innovation, we were unable to measure these outcomes directly. Even if we were able to measure productivity and innovation, the impacts of network structure and communication media choice on performance are likely contingent on a number of factors, including the type of task a given team/organization is trying to complete 56 , 57 , 58 , 59 . Finally, our ability to make causal claims is predicated on the validity of our modified DiD framework’s identifying assumptions: parallel trends, conditional exogeneity after matching and additively separable effects. Although we have taken steps to verify the plausibility of these assumptions and tested the robustness of our results to an alternative matching procedure 60 (details of which are provided in the Methods ), they are assumptions nonetheless.

There are multiple high-profile cases of firms such as IBM and Yahoo! enacting, but ultimately rescinding, flexible remote work policies before COVID-19, presumably due to the impacts of these policies on communication and collaboration 61 , 62 . On the basis of these examples, one might conclude that the current enthusiasm for remote work may not ultimately translate into a long-lasting shift to remote work for the majority of firms. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and firms have invested in the physical and human capital required to support remote work 63 and innovation has shifted toward new technologies that support remote work 64 . Both of these factors make it more likely that for many firms, some version of remote work will persist beyond the pandemic. In light of this fact, the importance of deepening our understanding of remote work and its impacts has never been greater.

Ethical review

This research was reviewed and classified as exempt by the Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT) Committee on the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects (that is, MIT’s Institutional Review Board), because the research was secondary use research involving the use of de-identified data.

Our data were passively collected and anonymized by Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics product 65 , which logs activity that takes place in employees’ work email accounts and in Microsoft Teams using de-identified IDs. Microsoft Teams is collaboration software that enables employees to video/audio call, video/audio teleconference, IM and share files. The use of the data is compliant with US employee privacy laws. Employee privacy restrictions in many countries prevent us from reporting on workers outside the US. However, an employee’s communication and collaboration with international coworkers is still included in the data and those employees are still counted as part of each employee’s network. No information on international coworkers except for counting interactions with US employees was obtained for research purposes or analysed. Microsoft provides employees with appropriate notice of its use of Workplace Analytics, and sets strict controls over the collection and use of such data.

In our collaboration network, each worker is a node. For a tie to exist between two workers in a given month, those two workers must have had at least one meaningful interaction through two out of the following four communication media: email, IM, scheduled meeting and unscheduled video/audio call. A meaningful interaction is an email, IM, scheduled meeting or unscheduled video/audio call with a group of size no more than eight.

In our analysis, we classify a worker as working remotely if more than 80% of their collaboration hours in a given month are with colleagues remote to them. For employees WFH, all of their colleagues are considered to be remote from them, whereas, for those in an office, colleagues are remote to them if those colleagues are WFH or are located on a Microsoft campus in a different city. After March 2020, all US Microsoft employees are by definition working remotely, as they are WFH.

Modified DiD model

Our modified DiD model extends the standard DiD model in two ways. First, rather than measuring the effect of changes in one treatment variable, our model measures the effects of changes in two different treatment variables—(1) whether an employee is working remotely and (2) whether that employee’s colleagues are working remotely—and assumes that these two effects are additively separable. Second, our model allows the variation in our treatment variables to be induced by one exogenous shock that affects all workers in our sample, but affects some workers differently compared with others. More specifically, although all Microsoft employees were affected by COVID-19, only some employees experienced changes in their remote work status and/or the share of their collaborators that were working remotely due to Microsoft’s company-wide WFH mandate during the pandemic.

We estimate the average treatment effect for the treated (ATT) of ego remote work and collaborator remote work on all outcome measures using the following specification:

where Y i t denotes the work outcome, α i is an employee fixed-effect, τ t is a month fixed effect, D i t indicates whether employee i was a treated employee forced to work remotely in month t , s i t is the share of employee i ’s coworkers who were working remotely in month t and ϵ i t denotes the error term. Observations are weighted using coarsened exact matching (CEM) weights, and standard errors are clustered at the level of an employee’s manager. We estimate this model using data from February, April, May and June 2020. We omitted March because workers were transitioning from office work to WFH beginning in the first week of the month.

Our ability to causally identify both ATTs is predicated on a number of identifying assumptions, some of which are standard in DiD analyses and some of which are specific to our research setting. First, we assume that, for both of our ‘treatment’ variables, the time series for ‘treated’ and ‘untreated’ workers would have evolved in parallel absent the treatment. Time-series trends for different subsets of the matched sample are compared in Fig. 1 . These comparisons suggest that, for both of our treatment variables, the DiD model’s parallel trends assumption is plausible, both when measuring the effect of the treatment on network measures (Fig. 1a,c ) and when measuring the effect of the treatment on communication media measures (Figs. 1b,d ). Analogous figures for our full set of outcome variables are provided in Supplementary Figs. 5 – 19 . In all cases, the time series appear to move in parallel both before the transition to remote work, and once the transition to remote work concluded, suggesting that this identifying assumption is reasonable.

Second, we assume strict exogeneity, that is, that the timing of the switch to remote work must be independent of employees’ outcomes. As the ‘treatment group’ was all switched to WFH due to COVID-19, we are less concerned about endogeneity of treatment than we might be in other settings. However, we do need to assume that workers’ remote work status before the pandemic and the percentage of workers’ colleagues that work remotely before the pandemic are independent of how they are affected by the pandemic. This assumption would be violated if, for example, those who worked remotely before the pandemic were less likely to have unforeseen childcare responsibilities from school closures caused by the pandemic. To make this identifying assumption more plausible, we use the CEM procedure described below. If we wanted to interpret the ATTs that we estimate from those employees that started WFH due to the pandemic as average treatment effects, we would also need to assume that, conditional on the CEM procedure described below, employees’ pre-pandemic remote work status and the percentage of colleagues working remotely were independent of the effects of ego remote work and collaborator remote work on their work outcomes.

Finally, we assume that ego remote work effects, collaborator remote work effects and non-remote-work-related COVID-19 effects are additively separable. More precisely, we assume that Y i t can be written as

where RW i t is a binary variable that indicates whether employee i is working remotely at time t , s i t is the share of employee i ’s collaborators working remotely in month t , C i t is a binary variable indicating whether employee i was subject to the COVID-19 pandemic at time t and Y i t (0, 0, 0) is worker i ’s outcome at time t if all three variables were equal to 0. This assumption is an extension of the standard DiD assumption that treatment effects, cross-group differences and time-effects are additively separable and would be violated if, for example, the effects of ego remote work and/or collaborator remote work were amplified in a multiplicative manner due to other aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic (for example, childcare responsibilities or pandemic-induced changes to Microsoft’s product roadmaps). With our data, we are unable to validate the plausibility of this important identifying assumption; however, it is worth noting that causal estimates produced by standard DiD models also rely on the validity of parametric assumptions 66 .

