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When everyone works remotely, communication and collaboration suffer – study

Working from home causes workers to become more siloed in how they communicate, engage in fewer real-time conversations, and spend fewer hours in meetings.

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As companies debate the impact of large-scale remote work, a new study of over 61,000 Microsoft employees found that working from home causes workers to become more siloed in how they communicate, engage in fewer real-time conversations, and spend fewer hours in meetings.

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour and co-authored by Berkeley Haas Asst. Prof. David Holtz, made use of data from before and after Microsoft imposed a company-wide work-from-home mandate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings suggest that a full-time remote workforce may have a harder time acquiring and sharing new information—which could have implications for productivity and innovation among information workers down the road.

“Measuring the causal effects of remote work has historically been difficult, because only certain types of workers were allowed to work away from the office. That changed during the pandemic, when almost everyone who could work from home was required to do so,” said Holtz, who conducted the research as an MIT Sloan doctoral intern at Microsoft, and co-wrote the paper with Microsoft colleagues Longqi Yang, Sonia Jaffe, Siddharth Suri, and seven others. “The work-from-home mandate created a unique opportunity to identify the effects of company-wide remote work on how information workers communicate and collaborate.” 

The analysis was based on anonymized data describing the emails, instant messages, calls, meetings, and working hours—all stripped of their content and identifying information—of the overwhelming majority of Microsoft’s U.S. employees. 

Holtz, a faculty affiliate at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and research affiliate at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, said that while the pandemic offered a rare opportunity to study the impact of firm-wide remote work, significant effort was required to understand the extent to which changes in behavior were caused by remote work in particular rather than the upheaval of the pandemic itself. After all, workers suddenly found themselves navigating shelter-in-place orders and supply shortages, caring for children home from school or vulnerable relatives, and coping with general stress and anxiety.

Microsoft, where 18% of employees were working remotely before the company issued its work-from-home mandate, offered the opportunity for comparison. The authors separated out the effects of remote work from other effects of the pandemic by using a statistical technique to compare those Microsoft employees who were already working from home with those who abruptly shifted online during the pandemic.

The researchers had access to anonymized data on employees’ roles, managerial status, business group, length of tenure at the company, and what share of their co-workers were remote prior to the pandemic; they matched groups of workers with similar observable characteristics. They also used aggregated weekly summaries of the amount of time workers spent in scheduled and unscheduled meetings and calls, the number of emails and instant messages they sent, and the length of their workweeks, as well as monthly summaries of workers’ collaboration networks.

Among their key findings:  

  • Company-wide remote work caused workers’ collaboration networks to become less interconnected and more siloed. They communicated less frequently with people in other formal and informal business groups.
  • Remote work caused workers to spend about 25% less of their time collaborating with colleagues across groups, compared to pre-pandemic levels. Remote work also caused workers to add new collaborators more slowly.
  • Conversely, remote work led workers to communicate more frequently with people in their inner network, and to build more connections within that inner network.
  • Remote work caused workers to spend more time using asynchronous forms of communication, such as email and message platforms, and less time having synchronous conversations in person, by phone, or by video conference.
  • Remote work also caused the number of hours people spent in meetings to decrease by about 5%, suggesting that the increase in meetings many experienced during the pandemic was not due to remote work, but due to other pandemic-related factors.  

Holtz said that the team was also able to separate the effects of company-wide remote work into two separate components: how your own collaboration patterns are affected when you work remotely, and how your collaboration patterns are affected when your collaborators are working remotely. They concluded that both are important.

“The fact that your colleagues’ remote work status affects your own work habits has major implications for companies that are considering hybrid or mixed-mode work policies,” he said. For example, having one’s teammates and collaborators in the office at the same time improves communication and information flow for both those in and out of the office. “It’s important to be thoughtful about how these policies are implemented.”

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LinkedIn lists top startups in PH, highlights rise of digital entrepreneurship, entertainment, education

The Philippines has always had a strong MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprises) sector. The pandemic further propelled its growth as Filipinos embarked on micro or solo entrepreneurship to augment their income and overcome financial challenges.

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LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, revealed its inaugural Top Startups in the Philippines list, which highlights the local startups that have shown resilience in an uncertain market environment and are continuing to innovate in 2022.  

LinkedIn analyzed data across four pillars to compile the list: employee growth, jobseeker interest, the attraction of top talent, and engagement with the company’s LinkedIn page and its employees. This is the first time LinkedIn has introduced the Top Startups list in the Philippines.

Satoshi Ebitani, Senior Managing Editor, LinkedIn News, said: “In an uncertain financial climate, what has proven resilient time and time again is the enterprising spirit that startups embody, especially those on this year’s LinkedIn Top Startups list. In the Philippines, we see a diverse mix in sectors such as e-commerce, education, and entertainment, which continue to lead the way in the future of skills by embracing innovation and attracting top talent with their robust cultures. Through this list, we hope to spark meaningful conversations surrounding the future of work and inspire professionals to equip themselves with the necessary skills to thrive, no matter the headwinds.”

New era of entrepreneurship

The Philippines has always had a strong MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprises) sector. The pandemic further propelled its growth as Filipinos embarked on micro or solo entrepreneurship to augment their income and overcome financial challenges. This new class of entrepreneurs behind startups such as SariSuki (#2), Shoppertainment Live (#3), Edamama (#5), Growsari (#6), Peddlr (#9), and Prosperna (#10) met opportunities to respond to the demands of the times.

