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Working Virtually Causes Greater Fatigue, but it Also Provides More Flexibility

July 24th, 2020

Feeling like video conferences are taking more out of you than in-person meetings? Turns out you’re right. According to a new set of studies released by Microsoft, virtual meetings cause more stress and fatigue than similar in-person meetings. Microsoft began their studies prior to Covid-19 as a way of analyzing the effects of their own video conferencing software (Microsoft Teams), but the results have become particularly relevant in the current working climate.

According to Microsoft’s research, the extra stress caused by video meetings comes from several different factors including having to focus continuously on a screen and reduced non-verbal cues that would usually help you ‘read the room’ in an in-person meeting. These stressors are specific to virtual meetings and would not otherwise be felt in in-person meetings. On days with back to back virtual meetings, stress and fatigue usually set in about 2 hours into the workday.

Thankfully, for those using Teams, Microsoft is nothing if not solution-oriented. To help combat the extra stress of meeting virtually on their platform, they have released a set of updates that helps users feel more like they are together in the same space.  The two main updates are ‘Together mode’ and ‘Dynamic view’. Together mode uses AI to place meeting participants within the same shared background while Dynamic view is meant to optimize shared content within the virtual meeting space. Also, for those not using Teams, Microsoft offers the general advice to take breaks every two hours and try to limit virtual meetings to about 30 minutes when possible.

Aside from the Microsoft specific efforts to combat virtual meeting fatigue, there are also other bright spots contained within the research for virtual workers overall. While several of Microsoft’s studies began prior to Covid-19, others were specifically designed to study what is happening to the workforce during the pandemic. What they found was that, while most people wanted to get back into the office eventually, people also expected their managers/company to allow them to more frequently work from home.

This same set of studies also found that people were able to have a more flexible workday working from home. Employees were able to work on projects when needed but were also able to take care of personal matters during times when they would normally be in the office. According to Microsoft, “…people are working more frequently in the morning and evening hours, but also on the weekends” suggesting that they are taking (at least part of) the middle of the day for non-work-related activities. With this newfound freedom in office hours, it appears that employees are still able to get required work completed on time but on a schedule that better fits their needs.

Overall, the results of Microsoft’s studies, both pre and during Covid-19, appear to point to the same conclusion: the nature of office work is in the middle of a metamorphosis that has now been accelerated by the pandemic. Over the last ten years, more and more companies have touted their flexible work from home policies as an extra perk, but post-pandemic it’s looking more likely that employees will expect most companies to have more accommodating work from home policies in general.

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