The results from our modified DiD specification for the full set of outcomes are provided in Supplementary Tables 1 – 3 . Throughout the main text, we refer to results as insignificant when two-sided P  >0.05.

We make our results more robust by estimating our DiD model using weights generated using CEM 67 . This reweighting means that we can relax the parallel trends and exogeneity assumptions described above to only be required conditional on employee characteristics. In other words, provided that any differences in how the two groups would have evolved in the absence of the pandemic or how they are affected by the pandemic are entirely explained by the employee characteristics we match on, then the CEM-based results are valid.

The CEM procedure works as follows. Each US Microsoft employee is assigned to a stratum on the basis of their role, managerial status, seniority level and tenure at Microsoft as of February 2020. For each employee i in a stratum s that contains a mixture of employees that were and were not remote before the COVID-19 pandemic, we construct a CEM weight according to the following formula:

where n O ( n R ) is the total number of non-remote (remote) employees before the COVID-19 pandemic, \({n}_{O}^{s}\) ( \({n}_{R}^{s}\) ) is the total number of non-remote (remote) employees before the COVID-19 pandemic in stratum s and O s ( R s ) is the set of non-remote (remote) employees before the COVID-19 pandemic in stratum s . The 97 (<0.2%) employees in strata without both non-remote and remote employees before the COVID-19 pandemic were discarded from our sample. The final remote:non-remote sample ratio is 1:4.6.

Treatment effect heterogeneity

We measured treatment effect heterogeneity with respect to tenure at Microsoft (shorter tenure versus longer tenure), managerial status (manager versus individual contributor) and role type (engineering versus non-engineering). To do so, we estimated the DiD model separately for each subgroup. Our treatment effect estimates for each combination of outcome and subgroup are provided in Supplementary Tables 4 – 23 .

Alternative matching procedure

To test the robustness of our analysis, we re-estimate our main DiD specification on an alternate matched sample of employees who worked remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic, which is constructed using a more extensive matching procedure introduced in ref. 60 . In this matching procedure, we augment the set of observables that we match on to include not only time-invariant employee attributes (that is, role, managerial status, seniority and new-hire status as of February), but also time-varying behavioural attributes (that is, number of scheduled meeting hours, unscheduled call hours, IMs sent, emails sent, workweek hours, network ties, business groups connected to, cross-group connections, bridging ties, churned ties and added ties, share of time with cross-group ties, bridging ties, weak ties and added ties, and the individual clustering coefficient) as measured in June 2020. As we are matching on many more variables, there are more employees who cannot be matched, and our matched sample includes only 43,576 employees.

The motivation for this matching procedure is as follows. In a standard matched DiD analysis, control and treatment units would be matched on the basis of pretreatment behaviour. This type of matching is not appropriate in our context, given that employees who did and did not work remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic are by definition in different potential outcome states in February. Assuming that there is a treatment effect to detect, matching on pretreatment behavioural outcomes would actually make our identifying assumptions less likely to hold. However, in June 2020, both employees who were and were not working remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic were in the same potential outcome state (firm-wide remote work), and therefore matching on time-varying behavioural outcomes improves the credibility of our identifying assumptions.

Supplementary Figs. 20 and 21 show the results of our DiD model as estimated on this alternative sample. The results are qualitatively similar to those we present in our main analysis.

Collaboration network outcome definitions

Number of connections: The number of people with whom one had a meaningful interaction through at least two out of four possible communication media (email, IM, scheduled meeting and unscheduled video/audio call) in a given month. A meaningful interaction is an email, meeting, video/audio call or IM with a group of size no more than eight.

Number of business groups and cross-group connections: A business group is a collection of typically fewer than ten employees who report to the same manager and share a common purpose. We look at the number of distinct business groups that one’s immediate collaborators belong to, and the number of one’s collaborators that belong to a different business group than one’s own.

Bridging connections: Bridging connections are connections with a low value of the local constraint 9 , 18 , 42 in that period. To calculate the local constraint, we first calculate the normalized mutual weight, NMW i j t , between each pair of people i and j in each period t . If there is no connection between i and j in period t , then NMW i j t  = 0, otherwise \({\mathrm{NMW}}_{ijt}=\frac{2}{{n}_{it}+{n}_{jt}}\) , where n i t is the number of connections i has in period t . Then, for each i , j , t , we calculate the local constraint \({{\mathrm {{LC}}_{ijt}}} = {\mathrm {NMW}}_{ijt} + {\sum }_{k} {{{\mathrm {NMW}}}_{ikt}} \times {{\mathrm {NMW}}_{kjt}}\) . We define a global cut-off \(\widehat{\mathrm{LC}}\) on the basis of the median value of the constraint across all directed ties in February and categorize a connection as bridging if its local constraint is below that cut-off. We calculate the local constraint for each tie using the matricial formulae described in ref. 68 .

Individual clustering coefficient: The number of triads (group of three people who are all connected to each other) a person is a part of as a share of the number of triads they could possibly be part of given their degree. If a i j t is a dummy that equals 1 if and only if there is a connection between i and j in period t and n i t is the number of connections i has in period t , then individual i ’s clustering coefficient in period t is \({\mathrm{CC}}_{it}=\frac{2}{{n}_{it}({n}_{it}-1)}\mathop{\sum}\limits_{j,k}{a}_{ijt}\times {a}_{jkt}\times {a}_{kit}\) .

Number of churned connections: The number of people with whom a worker had a connection with in month t  − 1, but does not have a connection in month t .

Number of added connections: The number of people with whom a worker has a connection in month t , but did not have a connection in month t  − 1.

Distribution of collaboration time: In addition to unweighted network ties, we also measured the share of collaboration time that an individual spent with each of their collaborators. The number of collaboration hours is calculated by summing up the number of hours spent communicating by email or IM, in meetings and in video/audio calls. If h i j t is the number of hours that individual i spent with collaborator j in month t , then the share of collaboration time i spent with j is \({P}_{ijt}=\frac{{h}_{ijt}}{{\sum }_{k}{h}_{ikt}}\) , from which we can define the following metrics:

Share of time with own-group connections: The share of time spent with collaborators in the same business group (see the above definition), \({\mathrm{SG}}_{it}=\mathop{\sum}\limits_{j| {g}_{j}={g}_{i}}{P}_{ijt}\) , where g i is the business group that individual i belongs to.

