Owing to the COVID-19 social distancing norms, most of the employees are working remotely. Apart from looking for new employee engagement strategies, employers are also working on taking adequate measures to boost employee health and wellness at such uncertain times.
A recent study by the Harvard Business School and National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) revealed that the remote working situation due to the COVID-19 increased the number of virtual corporate meetings and also has more participants.
This research provided reports for the large scale interpretation of how the patterns of digital communication have changed during the pandemic.
The study was conducted based on data collected from more than 3 million people from more than 20,000 companies from across the United States, Europe, and Israel. The analysts studied how the employees responded and adapted to the remote working situation and the lockdown, in general. As per the report, almost 95% of Americans were seeking shelter-in-place in early April 2020 due to COVID-19.
The research studied and tracked data related to workplace practices, employee engagement strategies, remote communication data like emails and meetings, and more – before, during, and after the lockdown period.
The study showed that the duration of these meetings was reduced by almost 20%. On the other hand, employees are working overtime, and on average, they are working 48 minutes extra per workday to keep up with the work demands and respond to remote communications. Also, in the first few weeks, after the lockdown was announced, there was a rush of work-related emails, which reduced subsequently over the weeks.
Virtual Workplace Meetings
According to the study, the number of virtual workplace meetings increased drastically during the onset of the COVID-19 enforced mandatory lockdown period. Also, the number of employees participating in these meetings went up. On average, the total number of virtual meetings per day rose by almost 12.9%, and the number of meeting participants increased by 13.5%.
The report says that post-lockdown, companies held frequent shorter meetings, where they reduced the amount of time spent on the meetings. The duration dropped by almost 20% as employers wanted to reduce the time spent by employees in the meetings. On average, there was a reduction in the meeting duration by more than 18 minutes per participant per day.
Meetings have become important during the lockdown and remote working period. Even the simple issues and challenges which could be easily resolved with normal interaction at the workplace also need a virtual meeting to be set up now. Additionally, other concerns like communicating workflow, making new plans or decisions, updating progress, and achieving goals – all require online meetings to interact and communicate with the working team.
The researchers analyzed this reduction in the duration as a decision by the employers to keep the employees engaged better with shorter meetings than in longer ones. They cited the pressures faced by the employees while working remotely with children and family around as the key reason for this change. Also, employees can spend the extra time completing their tasks on time rather than spending it on long virtual meetings. Furthermore, shorter meetings held more frequently helped with better employee engagement and communication.
Increased Digital Communication = Increased Working Hours
If shorter meeting times were a relatively positive finding of the report, there was a downside found from these studies too. The longer communicating times due to the remote working situation reflected in longer working hours every day.
Apart from the frequent virtual meetings, there was a huge rise in the number of emails in the first few weeks of the lockdown, which reduced overtime. Although the email volume decreased, the number of recipients per email was higher than normal.
The report says that the changes in the working habits translated into longer working hours every day. On average, the working hours were extended by almost 48.5 minutes every workday for each employee.
In addition to the many emails and frequent meetings, the communication went beyond the normal working hours, which resulted in longer working days. While there were suggestions that the long working hours could be attributed to the employees juggling with their work and personal obligations at home, which makes it flexible for them to cater to their household needs in between work, it also meant that there was no clear distinction of work and personal life boundaries.
Owing to the uncertain changes brought around by COVID-19, it was not clear as to how employees and employers would adapt to the changing work environment. Right from the remote working conditions to restrictions on social interactions, the communication patterns changed in the personal lives and work habits. Although it was stressful for the employees at the start, with time, everyone seems to have adapted themselves well to the changes.