67. Does virtual work, work? A summary of the latest research.
Research takes time, so it's been challenging to find solid evidence dissecting whether a sudden switch to virtual work will be beneficial or detrimental. In one of the most prominent academic journals in the world, Nature, employees at Microsoft teamed up with academics to publish a study that attempts to answer this question. They analyzed digital exhaust data from over 61,000 employees using their own workplace analytics software (this product is part of Microsoft Teams). The findings were fascinating. The biggest issue, by far, is that employees begin to work in “silos.” Meaning, they are less likely to work with employees outside of their primary work unit. The challenge here is that this limits what’s called “knowledge transfer,” which is an important precursor to organizational innovation. Should organizational leaders pull a Marrisa Mayer (former Yahoo CEO) and bring everyone back to the office? Not exactly. Just like anything else in business, there are trade-offs. Employees want flexibility. The more restrictive the in-office mandate, the less likely it will attract top talent. Additionally, employees are more individually productive when working remotely. It’s tough to compare organizational-level outcomes (e.g., knowledge transfer) to an aggregation of individual-level outcomes (e.g., employee attraction and retention, well-being, productivity). Strategic human capital experts…it’s time to get to work!