Share of time with bridging connections: The share of collaboration time spent with collaborators with whom the local constraint (as defined under ‘bridging connections’) is below the February median \({\mathrm{BC}}_{it}=\mathop{\sum}\limits_{j| {\mathrm{LC}}_{ijt} < \widehat{\mathrm{LC}}}{P}_{ijt}\) .

Share of time with weak ties: The share of a person’s collaboration hours spent with the half of the people that they collaborate with the least during month t , \({\mathrm{ST}}_{it}=\mathop{\sum}\limits_{j| {P}_{ijt} < {P}_{it}^{m}}{P}_{ijt}\) , where \({P}_{it}^{m}\) is the time that i spends with their median connection in period t . We do not analyse the number of weak ties a person has in a given month as, by this definition, it is equal to half the number of ties they have in that month.

Share of time with added connections: The share of a person’s collaboration hours spent with people with whom they did not have a connection in the previous month, \({\mathrm{SA}}_{it}=\mathop{\sum}\limits_{j\notin {n}_{i,t-1}}{P}_{ijt}\) , where n i , t  − 1 is the set of i ’s collaborators in period t  − 1.

Entropy of an individual’s collaboration time (network entropy): The entropy 48 of the distribution of the hours spent with one’s collaborators, \({E}_{it}=-{\sum }_{j}{P}_{ijt}\times {{\mathrm{log}}}\,{P}_{ijt}\) .

Concentration of an individual’s collaboration time: A normalized version of the HHI 47 of the hours spent with one’s collaborators, \({\mathrm{HHI}}_{it}=\frac{1}{{n}_{it}-1}\left({n}_{it}\times {\sum }_{j}{P}_{ijt}^{2}-1\right)\) , where n i t is the number of i ’s collaborators in period t . The normalization ensures that HHI i t always falls between 0 and 1.

Communication media outcome definitions

Scheduled meeting hours: The number of hours that a person spent in meetings scheduled through Teams or Outlook calendar with at least one other person. Before firm-wide remote work, employees were able to participate in meetings both in-person and by video/audio call. After the shift to firm-wide remote work, all meetings take place entirely by video/audio call.

Unscheduled call hours: The number of hours a person spent in unscheduled video/audio calls through Microsoft Teams with at least one other person.

Emails sent: The number of emails a person sent through their work email account.

IMs sent: The number of IMs a person sent through Microsoft Teams.

Workweek hours: The sum across every day in the workweek of the time between a person’s first sent email or IM, scheduled meeting or Microsoft Teams video/audio call, and the last sent email or IM, scheduled meeting or Microsoft Teams video/audio call. A day is part of the workweek if it is a ‘working day’ for a given employee based on their work calendar.

Reporting Summary

Further information on research design is available in the Nature Research Reporting Summary linked to this article.

Data availability

An anonymized version of the data supporting this study is retained indefinitely for scientific and academic purposes. The data are not publicly available due to employee privacy and other legal restrictions. The data are available from the authors on reasonable request and with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Code availability

The code supporting this study is retained indefinitely for scientific and academic purposes. The code is not publicly available due to employee privacy and other legal restrictions. The code is available from the authors on reasonable request and with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Change history

05 october 2021.

A Correction to this paper has been published: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01228-z

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Acknowledgements

This work was a part of Microsoft’s New Future of Work Initiative. We thank D. Eckles for assistance; N. Baym for illuminating discussions regarding social capital; and the attendees of the Berkeley Haas MORS Macro Research Lunch and the organizers and attendees of the NYU Stern Future of Work seminar for their comments and feedback. The authors received no specific funding for this work.

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Longqi Yang, Sonia Jaffe, Siddharth Suri, Shilpi Sinha, Jeffrey Weston, Connor Joyce, Neha Shah, Kevin Sherman, Brent Hecht & Jaime Teevan

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L.Y. analysed the data. L.Y., D.H., S.J. and S. Suri performed the research design, interpretation and writing. S. Sinha, J.W., C.J., N.S. and K.S. provided data access and expertise. B.H. and J.T. advised and sponsored the project.

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Correspondence to Longqi Yang .

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L.Y., S.J., S. Suri, S. Sinha, J.W., C.J., N.S., K.S., B.H. and J.T. are employees of and have a financial interest in Microsoft. D.H. was previously a Microsoft intern. All of the authors are listed as inventors on a pending patent application by Microsoft Corporation (16/942,375) related to this work.

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Yang, L., Holtz, D., Jaffe, S. et al. The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers. Nat Hum Behav 6 , 43–54 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01196-4

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Towards Accessible Remote Work: Understanding Work-from-Home Practices of Neurodivergent Professionals

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CSCW 2021 | April 2021

Published by ACM | Organized by ACM

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Working from home has become a mainstream work practice in many organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. While remote work has received much scholarly and public attention over the years, we still know little about how people with disabilities engage in remote work from their homes and what access means in this context. To understand and rethink accessibility in remote work, the present paper studies work-from-home practices of neurodivergent professionals who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Defcit Hyperactivity Disorder, learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) and psychosocial disabilities (e.g., anxiety, depression). We report on interviews with 36 US-based neurodivergent professionals who have been working from home during the pandemic. Our fndings reveal that while working from home, neurodivergent professionals create accessible physical and digital workspaces, negotiate accessible communication practices, and reconcile tensions between productivity and wellbeing. Our analysis reconsiders what access means in remote work for neurodivergent professionals and ofers practical insights for inclusive work practices and accessibility improvements in remote collaboration tools.

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Remote work is making productivity and innovation harder, says Microsoft study

owen-hughes

A study of Microsoft employees in the US has concluded that the organization-wide switch to remote working in 2020 damaged communication and collaboration between different teams – while driving up working hours.

A peer-reviewed study of Microsoft's 61,100-plus US workforce found that teams became more siloed and spent less time communicating with those outside of their immediate teams in the months after the software company instructed employees to work from home in March 2020.

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The research, which was published in the journal Nature Human Behavior , also found that the exchange of information was stymied by changes in communication methods, with more employees spending less time in face-to-face meetings and more time speaking to each other via instant messaging and email. This meant less information was being shared between colleagues in real time, and more conveyed through less rich, "asynchronous" means.

SEE:  Remote, hybrid or office-based? Employers are making big decisions about the future of work. This is what it might look like

Taken together, the study concluded that workers were less likely to create and maintain ties with colleagues working in different Microsoft business units, meaning they were also less likely to discover and share new information across the organization.

