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New tools help companies pinpoint — and fix — the unexpected things that make remote work so draining

When Jia Xiang Koh started working at home during the pandemic, he found himself working seemingly endless days and weekends. From his dining room table, he responded to emails regardless of whether it was Tuesday morning or Sunday night. His days overflowed with back-to-back meetings, with work and home hours blurring together.

But 11 months into the pandemic, Koh has improved his work-life balance with a few simple steps — all part of recommendations that his employer, LinkedIn, developed from a study mapping employee work habits with how they’re feeling.

A man smiles while working on his laptop
Jia Xiang Koh working at home (photo courtesy of Koh)

“I became happier because I put a lot more boundaries in place and became more deliberate in blocking out focus time,” says Koh, who loves his job and wants to prevent burnout in the ongoing challenges of remote and hybrid work.

Like many organizations, LinkedIn has adjusted to a remote environment, but its executives wanted to check in with how employees were doing and how they could help them adapt. So the global social networking company, acquired by Microsoft in 2016, turned to analytics tools in Microsoft Viva. The new employee experience platform combines knowledge, learning, communications and insights to help people and organizations thrive.

Microsoft Viva Insights gives employers visibility into work patterns like how many meetings employees are having, how long their workdays are and how many instant messages they’re sending after hours. All data is aggregated and de-identified by default to protect individual privacy. Companies can combine those insights with survey data collected with Glint, a LinkedIn platform that helps organizations understand how their people are feeling and improve employee engagement.

“Merging those datasets unleashed some very unique insights about how people are doing, how they’ve been impacted and then actual, tangible behavioral solutions on how to improve their day-to-day work life,” says Rena Yi, LinkedIn senior manager of People Analytics, a human resources division that helps managers make talent decisions with data science.

The three-month study of nearly 500 LinkedIn employees in the U.S. was transparent and optional. Yi’s team found that the transition to remote work correlated with more meetings and longer workdays, including an increase of more than 50% in after-hours meetings and an approximate 40% rise in after-hours instant messages. It also found that happier employees generally had fewer meetings, less after-hours work and more blocks of uninterrupted “focus hours.”

The data is helping LinkedIn understand employees through four “personas”— engaged, balanced, detached and overworked — and connect patterns. For example, engaged and overworked personas had similar work behaviors with little focus time and plenty of after-hours work. Yi’s team is looking at how these personas are shifting over time.

“I think we’re all feeling it, many months into this pandemic, that it is very hard to sustain heavy workloads,” says Yi. “So it’s important for us to think about solutions that can help everyone’s wellbeing.”

Her team is now looking at how to infuse the workday with more silence, or time to focus or recharge, and guide individuals to create and honor their ideal “work rhythm” while respecting the rhythms of others.

Wellbeing is the foundation to everything else.

For Yi, work rhythm means blocking time to spend afternoons with her kids and finishing work at night.

For Koh, respecting rhythm means sending emails that say, “There’s no rush to respond” or “This is not urgent,” when he’s not pressed for time, instead of letting the recipient scramble and guess his intent.

“I’ve changed in terms of being more thoughtful about other people’s work boundaries,” says Koh, a People Analytics manager in Singapore who was already mindful of time zone differences with his U.S.-based teammates.

“We try not to reach out to others after hours, and we make it known that they don’t have to respond right away,” he says. “It makes everything seem much more manageable.”

For his own wellbeing, he’s now more thoughtful about how many meetings he joins and lists his work hours in an outgoing status message, so people know when to expect a response.

The study is part of LinkedIn’s ingrained culture of wellbeing, which includes company-wide “no meeting days,” mental health days and two week-long shutdowns a year. Employees can also take time off at their discretion, but a designated day or week for time off is a powerful way to support wellbeing and the importance of disconnecting from work, says David White, LinkedIn vice president of People Analytics.

A man works on his phone and laptop at home
David White at work in his living room

“Wellbeing is the foundation to everything else,” White says. “Talent is our most important resource, and we have the data to help people be everything they can at work from a wellbeing and engagement perspective.”

Data can also help guide the culture. Early research is showing that employees who have the freedom to define their work hours, take breaks and schedule focus time can have a greater sense of wellbeing.

To check on employee wellbeing, LinkedIn does ongoing surveys with Glint, a platform it acquired in 2018. Each survey asks, “How happy are you working at LinkedIn?” as one of several questions.

“I love that question,” White says. “When you overlay it with Viva Insights, I can say, ‘What is happening with these individuals? What’s happening with this group, these personas?’ I can take action to help these groups in ways I couldn’t do before.”

The team is now working on a plan to expand its study to all 16,000 of its global employees. Their goal is to continue improving employee wellbeing, regardless of whether work is remote, hybrid or in-person. And with LinkedIn’s mission to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce, White is eager to share learnings with other organizations.

“The advice I have for companies is to get the insights you need to understand how your employees are doing,” he says. “Start to understand the why. Why are they feeling what they’re feeling? Get the datasets to best inform what you can do to support your employees’ wellbeing.”

The companies that understand and invest in their people’s happiness, White says, are the ones that will thrive.

Go to Microsoft Viva Insights to learn more.

Lead image: Rena Yi , with her son, working at home