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Servicing the digital debt

Microsofts latest Work Trend Index survey says we’re drowning in emails and meetings. But fret not, the enabler is also the saviour

IF YOU OFTEN find yourself sitting at your desk at the end of the week wondering where all your time went, new data from Microsoft’s annual Work Trend Index might confirm something you already suspected: you’re spending way more time in meetings or writing emails than on your work.


“The heaviest email users (top 25 per cent) spend 8.8 hours a week on email, and the heaviest meeting users (top 25 per cent) spend 7.5 hours a week in meetings,” the report found, noting that the average included frontline workers, likely resulting in a bit of an undercounting.


“For knowledge workers, who rely even more on digital communication, the share of the week taken up by emails and meetings is even greater,” the report noted. Their data, pulled from millions of Microsoft Teams users, found that 57 per cent of the day was taken up by only three things: emails, Teams Chat or Teams meetings.


Microsoft believes their data should be cause for some alarm. “Nearly two in three leaders (60 per cent) are already feeling the effects, saying that a lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas on their teams is a concern,” they wrote. “There are only so many minutes in the day ― and every minute we spend managing this digital debt is a minute not spent on the creative work that leads to innovation.”


The data gives a bit of credence to something we’ve been hearing (and feeling) for a while ― our meeting and email culture is becoming suffocating and overwhelming. “People feel quite overwhelmed, a sense of feeling like they have two jobs, the job they were hired to do, but then they have this other job of communicating, coordinating and collaborating,” Microsoft’s Jared Spataro told the Wall Street Journal.


Is there a way out? For Microsoft ― owner of an enormous stake in OpenAI ― the answer is (surprise, surprise) AI, which it sees as a solution to mundane, productivity-killing administrative tasks. “People are more excited about AI rescuing them from burnout than they are worried about it eliminating their jobs,” said report author and organizational psychology professor Adam Grant.


Others, though, see a bit of irony in Microsoft being alarmed that people are spending too much time using their communication products ― like an arsonist worrying about your house suddenly being on fire, while selling you a bucket.


“Microsoft's assertion that work is broken is also a tacit admission that it's somewhat Microsoft's fault for providing so many communication tools that management really want to use,” said Richard Currie in The Register. “What is to be done? Well, it's 2023. In 2017 it was blockchain. In 2021 it was the metaverse. Now AI is the answer to all civilization's ills. Quite obviously, given where its allegiances currently lie, Microsoft also believes the wundertech is the solution.” Kieran Delamont


The gender gap has come for remote work

Research suggest that women prefer remote work at a higher rate to men ― but it hasnt done much to further equality in the workplace

IN THE EARLY days of the pandemic lockdown there was a noted interest in the way men and women were experiencing their work lives very differently.


It broke down in a lot of different ways: men were more eager to get back to the office in general, while women were generally juggling more of the childcare duties. “About 18 per cent of men said it has hindered their career development, compared to just 12 per cent of women,” a study in The Business Journal found earlier this year.


To make a sweeping generalization, women have taken to remote work. Recent polls tend to show that more women work remotely full-time than men do.


But some see women as being at a disadvantage in the new hybrid work world, too ― especially if they are full-time remote workers working alongside in-person colleagues. “There are pretty compelling reasons to be less optimistic about how women will fare in a fixed hybrid system, where they work remotely full-time while at least some of their colleagues are co-located,” wrote Martine Haas in the Harvard Business Review. “Hybrid work arrangements often create power differences between those who are in and out of the office.”


One way that women have been responding is through the creation of more robust professional networks. Many of them started as 2020-era digital networks that have persisted into 2023, reports the Financial Times. They point to The Stack World, a group for “women feeling neglected, stuck at home,” which has now grown to over 14,000 members. “Other female members’ clubs are experiencing a similar trend,” they wrote. “Remote work patterns that have come into force during the pandemic have encouraged women to network outside of the office, often as a way to increase their visibility.”


Those kinds of groups, Haas noted, are a great counterbalance. “[Women] should push themselves to step forward and take — for example, by asking for the resources they need, including mentoring, and increasing their efforts to be visible by finding ways to demonstrate commitment and opportunities to speak up and be heard,” she wrote.