In an accompanying blog post, Microsoft researchers said that, while bonds were more likely to have been strengthened within teams, remote working in 2020 caused the amount of time workers spent collaborating with other groups to drop 25%.

"In light of these findings, companies will need to take proactive measures to try to help workers acquire and share new information across groups, so that productivity and innovation are not impacted," the researchers said.

Microsoft's research comes as organizations mull return-to-office plans, many of which have been temporarily scuppered by the spread of new COVID-19 variants. 

Since sending their workforces home in 2020, many companies have announced plans to continue indefinitely with allowances for remote working, including Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Salesforce, and Quora.

Proponents of remote work argue that teams don't need to be face-to-face with each other for eight hours a day, five days a week to get work done, as well as the fact that working from home effectively kills commute times, eliminates office distractions, and helps restore some work/life balance.

Microsoft's principal takeaway is that, regardless of how you mix remote and in-office work, the resulting change in how workers communicate could impact how effectively a company can innovate, by making organizational teams more siloed.

"Because remote and hybrid work are likely to persist even after the pandemic has ended, it is incredibly important to understand how these policies affect the ways that people collaborate with one another," it said.

Microsoft's study was met with a mixed response, with critics pointing out that the period during which the data was gathered (December 2019 to June 2020) was not reflective of remote working under normal circumstances.

SEE: When the return to the office happens, don't leave remote workers out in the cold

It was also representative of a company whose workforce has traditionally been office-based: the study's authors note that only 18% of its workers were working remotely prior to the pandemic, with the remaining 82% only switching to working from home in March 2020. This happened practically overnight, meaning the subsequent impact on communication and collaboration patterns is indicative of a workforce in extreme and sudden flux.

Since the forced switch to remote working, software giants have been rapidly expanding their collaborative tech offerings. Teams has been a huge revenue generator for Microsoft since companies flocked to video meetings in 2020, and Microsoft has been steadily pushing new updates to its communication and collaboration application aimed at bridging the gaps between remote and in-person communication. With this in mind, Microsoft's latest findings suggest that despite the new technology, working remotely is still a work in progress.

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A study of tech usage of more than 61,000 Microsoft US employees suggests the working week has extended by around 10%. Image:  Unsplash/Matthew Manuel

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  • A study of tech usage of more than 61,000 Microsoft US employees has looked at the impact of company-wide shift to remote work on communication and collaboration.
  • It found people are less interconnected, which could negatively impact innovation.
  • It also found the working week had extended but staff were not necessarily working more hours within that longer week.
  • The study has potential lessons for a collaborative approach to hybrid working.

Before COVID-19, only 18% of US Microsoft employees worked remotely - and by April 1, 2020, all non-essential workers were working from home full-time.

Now a study of tech usage of more than 61,000 Microsoft US employees, looking at the impact of this shift to company-wide remote work, suggests the working week has extended by around 10%. The study also suggested staff are collaborating less - which could have a negative impact on innovation.

Researchers analyzed anonymized data from emails, calendars, instant messages, video and audio calls and workweek hours of US employees in the first six months of 2020 to assess the impact working from home had on collaboration and communication.

Less interconnected

The results, published in Nature Human Behaviour , showed business groups within Microsoft became “less interconnected” as collaboration networks became more siloed, which meant fewer opportunities for new ideas and information to be shared between colleagues.

Ultimately, this could affect how well a business performs, say the researchers: “There is a competitive advantage to successfully engaging in the practice of ‘knowledge transfer,’ in which experiences from one set of people within an organization are transferred to and used by another set of people within that same organization.”

Forms of communication shifted dramatically from the first few months of 2020 to after the work-from-home mandate at Microsoft.

Tome trends for communication media.

Surprisingly, instead of replacing in-person communication with phone or video calls, remote work caused employees to send more emails and “many more” instant messages (IMs).

The researchers said previous research suggests these communication choices “may make it more difficult for workers to convey and/or converge on the meaning of complex information”.

Longer working days

The study also found that the average time between an employees’ first and last work task of the day grew by 10%.

The researchers said this could indicate employees were less productive at home or that they replaced some of their commuting time with work time.

Or “it could also be that the same amount of working time is spread across a greater share of the calendar day due to breaks or interruptions for non-work activities”.

Keeping workers well. It is the united aim of a global community influencing how companies will keep employees safe. What is the role of COVID-19 testing? What is the value of contact tracing? How do organizations ensure health at work for all employees?

Members from a diverse range of industries – from healthcare to food, utilities, software and more – and from over 25 countries and 250 companies representing more than 1 million employees are involved in the COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative. Launched in July 2020, the project is a partnership between the World Economic Forum and Arizona State University with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

The COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative leverages the Forum’s platforms, networks and global convening ability to collect, refine and share strategies and approaches for returning to the workplace safely as part of broader COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Companies can apply to share their learnings and participate in the initiative as a partner, by joining the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare.

Learn more about the impact .

Lessons for the hybrid working model

Although the researchers admit the study has limitations and that any such experiments must be designed carefully to eliminate bias, they believe it has useful implications for businesses’ long-term policy and decision-making around remote working.

“We expect that the effects we observe on workers’ collaboration and communication patterns will impact productivity and, in the long-term, innovation.”

In the US, job postings are now twice as likely to mention ‘remote work’ , but the researchers say having a permanent remote work policy may put companies at a disadvantage, “by making it more difficult for workers to collaborate and exchange information”.

Instead they suggest that companies consider implementing a form of hybrid work in which certain teams come into the office on certain days, or in which most or all workers come into the office on some days and work remotely otherwise.

“Firms might also consider arrangements in which only certain types of workers (for example, individual contributors) are able to work remotely.”

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As Microsoft is showing, workers may never come back to the office

Danny Westneat

There was a period early in the pandemic when it was fashionable to say it was going to change everything .

Then, as the disease surges came and went, it seemed it had changed nothing.

Now, more than two years on, it’s becoming clearer the pandemic has dramatically shifted at least one big thing: work.

Because it sure looks like work from home is winning.

“At Microsoft, a back-to-office ‘normal’ may not happen this year” was the headline this past week . This is a big tell, as Microsoft has had a policy for three months now that employees should be in the physical office 50% of the time.

They aren’t. The company now suggests it may not meet even this 50% goal until 2023.

Downtown Seattle offices are still only 38% occupied , according to an office-space tracker from the Downtown Seattle Association. This is only slightly above what it was in February.

Meanwhile, hotel room demand downtown has soared to a nearly full 96%.

