Editor’s Note: COVID-19 has impacted people around the world, challenging us to adapt to travel restrictions, school closures, and the removal of barriers between work and life—all at once. So, what does a cross-functional team of engineers, data scientists, analysts, and marketers that lives in the space between workplace culture and data do when presented with the world’s largest work-from-home shift? It, well, does its homework. In this blog series, we’ll share real-time learnings as we measure the impact of this unprecedented shift on how one group of employees works, connects, and balances our lives. We hope these insights will teach us something about how work is changing and help us all get through this, together.
Chances are high you’ve heard the phrase “Business Continuity” over the last several weeks as all of us have tried to manage our personal and professional lives through the impacts of stay-at-home orders, remote working, closed businesses, and more. Many of us might have traditionally associated business continuity with planning against threats such as data loss, cyberattacks, or natural disasters—all things that can impact the physical and technical infrastructure of a business. In fact, a study on the IT impacts of the recent remote-work shift, found that 78 percent of companies had invoked such business continuity measures.
If you’ve been following along in our previous blog posts, you have learned how our Modern Workplace Transformation team at Microsoft is analyzing data from collaboration tools to better understand how well we, as a 300-person team, are maintaining our business continuity. And what you’ve likely noticed is that we’re looking at continuity through the lens of human infrastructure, not physical infrastructure. Our ability to measure the changes in how people are working has revealed:
Senior managers are re-focusing inward to clear space for new priorities and workdays that look significantly different; carving out time to stay connected with employees; and collaborating an additional 8+ hours more per week than they had before the remote-work shift. Not surprisingly, managers have less time now to focus on external customers.
The dip in collaboration we used to see midday—when people would press pause on work to grab lunch and reset—has disappeared, and employees are “on” an average of 4 more hours a week.
In our group, 9 in 10 employees have been able to maintain a meaningful level of connection with their team.
While regular manager check-ins increased to tackle blockers, set expectations, and ensure the well-being of their direct reports and teams, 1 in 4 employees are still not having regular check-ins with their manager. This data point, and the possible negative impacts, have prompted us to dive deeper and we plan to explore the topic in an upcoming post.
Protecting the human infrastructure—our people—is critical in any disruption we are likely to encounter as an organization. For this reason, understanding how our workforce is adapting to this change is the single most important aspect of maintaining business continuity. In a long-term study of 2,000 organizations, McKinsey analyzed 5 million data points around how work gets done to find that companies with the highest organizational health scores had up to three times the returns of those with the lowest scores. In other words, the way people work is a key driver of overall success.
But you can’t maintain what you don’t measure. And at the same time, data is most powerful when it drives action. Our team realized that if we failed to act on the insights around how people are working within this major shift, we could end up in a position that would be hard to recover from—facing disengagement, attrition, loss of productivity, or negative customer satisfaction.
The learnings we have generated from analysis have been insightful, a kind of health check for our ecosystem. But we needed to make them visible to our business leaders so they weren’t caught by surprise, and more importantly, so they could respond quickly and even act proactively. At the same time, we heard a call for help from customers across many industries and geographies who needed a framework to evaluate the continuity of their own human infrastructures in ways they previously couldn’t. They were looking for a way to take the pulse of their organization, so they could find and focus on what matters most and quickly adapt as the situation evolved.
Using what we’ve learned from customers and our own experiences and measurements of remote work at Microsoft, we devised a framework to guide leaders to the most critical insights that would enable them to rapidly respond with actions to maintain business continuity. This framework, which we’ve also translated into the creation of a dashboard, is based on the following four principles to guide leaders:
Mindshare is limited, especially in the current state of work, so we needed to shine a spotlight on the most relevant insights. Using inputs from our team, customers, and past learnings, we zeroed in on aspects of collaboration to answer the following questions:
From our experience with behavioral data, we know people’s responses to things like work and environmental changes can vary widely, and there isn’t always an answer of what “good” looks like. That means looking only at averages and medians can obscure a lot of interesting findings and insights. In fact, sometimes the most actionable insights are around the groups experiencing the most extreme disruption, or around the bright spots—things working well that can be replicated. The dashboard empowers leaders to not only see broad patterns across an organization but to zoom in on outlying groups that need attention or can reveal solutions.
The picture of how we work today is quite different than just weeks ago and continues to change each week. This continuingly evolving landscape makes it critical to monitor trends over time and compare them against a baseline time period. Near-real-time data ensures the ability to respond to problems quickly to keep the organization on track.
This is, in part, carried out by the combination of the principles above, but also by bringing data together that is complementary and contextualizing it with organizational attributes, research, and previous learnings. Data presented in this storytelling form helps leaders connect the data with what matters most and make quick and meaningful decisions.
Based on this set of principles, we stood up our Business Continuity dashboard for our 300-person team a few weeks ago and are monitoring the metrics that reveal what’s happening inside our own organization as time goes on so that we can react accordingly. We’ve also helped some of our customers do the same, which has enabled them to examine their organizations in ways they weren’t able to before. We are interested to see what more we can learn from ourselves, and to see how our customers are leveraging the tool to respond and adapt quickly, such as one customer who shared:
The Business Continuity dashboard allowed us to examine the effect of closing our offices on [organizational] working patterns, in a flexible and simple manner. The hourly analysis of collaboration by medium was particularly useful.
We also know there is another shift coming in the future when some of us start to move back to the office. When that happens, we anticipate the ability to quickly get a pulse on what is changing, and what isn’t, will be just as useful to continue ensuring the continuity of our organization’s human infrastructure.
Methodology: To help us chronicle the journey of our 300-person organization, we draw on data from Workplace Analytics to help quantify the impact on collaboration, networks and focus, explore the lived experiences of our teammates through surveys and interviews, and tap into the knowledge of experts where it helps our understanding.
This article is written by Erik Anderson and originally appeared on April 29, 2020 in Microsoft Workplace Insights.
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