Social distancing has given a boost to digital tools aimed at remote working, and this movement allowed new behavioral data to be analyzed. Microsoft, for example, saw the usage of videoconferencing on its Teams platform grow by 1,000% in just one month. In Mexico and Chile, over 40% of the time spent on calls are on video. There was also a spike in productivity and extended working hours – Team’s chat feature is being used three times more frequently on weekends. But it was not just that. Empathy and gratitude among coworkers have also grown. LABS talked to Loredane Feltrin, director of Modern Workplace at Microsoft Latin America, on topics about the new scenario and trends that the company sees for the world of work in the post-pandemic.
LABS – What did Microsoft realize early in the pandemic, based on the usage of remote work tools?
Feltrin – In one way or another, Covid ended up democratizing technology. Suddenly, everyone had to work remotely. We had corporate clients coming to Microsoft and asking, “What do I do with my office space? Should I close it?” Within two months, we saw two years of digital transformation taking place. Those who were reticent about digitization saw that there was no other way to go.
LABS –Have companies adapted after the sudden digital migration?
Feltrin – People are getting used to it. For example, in a survey we made, 70% of respondents said they expect to keep working remotely, even if partially, after the pandemic. Among managers, 82% enjoy having more flexibility. Some things after the pandemic will change, but in other aspects there is no doubt that we have evolved to a more digital world.
LABS – A recent study by Microsoft showed that Mexicans found it more difficult than Europeans, for example, to arrange home office and domestic activities. What other observations can be made in the region?
Feltrin – The fact that everything switched online made people turn on the video more often. In Mexico, 41% of the time spent on calls people use video; in Chile, 52% – lower rates than in Norway and the Netherlands, for example, where it reaches 60%.
LABS – Maybe people turn on the video as a way to reduce isolation feelings?
Feltrin – Video is an important way to connect people, so that they can see the reaction of others. Part of Microsoft’s job is to make this relationship lighter. There is a very high level of stress associated with working online. It demands fixed attention on the screen, understanding data that is being shared and it makes it difficult to observe everyone’s reaction, especially in bigger meetings. The level of tiredness of online work using video is very high.
LABS – Based on that, did Microsoft make any adjustments?
Feltrin – We introduced several product features. One of them is Teams “Together Mode”, which distributes meeting participants around a virtual table or in school desks. We have done brainwave research and this feature significantly lowered stress levels. People feel more connected. It’s not just video conferencing, but how to make the experience as human and natural as possible for users who are 100% of the time looking at a screen.
LABS – Is infrastructure still a barrier to using tools like video in the region?
Feltrin – It is something that can be inferred and that makes sense, but there are cultural aspects that influence it too. In France, for example, 37% of meetings use video. In Singapore, with a very strong infrastructure, only 26%. Cultural aspect will always be relevant in how much people want to expose themselves, and infrastructure is also an issue, but we don’t have data on it. Also, only 5% of users, globally, live alone, that is, the vast majority has to share broadband connections.
LABS – What trends do you see for the post-pandemic workplace?
Feltrin – What we see in surveys is that there is a desire for personal encounters, even with the possibility of continuing to work from home. Balancing personal life and work has never been easy, in the pandemic it got more difficult. People suffer interruptions, in addition, home broadband fails, the environment is not always the most appropriate, an ergonomic chair is lacking, another monitor could be welcome and so on. There are companies that help employees improve the experience in their own home offices, and many people want more time to concentrate.
LABS – Have corporate clients asked Microsoft for help with the purpose of improving home office experiences?
Feltrin – Yes, many of them. Imagine a company that had a 100% physical workplace migrating online. It was very interesting to observe, for example, government cases. We helped some public administrations in the region to work remotely, with a quick transition. We came up with guidelines for governments and citizens on how to act in this new scenario, including step by step manuals and best practices.
LABS – Has the workload changed?
Feltrin – Yes, we’ve seen in surveys that people are working at least an extra hour a day, on average. Usage of digital tools intensifies at the beginning and end of working hours. At the beginning of the day, the volume of work increased by 15%, and at the end of the day, by 25%. The Teams web chat saw a 200% increase on weekends.
LABS – What are the main concerns of companies?
Feltrin – There are clients who are concerned with whether the employee is actually working. We explain that we measure productivity by results. They are also very concerned with security, to protect data and information. Microsoft is the largest security company in the world, and we take these issues very seriously. We created more protocols and became even more careful on the Teams platform. Another request is data analysis, to learn about the participation of employees, for example. Here we are careful with privacy. Individually, people have access to their own data, meeting schedules, quiet periods, but these are not shared with leaders, for instance.
LABS – What about users themselves?
Feltrin – Empathy among colleagues has increased. Everyone saw what real life is really like. A mother with a baby on her lap, a father with his child pulling him, a dog jumping in the middle of the video call. Perhaps, in the past, these things were seen as disturbances, now understanding has increased. Not only empathy, but also gratitude. I speak this out of personal feeling. People say “Wow, thank you, because we know how chaotic it must be, caring for a sick father or young kids. Still, you are doing this here with us”.
LABS – Are there particularities from one market to another in Latin America?
Feltrin – In Mexico, feelings of empathy in video conferences are expressed by 65% of people. But differences are more related to different industries than to specific countries. Some sectors are more conservative, others are more regulated, and there are the super advanced ones. In medicine, for example, many clients have asked us to help with virtual appointments. The new scenario demanded this. It was a segment that had not advanced much in the past digitally, but that Covid has changed that.