If hotels are full and skyscrapers mostly empty, it means it’s not a pandemic phenomenon anymore. Workers just aren’t coming back to offices. It’s starting to look like they may never come back — not without a fight, anyway.

Microsoft’s own impressive research on remote work tells the story.

The company recognized early on in the pandemic that “we are all right now participants in a giant, natural, uncontrolled remote work experiment” (at least for those who used to report to traditional offices).

So they assigned researchers to track it — everything from the moods of software engineers, as judged by nightly diary entries, to the brainwaves of admins sitting in Zoom meetings, hooked up to electroencephalogram skull caps. The company has now put out more than 50 research papers on the remote-work phenomenon since it first sent all its employees home in March 2020.

Last month it collated it all in a “New Future of Work Report.” It’s 111 pages, with wide-ranging pros and cons. But allow me to grossly simplify the big picture, if I may.

Workers love work from home. Bosses don’t.

Up to 80% of workers want either remote or hybrid arrangements (some office, some remote, with flexibility desired to switch between the two). Meanwhile managers by and large want you back at your desks.

Some workers are flatly refusing to take jobs now if they have to physically appear in an office.

“Sorry, Bosses: Workers Are Just Not That Into You,” headlined The Wall Street Journal recently . “American workers are going back to bars, movies, sports arenas and weddings — pretty much everywhere but their offices.”

The Microsoft report notes that workers are so enamored with remote that they’ll even pay to get it. One study found “employees willing to forgo over $4,300” per year in salary to be able to work from home full-time.

“So, how much are you willing to pay?” the researcher asked. “It may not be that long until your employer asks you.”

This could be a counterintuitive way businesses might try to entice you back to your cubicle — by paying you more to show up in person.

The flip side is there are warning signs all over the research about rather severe problems with remote or hybrid work.

One major Microsoft study, which tracked the emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls and workweek hours of 61,182 Microsoft employees, found that remote work caused silos to form that blunted collaboration. The paper concluded it would likely “impact productivity and, in the long-term, innovation.”

Microsoft also monitored “trillions of productivity signals” through the use of its Microsoft 365 products. This found that worker output is being maintained remotely, but only by means of longer work hours and a barrage of “digital intensity.”

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“Time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings has more than doubled,” one report concluded . “The average meeting is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35 to 45 minutes. The average Teams user is sending 45 percent more chats per week and 42 percent more chats per person after hours. The number of emails via Microsoft Exchange Online in February, when compared to the same month last year, is up by 40.6 billion.”

I think I got about a billion of those emails.

Consider this: There’s now an entire body of study, with 45 scientific papers published, devoted solely to “video meeting fatigue.”

Another paper looked at 10,000 IT workers and found they did keep up their output working remotely. But only by working ten hours longer per week.

This has been my personal experience. What started as working from home is morphing into living at work. A lot of the recent Microsoft research is focused on artificial intelligence tools that might improve the remote work experience. What we really need is a robot to make us stop working.

The Microsoft researchers insist this is no passing fad. So it should be no surprise that Microsoft itself is also struggling to get employees to come in. One paper posits we’ve already entered a new age, a “sixth era,” in how and where we work. We’ve had the industrial revolution, the skyscraper, the suburbs, the edge city, the superstar tech city, and now this.

It’s impossible to know where it’s all headed (a crackup? a rebellion? skyscraper labor camps?). And the pandemic has already made fools of all forecasters. But one place we don’t look to be headed? Back to the office.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

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Remote work is harder to come by as companies push for return to office

Andrea Hsu, photographed for NPR, 11 March 2020, in Washington DC.

Employers are increasing their requirements for in-person work this fall, nudging employees to return to some of their pre-pandemic office routines. SolStock hide caption

Employers are increasing their requirements for in-person work this fall, nudging employees to return to some of their pre-pandemic office routines.

Back in 2020, when schools were still virtual and city dwellers were living their lives in masks, Jamie Dimon emerged as one of the earliest critics of remote work.

"There's a huge value to working together in terms of collaboration and creativity and training the younger people," the CEO of JPMorgan Chase told MSNBC in August that year.

Three years later, Dimon's message is unchanged. The difference now is that the sentiment has gone mainstream.

Today, even Zoom's leadership is extolling the benefits of in-person work.

"What we've found is, people have enjoyed coming back to the office," says Zoom's Chief People Officer Matthew Saxon. "There is a buzz. There's something about being able to go have lunch with your teammates."

When remote work works and when it doesn't

The Indicator from Planet Money

When remote work works and when it doesn't.

With the pandemic declared over, much of America seems to have settled on the idea that at least some in-person time is beneficial — even necessary — for workplaces. But what remains under hot debate is how much time is needed and who gets to determine that.

According to Kastle Systems, which tracks security card swipes, building occupancy in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the New York metro area is barely breaking 40%. Houston tops a list of major U.S. cities with occupancy reaching 60%.

It's a sign that many office workers who enjoyed greater autonomy while working from home are not readily giving up that up, even as their employers step up demands for them to come in.

How and when to work has become a negotiation

For most people, it used to be a given that having a job meant going to an office. Now, it's a negotiation.

"These conversations — they're new," says Debbie Lovich, managing director and senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group.

"We never talked about how should we work everyday. But now, we need to because there's so much change out there."

The idea of working in the office, all day, every day? No thanks, say workers

The idea of working in the office, all day, every day? No thanks, say workers

As the months have passed, those conversations have taken on a more urgent tone.

Employers now have research — albeit limited — to back up their demands. Studies have found people get more feedback when they're in the same space as their coworkers, leading to more opportunities for advancement. And while findings on productivity are mixed, there's evidence that fully remote workers encounter more friction when trying to convey information quickly.

After an outcry from Republicans in Congress, the Biden administration has called on federal agencies to "aggressively execute" the shift to more in-office work this fall, a move that's already sparked clashes with federal employee unions .

"I do believe we need to be around each other in person more than we are now, to ensure this department's long term success," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said in a video to employees .

Requirements are getting stricter

Across the private sector, in-office requirements are also getting stricter.

The investment management firm BlackRock has asked people to come in at least four days per week starting in September, up from three.

Airbnb let its workers live and work anywhere. Spoiler: They're loving it

Airbnb let its workers live and work anywhere. Spoiler: They're loving it

Amazon has informed some remote workers they're going to need to move close to a hub if they want to keep their jobs.

Employees at Farmers Insurance, who just last year were told they would stay remote according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal, now face a requirement to work in-person three days a week if they live within 50 miles of a Farmers office.