“At the same time, it’s critical that the burden should not fall solely on the shoulders of those women,” she continued. “Their colleagues who work in the office also have a responsibility to step back and give — to offer resources to those working remotely, create opportunities for them to be visible and so on.” Kieran Delamont

Terry Talks: How positive psychology can help your career

The field of positive psychology and its close cousin, positive psychology coaching, has yielded a wealth of scientific data that can help people thrive in their careers.  Positive psychology coaching focuses on the use of strengths and positive emotion to increase engagement. Why? Because the research shows that when our happiness grows at work, we achieve more, not the other way around.



The rise of the workplace personality test

Long part of the recruitment process, employers are increasingly turning to personality tests to improve workplace culture

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AS WORKPLACES START to become more aware and adaptable to the wide variety of personalities and work styles in the office, learning how to identify and manage this kind of diversity becomes more and more important.


So, it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn many workplaces are now starting to explore the usefulness of personality assessments ― yup, those quizzes that slot you into some kind of personality category ― to understand their workers better.


Many are now working it into the onboarding process, reported Worklife. “In doing so, they hope to make it easier for new and existing hires to get a measure of how best to work with colleagues who have different personalities and ways of working,” wrote Cloey Callahan. “Some are incorporating them into the hiring process, while others are waiting until people have been at the company for 60 to 90 days.”


One of the most popular versions is the DiSC test, categorizing people by their traits in dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness.


Advocates say it lubricates all sorts of areas of friction within an organization. “Overall, personality assessments can help professionals to make more informed decisions about hiring, training and development, and can improve the overall performance and productivity of the organization,” said Nia D’Emilio, learning & events coordinator for Epicenter Innovation.


According to the Financial Times, around 10 to 15 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are now using some form of personality assessment. Experts in the recruiting field say personality assessments are best thought of as a tool to aid your people in making better decisions, rather than tests to make those decisions themselves.

James Reed, CEO of the recruiting firm Reed, told FT that “The most important thing for hirers is integrity. Is this individual honest and trustworthy? And none of these products will do that.” Kieran Delamont

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The future is the Metaverse. Ah, well, never mind

Billions of dollars and just three years later, the Internet’s Next Big Thing joins the tech graveyard

FOR ABOUT 12 months there, it was impossible for work trend newsletter writers to avoid the Metaverse. It was everywhere. Meetings in the Metaverse. Real estate in the Metaverse. Comedy clubs in the Metaverse. Snoop Dog in the Metaverse.


And then, just as fast as tech capital had chased the concept Metaverse into relevance, it was gone ― killed by the newer, trendier thing: ChatGPT.


“The Metaverse, the once-buzzy technology that promised to allow users to hang out awkwardly in a disorientating video-game-like world, has died after being abandoned by the business world. It was three years old,” declared PR firm owner Ed Zitron in Business Insider recently.

Facebook has reportedly stopped pitching people on the Metaverse concept entirely, having lost somewhere in the ballpark of $13 billion on the project last year.


“​​Zuckerberg misled everyone, burned tens of billions of dollars, convinced an industry of followers to submit to his quixotic obsession, and then killed it the second that another idea started to interest Wall Street,” Zitron wrote.


Some are dancing on the grave of Zuck’s awkward avatar. “I'll take all the bad things the rise of generative AI can throw at me so long as I can pull something positive out of it. And in this case it's the potential end of having to never refer to Zuckerberg's goddam metaverse ever again,” wrote PC World’s Dave James. “Praise be to our new AI overlords. Take my job, I don't care anymore.”


If it reveals anything, it’s that the tech and work productivity worlds are getting desperate for a true technological breakthrough. Crypto, NFTs, the Metaverse and even AI tools have all been heralded at one point or another as the technology to carry the workforce across the threshold to new, previously untold triumphs in productivity and profitability ― promises that have largely failed to materialize.


The lesson, should anyone be interested in learning one, might well be that no one thing will upend the work world, no matter how many times it promises to do so ― that there are no silver bullets to kickstart a new economic paradigm. Kieran Delamont


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