Beat WFH blues with virtual commutes, augmented reality and meditation

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on October 07, 2020

Microsoft takes action after its work trends report point to increased burnout

Why is Microsoft offering virtual commutes to its employees? Why is it putting meditation inside the work flow in its video conferencing app? Why is it offering augmented reality simulations in its meeting rooms and AI chatbot prompts that tell employees to finish their task and log out, or reschedule meetings?

It’s all to do with the findings from the Work Trends studies that the Seattle-based tech giant has been engaged in, analysing data of not just how its own employees are using Teams (the popular communication platform) but also how staff from other companies as well as educational institutions are doing so.

By sifting through data of how many hours of meetings employees are putting in, at what all hours of the day or night, and even brainwave mapping, it has come up with a set of perturbing revelations on our state of mental well-being.

The third phase of Microsoft’s Work Trends research covered over 6,000 IT workers in eight countries including India, Australia and Japan and has just been released.


According to Samik Roy, Country Head, Modern Workplace at Microsoft, the five major revelations are :

* First, burnout has increased, in some countries less, in some countries more. India is in the “more” set.

* Second, the causes of stress at work are different for first line workers and remote workers. For the former it may be fear of getting Covid-19, while for the latter it was the feeling of being disconnected and lack of separation between work and life.

* The third aspect, says Roy, is that as the number of communications increased, the boundaries have fallen between peer and subordinates and between work and life, leading to increased anxiety.

* The fourth finding was that “no commute” which was initially thought to be a productivity gain, seemed to be hurting organisations in a negative manner.

* The fifth and last revelation was that meditation could help fight burnout and stress of the workday.


Emotional exhaust

To address all these issues, Microsoft has been working on a set of technological solutions and starting October we could see some of these. Take the virtual commute. This is a little task bar that pops up on your screen and telling you to close all your activities, spend a few minutes reflecting on the day, and with a End Day icon.

Roy points out that a virtual commute will help employees wind up and wind down from their remote work day and create mental bookends. As Shamsi Iqbal, principal research at Microsoft Research, notes in the report, “Commutes provide blocks of uninterrupted time for mentally transitioning to and from work, an important aspect of well-being and productivity. People will say, ‘I’m happy I don’t have to commute anymore. I’m saving time.’ But without a routine for ramping up for work and then winding down, we’re emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.”

To address the burnout issue, Microsoft is partnering with well-being app Headspace to bring a curated set of mindfulness experiences in the flow of work inside Teams.

Roy also said that a lot of changes we are seeing in Teams have been based on findings from some of the earlier Work Trends research. For instance, understanding that people are not happy watching people in boxes on the screen, Teams began using augmented reality to introduce the auditorium layout where you find yourself seated in a row with colleagues watching the person speaking. There are also breakout rooms available for people to move into. More filters and custom layouts will be introduced in the days to come.

As per the work Trend report, in India, close to one-third of remote and firstline workers said the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout at work. India had the largest cohort of workers (over 41 per cent) who said the lack of separation between work and personal life was impacting their well-being, and resulting in increased stress. Ninety two per cent Indian workers feel that meditation could help decrease their work-related stress.

Published on October 07, 2020

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