After making remote work possible for millions of people, Zoom is now telling some of its own employees to show up in person, in what the company is calling a structured hybrid approach.

microsoft research work from home

Zoom, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., is rolling out a new in-office work policy. Employees who live within 50 miles of an office are expected to work from that office twice a week. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

Zoom, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., is rolling out a new in-office work policy. Employees who live within 50 miles of an office are expected to work from that office twice a week.

A trial earlier this year helped shape that approach. Engineers who were asked to report to the office one day per week were often frustrated to find their colleagues weren't there, forcing them to sit in on the same Zoom meetings — just from the office.

"The office has to earn its commute," says Saxon.

The company decided the sweet spot was two days per week in the office, but that only applies to employees who live within 50 miles of a Zoom office — about a third of Zoom's total headcount. And even this new policy is an experiment of sorts.

"These things don't stay static," says Saxon. "I think we'll continue to evolve."

Having some say leads to satisfaction

In a recent survey of 1,500 office workers, Boston Consulting Group found 85% working in some kind of hybrid mode, and only 8% fully remote.

Those surveyed said they believe they should be in-person at least a third of the time, but preferred to have some say in when they come in.

Compliance and satisfaction were higher when employees' hybrid schedules could vary each week, as opposed to following a set schedule.

"Post-COVID for the first time ever, we are being told when and where to show up, and it just is sparking this reaction from people like, 'Wait a minute, don't you trust me?'" says Lovich.

It's not yet clear what will happen at any of these companies if employees don't comply.

In a statement, the investment bank Citi told NPR, "As necessary, we hold colleagues accountable for adhering to their in-office days," which for most employees is three days per week.

How two big Wall Street banks are rethinking the office for a post-pandemic future

How two big Wall Street banks are rethinking the office for a post-pandemic future

Cooling economy puts pressure on workers.

The cooling economy may be adding pressure on employees to be more visible on the job. On Monday, Farmers Insurance announced it was cutting 2,400 jobs, or 11% of its workforce as part of a restructuring.

Already, many workers are confronting the reality that fully and mostly remote positions are becoming harder to find, as we get farther and farther from the pandemic.

Roxana Garcia Espejo was a school teacher in Sugar Land, Texas, before she landed what she describes as her dream job in the spring of 2022. Hired by Microsoft as a senior training associate, she helped clients in schools and companies with Microsoft products such as Excel and other applications.

microsoft research work from home

Roxana Garcia Espejo of Sugar Land, Texas, says her mostly remote job with Microsoft completely changed her work-life balance. In April, she lost that job as part of mass layoffs but still connects with other enthusiasts in the Microsoft Speakers Hub, an online forum. Rose Falcon hide caption

Roxana Garcia Espejo of Sugar Land, Texas, says her mostly remote job with Microsoft completely changed her work-life balance. In April, she lost that job as part of mass layoffs but still connects with other enthusiasts in the Microsoft Speakers Hub, an online forum.

The job required her to work from Microsoft's Houston office 20% of the time, scheduled as she saw fit. For Garcia Espejo, who'd been caring for her elderly parents through pandemic, the flexibility proved transformative.

"My work-life balance was completely changed," she says.

She began exercising. Her blood pressure dropped. She adapted well to remote work, never feeling out of the loop thanks to a stream of online chats.

"As if it were the all-day chatter of all the teams that I was a part of," she says.

But her dream job was short-lived. A year after being hired, Microsoft announced mass layoffs, and Garcia Espejo's entire unit was cut.

For the last several months, she's been searching for another remote position, with no luck. A year ago, it might have been a different story.

With her unemployment soon running out, she's starting to consider in-person jobs, even teaching — but only as a substitute, where she'd retain some control over her schedule.

"I guess I don't look at it anymore as I'm holding out," says Garcia Espejo. "I look at it as — I'm in control of where I want my ship to sail."

  • return to office
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  • remote work
  • Jamie Dimon

microsoft research work from home

Here’s how we’re working with journalists to create the newsrooms of the future with AI

Feb 5, 2024 | Noreen Gillespie - Journalism Director, Democracy Forward, Technology for Fundamental Rights

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What will the newsroom of the future look like?

Today, Microsoft is launching several collaborations with news organizations to adopt generative AI. In a year where billions of people will vote in democratic elections worldwide, journalism is critical to creating healthy information ecosystems, and it is our mission, working with the industry, to ensure that newsrooms can innovate to serve this year and in the future.

Through these new programs, we are helping these organizations identify and refine the procedures and policies to use AI responsibly in newsgathering and business practices, helping train a new generation of reporters on best uses of AI and identify ways AI can help create efficient business practices and help build sustainable newsrooms for generations to come.

  • Semafor will work with us to harness AI tools to assist journalists in their research, source discovery, translation, and more with Semafor Signals , helping journalists provide a diverse array of credible local, national, and global sources to their audience.
  • The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY will invite experienced journalists to a tuition-free program to explore ways to incorporate generative AI into their work and newsrooms in a three-month hybrid and highly interactive program. The AI Journalism Lab will be run by Nikita Roy, a data scientist, entrepreneur, and host of the podcast Newsroom Robots, which explores AI applications in journalism.
  • The Online News Association is launching programming to support journalists and newsroom leaders as they navigate the evolving AI ecosystem. ONA’s AI in Journalism Initiative  offers a menu of opportunities addressing what is possible across the newsroom through AI, collaboratively exploring and experimenting with tools, and creating opportunities for greater audience reach and business sustainability.
  • The GroundTruth Project, which sends local journalists into newsrooms around the world through its Report for America and Report for the World programs, will add an AI track of work for its corps members through the AI in Local News initiative with the goal of helping make reporting and newsrooms themselves more efficient and sustainable for the future.
  • Nota, a startup dedicated to putting high-quality AI tools into newsrooms to help improve newsroom operations, has expanded to more than a 100 newsrooms with support from Microsoft. Its suite of tools are helping newsrooms reach new audiences, expand social media presence and better tailor content to audience information needs. Nota will soon release a new tool called PROOF, an assistive recommendation widget that will give real-time tips to journalists and editors about how to better reach audiences with their content through readability, SEO analysis, link integrity, and more.

These collaborators are established industry groups, leading academics, local news champions, and global newsrooms who are seeking to educate, experiment, lead, and scale AI solutions that support the industry. Each organization will have access to Microsoft experts, technology, and support this year, and has committed to sharing the results of their projects with the wider industry to teach, inspire, and innovate the way news will be produced in the future.

