Study: Many remote workers log in late at night to get work done

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Posted at 1:51 PM, Apr 12, 2022

Working late is nothing new in American culture, but the pandemic may be changing the way some people work late.

Researchers at Microsoft noticed a pattern in some of the company's workers.

There is a sudden flurry of work-related activity right before bedtime.

"These were things they could do by themselves," said Mary Czerwinski, a Microsoft researcher. "Catching up on emails, reading documents, not such heavyweight work, but things they could do to catch up."

The Microsoft team, which has been tracking productivity for years, found about 30% of workers were logging in late at night.

It's not clear why people's habits have changed.

Pre-pandemic, they found most workers experienced a productivity peak shortly before and shortly after lunchtime, a phenomenon known as the "double peak day."

Czerwinski speculated the third productivity peak might be tied to the shift to remote work during the pandemic.

"Perhaps people are taking care of loved ones," she said. "Perhaps they are working out and taking care of themselves. And then, because they're adaptively taking care of themselves and their families, they choose to work later in the night to catch up on some things."

While there could be positive reasons for the late-night logins, Czerwinski said the third peak might also result from over-scheduling during the workday.

"We saw from the research that the average amount of meeting time went up significantly during the workweek," said Czerwinski. "People were very enthusiastic to see that productivity didn't take a hit when everybody was staying at home. It was a big surprise to all of us. Therefore, everyone got super enthusiastic about more Teams meetings, more Zoom meetings, and it just keeps going to the point where everyone got super exhausted and tired."

Some companies are now working on solutions to cut down on the feelings of burnout in employees.

Microsoft, which has employees on both coasts, has stopped scheduling most meetings after 5 p.m. Eastern out of respect for west coast employees.

Czerwinski also encourages managers to schedule their meetings to start at five past the hour as a built-in break between calls.

There's also a novel concept gaining traction: No meetings.

"The meeting-free day idea really took off, at least at Microsoft, during the pandemic," Czerwinski said, noting that her team is trying to go meeting-free on Mondays and Fridays.

"The statistics are kind of scary about how many more meetings we're having online and back-to-back during the day," she said. "At the expense of eating healthy meals, at the expense of people exercising. So something has to be done to make sure that our employees feel well at work, feel productive at work, and feel valued."