Within a few days, the Covid-19 pandemic maintained each office's routine, sending most knowledge workers home to figure out how to get their work done from the couch (or garden shed). When the crisis started, no one knew how this huge disruption would change our working lives, but some hard data is beginning to seep in.
I have good news and bad news for you.
The Good News
I'll start with the good news. While Zoom fatigue is a real thing and no one claims that coronavirus has ushered in a meeting paradise, new research from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that the pandemic has significantly reduced the time we spend in meetings every day.
After analyzing data on the emails and meetings of more than three million workers worldwide before and after the crisis hit, researchers found that while the average number of meetings a day is up 1
Researchers may not be sure why meeting lengths have shrunk since the start of the pandemic, but they do suggest that it may be due to the need to squeeze them into other responsibilities such as childcare, the fact that external setups make long meetings boring to bear, or because organizations use frequent meetings to replace impromptu water cooler chats that previously occurred in the office.
"The shutdown introduced a number of new problems that required unplanned, emerging coordination, much of which could be addressed through impromptu collaboration if everyone was in the same office. With everyone working at home, however, short meetings could serve to quickly communicate new plans, part work done, increase accountability, calibrate priorities, provide social support and achieve other purposes that are often handled informally in office settings, "says the study.
The less good news
So go ahead and rejoice that the pandemic has reduced the meeting bloat a bit, but before you get too happy, I also have bad news to share. While our total time in meetings is down, our total working hours are up. Measured by the span between our first and last email a day, we work an additional 48.5 minutes a day since the virus arrived.
Is the insidious extension of working hours a good or bad thing? The authors are not sure.
"On the one hand, the flexibility to choose one's working hours to meet household demands can give workers strength by giving them some freedom over their own plan. On the other hand, the change in work plan may be a consequence of a blurred distinction between work and personal life, where it becomes easy to work overtime due to the lack of a clear demarcation between office and home, "they write.
Whether the flexibility to design your own working hours outweighs the stress of keeping your personal and professional lives separate , probably depends on the circumstances and preferences of the individual employee (although there is some evidence that younger workers are worse off in external settings).
But what is clear from these figures is how we organize work externally, is significantly different from how we organize work in the office, and we are just beginning to understand the consequences of the shift.
Have you found that remove work has changed how your team conducts meetings?