Working directly with newsrooms, universities, journalists, and industry groups, we will help these organizations use AI to grow audiences, streamline time-consuming tasks in the newsroom, and build sustainable business operations. Our goal is to support thriving, sustainable newsrooms with the technology they need to perform the essential function of informing the world.

These projects build on Microsoft’s existing commitment to sustainable journalism, and pledges to reduce risk, restore trust, and rebuild capacity in news ecosystems through the Democracy Forward program.

Local, national, and global news organizations depend on being able to innovate responsibly with emerging technology to stay competitive. The survival of fact-based news is inextricably linked to healthy democracies, thriving communities, and civic participation. Journalism has an essential function in fighting against information operations and threats to democracy.

Central to all of these commitments is journalists themselves.

Healthy news organizations do not exist without journalists who know their communities and topics, have deep relationships with leaders in government and civic life, and understand how to reach their communities. This work is challenging – and our goal is to find ways to support journalists in this mission, not replace them. By working with these organizations, we hope to shed light on the promise that the newsroom of the future can hold.

Tags: AI , journalism , Responsible AI , Semafor

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Microsoft Edge mysteriously deleted shortcut and now won't let me add any shortcuts to Start page?

I use the shortcuts on the start page that appears when you open a new tab quite often. Seemingly randomly, one of the shortcuts disappeared and was replaced with a generic "Following" shortcut that has a star on it. Now, I can't add any shortcuts at all to any site to replace the Following shortcut. I can remove the Following shortcut and it is replaced by ad shortcuts.

I've tried restarting and resetting Edge, but that hasn't worked. Does anyone have any ideas?

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This worked for me: Restart Edge. Bring up the "new tab page". On the upper right should be a settings gear icon. Click it. That will bring up a small box with options for the page. Turn off the "Show sponsored settings." I also have content set to "Content off" but don't know if that matters. Click any other part of the start tab page to exit.

If this doesn't work for you just back the change out if desired.

Mod note : The option referred to here may have a different name in other locales. It's below the Quick links options, and I see "Show promoted links".

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Google’s Gemini is now in everything. Here’s how you can try it out.

Gmail, Docs, and more will now come with Gemini baked in. But Europeans will have to wait before they can download the app.

  • Will Douglas Heaven archive page

In the biggest mass-market AI launch yet, Google is rolling out Gemini , its family of large language models, across almost all its products, from Android to the iOS Google app to Gmail to Docs and more. You can also now get your hands on Gemini Ultra, the most powerful version of the model, for the first time.  

With this launch, Google is sunsetting Bard , the company's answer to ChatGPT. Bard, which has been powered by a version of Gemini since December, will now be known as Gemini too.  

ChatGPT , released by Microsoft-backed OpenAI just 14 months ago, changed people’s expectations of what computers could do. Google, which has been racing to catch up ever since, unveiled its Gemini family of models in December. They are multimodal large language models that can interact with you via voice, image, and text. Google claimed that its own benchmarking showed that Gemini could outperform OpenAI's multimodal model, GPT-4, on a range of standard tests. But the margins were slim. 

By baking Gemini into its ubiquitous products, Google is hoping to make up lost ground. “Every launch is big, but this one is the biggest yet,” Sissie Hsiao, Google vice president and general manager of Google Assistant and Bard (now Gemini), said in a press conference yesterday. “We think this is one of the most profound ways that we’re going to advance our company’s mission.”

But some will have to wait longer than others to play with Google’s new toys. The company has announced rollouts in the US and East Asia but said nothing about when the Android and iOS apps will come to the UK or the rest of Europe. This may be because the company is waiting for the EU’s new AI Act to be set in stone, says Dragoș Tudorache, a Romanian politician and member of the European Parliament, who was a key negotiator on the law.

“We’re working with local regulators to make sure that we’re abiding by local regime requirements before we can expand,” Hsiao said. “Rest assured, we are absolutely working on it and I hope we’ll be able to announce expansion very, very soon.”

How can you get it? Gemini Pro, Google’s middle-tier model that has been available via Bard since December, will continue to be available for free on the web at gemini.google.com (rather than bard.google.com). But now there is a mobile app as well.

If you have an Android device, you can either download the Gemini app or opt in to an upgrade in Google Assistant. This will let you call up Gemini in the same way that you use Google Assistant: by pressing the power button, swiping from the corner of the screen, or saying “Hey, Google!” iOS users can download the Google app, which will now include Gemini.

Gemini will pop up as an overlay on your screen, where you can ask it questions or give it instructions about whatever’s on your phone at the time, such as summarizing an article or generating a caption for a photo.  

Finally, Google is launching a paid-for service called Gemini Advanced. This comes bundled in a subscription costing $19.99 a month that the company is calling the Google One Premium AI Plan. It combines the perks of the existing Google One Premium Plan, such as 2TB of extra storage, with access to Google's most powerful model, Gemini Ultra, for the first time. This will compete with OpenAI’s paid-for service, ChatGPT Plus, which buys you access to the more powerful GPT-4 (rather than the default GPT-3.5) for $20 a month.

At some point soon (Google didn't say exactly when) this subscription will also unlock Gemini across Google’s Workspace apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides, where it works as a smart assistant similar to the GPT-4-powered Copilot that Microsoft is trialing in Office 365.

When can you get it? The free Gemini app (powered by Gemini Pro) is available from today in English in the US. Starting next week, you’ll be able to access it across the Asia Pacific region in English and in Japanese and Korean. But there is no word on when the app will come to the UK, countries in the EU, or Switzerland.

Gemini Advanced (the paid-for service that gives access to Gemini Ultra) is available in English in more than 150 countries, including the UK and EU (but not France). Google says it is analyzing local requirements and fine-tuning Gemini for cultural nuance in different countries. But the company promises that more languages and regions are coming.

What can you do with it? Google says it has developed its Gemini products with the help of more than 100 testers and power users. At the press conference yesterday, Google execs outlined a handful of use cases, such as getting Gemini to help write a cover letter for a job application. “This can help you come across as more professional and increase your relevance to recruiters,” said Google’s vice president for product management, Kristina Behr.

Or you could take a picture of your flat tire and ask Gemini how to fix it. A more elaborate example involved Gemini managing a snack rota for the parents of kids on a soccer team. Gemini would come up with a schedule for who should bring snacks and when, help you email other parents, and then field their replies. In future versions, Gemini will be able to draw on data in your Google Drive that could help manage carpooling around game schedules, Behr said.   

But we should expect people to come up with a lot more uses themselves. “I’m really excited to see how people around the world are going to push the envelope on this AI,” Hsaio said.