Entertainment, E-sports, and Education companies are thriving 

The success of the live-streaming platform Kumu (#4), led by local creatives and talent, highlights the country’s growing demand for innovative and interactive digital entertainment that champions Filipino voices and perspectives. Meanwhile, gaming and e-sports company Tier One Entertainment (#1) shows the unique potential of this lucrative industry by investing in talent and technology.

“Investing in automation, the right people, and experienced leadership who are open to feedback and the ever-changing status quo of our industry was key for surviving and growing during the pandemic. Pivoting quickly through setbacks is vital to survival in these times,” Tryke Gutierrez, Co-Founder and CEO of Tier One Entertainment, said. “LinkedIn has helped us tell our story to the world. We’re able to share more long-form content that isn’t as readily digestible on other social media platforms to an audience that is more open to serious or nuanced discussion,” he added.

Education technology (Edtech) platform Edukasyon.ph (#8) saw an opportunity to be of service in response to the disruption in the education sector and emerging concerns about the future readiness of today’s youth.

Growth areas in digital finance

As digital finance becomes more mainstream in the Philippines, the rise of  PDAX (Philippine Digital Asset Exchange) (#7), a homegrown cryptocurrency exchange, indicates the Filipinos’ growing interest in exploring new frontiers in personal finance and investments to diversify and optimize their portfolios, navigate the current economic climate, and benefit from future growth potential.     

The top 10 startups in the Philippines are:

  1. Tier One Entertainment
  2. SariSuki
  3. Shoppertainment Live
  4. Kumu
  5. Edamama
  6. GrowSari
  7. PDAX (Philippine Digital Asset Exchange)
  8. Edukasyon.ph
  9. Peddlr
  10. Prosperna

More details on the LinkedIn Top Startups list in the Philippines are found here.

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Cash may not be most effective way to motivate employees

84 per cent spent more than $90 billion annually on tangible employee rewards, such as gift cards, recreation trips and merchandise in hopes of increasing productivity. 

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Photo by Andre Taissin from Unsplash.com

Tangible rewards motivate employees when they’re easy to use, pleasurable, unexpected, and distinct from salary, a new study found. 

A recent survey of firms in the US revealed that 84 per cent spent more than $90 billion annually on tangible employee rewards, such as gift cards, recreation trips and merchandise in hopes of increasing productivity. 

“We found that there is, at best, mixed evidence regarding the motivational efficacy of tangible rewards versus cash rewards,” said Adam Presslee, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance. “It is somewhat puzzling why so many companies go to the trouble of tangible rewards when cash rewards also lead to motivational differences.”

Presslee and his co-author, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Willie Choi, used four experiments to investigate the factors driving the preference between cash and tangible rewards. The attributes examined include ease of use of the reward (fungibility), hedonic nature of the reward (want vs. need), the novelty of the reward, and how the reward is presented. 

“Rewards are constellations of attributes, and firms should focus more on the motivational effects of the attributes associated with a reward rather than the reward type itself,” Presslee said. “Results confirmed that each of these attributes – individually and in combination – increases employee effort and performance.”

The researchers recommend managers interested in motivating employees using tangible rewards would be best served to offer tangible rewards that incorporate these four attributes.

“If for whatever reason tangible rewards are the only tool available, our results show compelling evidence that employees are motivated by rewards that are perceived as distinct from salary,” Presslee said. “Therefore, firms looking to get the most out of their reward programs should emphasize the distinctiveness of those rewards, and the attributes above are four ways firms can do that.”

The study, authored by Presslee and Choi, was recently published in the journal Accounting, Organizations, and Society.

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Engaging leadership style may boost employee engagement

Supervisors perceived as engaged leaders in the initial survey did indeed enhance employee engagement as captured in the second survey. This impact appeared to occur via a boost in employees’ personal psychological resources of optimism, resiliency, self-efficacy, and flexibility—these results are in line with evidence from previous studies.

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Photo by UX Indonesia from Unsplash.com

A new analysis suggests that a particular leadership style dubbed “engaging leadership” can boost employees’ engagement and enhance team effectiveness within the workplace. Greta Mazzetti of the University of Bologna, Italy, and Wilmar Schaufeli of Utrecht University in the Netherlands present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

An employee who is engaged typically has a positive state of mind relating to their work and shows vigor, dedication, and absorption in their work. Previous research suggests that more engaged employees tend to have greater well-being and better job performance.

Previous research also suggests that a certain style of leadership known as engaging leadership—involving leaders who fulfill employees’ need for autonomy, feeling competent, and feeling cared for—may boost employee engagement. However, most studies of workplace leadership styles have focused on a single point in time, without analyzing potential effects over time.

To provide new insights, Mazzetti and Schaufeli explored the impact of an engaged leadership style on work engagement and team effectiveness of 1,048 employees across 90 teams within a Dutch workplace. Participants each took two surveys, one year apart, which included questions about their supervisors’ level of engaging leadership, their own work engagement, and other personal and team characteristics.

Statistical analysis of the responses suggests that supervisors perceived as engaged leaders in the initial survey did indeed enhance employee engagement as captured in the second survey. This impact appeared to occur via a boost in employees’ personal psychological resources of optimism, resiliency, self-efficacy, and flexibility—these results are in line with evidence from previous studies.

Similarly, engaged leaders appeared to enhance team effectiveness by boosting team resources, which consisted of performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making. Team resources also appeared to affect individual employee engagement.

These findings support the use of engaging leadership to boost employee engagement and team effectiveness in the workplace. Future research could compare the effects of engaging leadership versus other leadership styles on employees and teams over time.

The authors add: “A leader who inspires, strengthens and connects team members fosters a shared perception of available resources (in terms of performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making), and a greater psychological capital (i.e., self-efficacy, optimism, resilience, and flexibility).”

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