Is it safe? Google has been working hard to make sure its products are safe to use. But no amount of testing can anticipate all the ways that tech will get used and misused once it is released. In the last few months, Meta saw people use its image-making app to produce pictures of Mickey Mouse with guns and SpongeBob SquarePants flying a jet into two towers. Others used Microsoft’s image-making software to create fake pornographic images of Taylor Swift .

The AI Act aims to mitigate some—but not all—of these problems. For example, it requires the makers of powerful AI like Gemini to build in safeguards, such as watermarking for generated images and steps to avoid reproducing copyrighted material. Google says that all images generated by its products will include its SynthID watermarks. 

Like most companies, Google was knocked onto the back foot when ChatGPT arrived. Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI has given it a boost over its old rival. But with Gemini, Google has come back strong: this is the slickest packaging of this generation’s tech yet. 

Artificial intelligence

Ai for everything: 10 breakthrough technologies 2024.

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT reached mass adoption in record time, and reset the course of an entire industry.

What’s next for AI in 2024

Our writers look at the four hot trends to watch out for this year

  • Melissa Heikkilä archive page

OpenAI teases an amazing new generative video model called Sora

The firm is sharing Sora with a small group of safety testers but the rest of us will have to wait to learn more.

Deploying high-performance, energy-efficient AI

Investments into downsized infrastructure can help enterprises reap the benefits of AI while mitigating energy consumption, says corporate VP and GM of data center platform engineering and architecture at Intel, Zane Ball.

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IMAGES

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  2. Microsoft releases findings and considerations from one year of remote

    REDMOND, Wash. — March 22, 2021 — Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced findings from its first-annual Work Trend Index. Titled " The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work — Are We Ready? " the report uncovers seven hybrid work trends every business leader must know as we enter a new era of work.

  3. PDF Microsoft New Future of Work Report 2022

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  6. Microsoft New Future of Work Report 2022

    The Microsoft New Future of Work Report 2022 summarizes important recent research developments related to hybrid work. It highlights themes that have emerged in the findings of the past year and brings to the fore older research that has become newly relevant. Our hope is that the report will facilitate knowledge sharing across the research community and among those who track research related ...

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    Work Trend Index: Microsoft's latest research on the ways we work. Work Trend Index Research and data on the trends reshaping the world of work Special Report · November 15, 2023 What Can Copilot's Earliest Users Teach Us About Generative AI at Work? A first look at the impact on productivity, creativity, and time. Read the latest report

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    A new report from Microsoft Surface and YouGov, entitled Work Smarter to live Better has found that almost nine out of 10 (87%) employees reported their businesses have adapted to hybrid working. This new way of working has given workers the opportunity to live life in a different way.

  9. The philosophy and practice of our hybrid workplace

    Mar 22, 2021 | Kurt DelBene - Executive Vice President In the midst of numerous and difficult circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we've made important observations about the future of work, and how and where our employees know they work best.

  10. Move, Collaborate, and Iterate: Improving the Work from Home Experience

    ABSTRACT The coronavirus pandemic has caused a dramatic shift for knowledge workers around the world. People are working remotely from their homes for an extended period of time, causing several significant issues for well-being and productivity.

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    Showing 1-20 of 3896 results Turn job alert on Senior Technical Program Manager 3 days ago Atlanta, Georgia, United States Up to 100% work from home Microsoft is a company where passionate innovators come to collaborate, envision what can be and take their careers further.

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    We found that, on average, firm-wide remote work decreased the number of bridging ties by 0.09 FV ( P < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.06-0.13) and the share of time with bridging ties by 0.41 FV ( P < 0.001 ...

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    To understand and rethink accessibility in remote work, the present paper studies work-from-home practices of neurodivergent professionals who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Defcit Hyperactivity Disorder, learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) and psychosocial disabilities (e.g., anxiety, depression).

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    The Microsoft study says remote work has also changed the way employees communicate, causing them to rely more frequently than before on asynchronous communication, such as email and instant...

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    Transform your business using insights from everyday work in Office 365. When people use collaboration tools such as chat, email, and calendar, they generate digital footprints that are captured in the Microsoft Graph. Microsoft Workplace Analytics applies intelligence to the data behind the Microsoft Graph and turns those insights into action.

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    Explore Microsoft's world-class benefits designed to help you and your family live well.

  18. Search Jobs

    Research Intern - Security and Cryptography. 18 days ago. Redmond, Washington, United States. Up to 50% work from home. Research Internships at Microsoft provide a dynamic environment for research careers with a network of world-class research labs led by globally-recognized scientists and engineers, who pursue innovation in a range of ...

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  20. Microsoft: How COVID-19 remote working is impacting on innovation

    Before COVID-19, only 18% of US Microsoft employees worked remotely - and by April 1, 2020, all non-essential workers were working from home full-time. Now a study of tech usage of more than 61,000 Microsoft US employees, looking at the impact of this shift to company-wide remote work, suggests the working week has extended by around 10%.

  21. Microsoft Research Reveals the Biggest Downside to Remote Work (and

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    Because it sure looks like work from home is winning. "At Microsoft, a back-to-office 'normal' may not happen this year" was the headline this past week. This is a big tell, as Microsoft ...

  23. How to use Microsoft Copilot in your day-to-day work

    The next flavor of Copilot is for Microsoft 365. In other words, Copilot for what you might refer to as the Office apps (Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint plus Teams). In your app of choice, go to the Home ribbon and click the Copilot button. This is available on the desktop apps, as well as the browser-based apps.

  24. Return-to-office policies are getting stricter as work from home fades

    Zoom, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., is rolling out a new in-office work policy. Employees who live within 50 miles of an office are expected to work from that office twice a week. Justin ...

  25. Here's how we're working with journalists to create the newsrooms of

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  26. Remote Work Guide: How to Find Work-From-Home Jobs

    3. Research the roles you want to get. Since remote work is available across a wide range of fields, narrowing your job search to specific roles of interest can help you find the right job quicker than you might with a broad "remote work" search. Considering your goals and skills, consider the types of remote jobs you are interested in.

  27. Microsoft Edge mysteriously deleted shortcut and now won't let me add

    I use the shortcuts on the start page that appears when you open a new tab quite often. Seemingly randomly, one of the shortcuts disappeared and was replaced with a generic "Following" shortcut that

  28. Microsoft Edge will no longer automatically import data from other browsers

    The research paper highlights harmful design tactics employed by Microsoft, which contradict the company's own design guidelines and undermine competition from rival browsers.

  29. Google's Gemini is now in everything. Here's how you can try it out

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