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Harvard Business School Study Finds Employees Work Longer, Attend More Meetings During Pandemic

  • Study of more than 3 million employees from around the world finds that workdays have lengthened and meeting frequency has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • While the number of meetings has gone up, overall meeting time has decreased
  • Managers encouraged to understanding differing employee situations during remote work

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many managers were reluctant to offer remote work arrangements due to concerns that employee productivity or interaction would suffer. A wide-ranging study by researchers at Harvard Business School suggests that such fears were unfounded; as the pandemic has forced millions of people to work from home for months, employees have typically worked longer, attended more meetings, and sent more e-mails.

The study looked an anonymized e-mails and meeting invites for 3.1 million employees at 21,500 companies in 16 cities in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. It found that during the first eight weeks of the pandemic, employees’ average workday was 8.2 percent longer (48.5 minutes) than in the eight weeks prior to the pandemic. Researchers say the lengthier workday is a result of people working more irregular workdays due to factors such as assisting children with virtual schooling.

Workers also attended 13 percent more meetings, though the average meeting was 12 minutes shorter than pre-pandemic meetings – a 20 percent drop. This contributed to an average 12 percent drop in daily meeting time, or a savings of 19 minutes per day.

Employees also sent 5.2 percent more e-mails compared to the weeks before the pandemic. A total of 8.3 percent of these messages were sent after hours.

The researchers are continuing to look into the effect of the the changing trends on company morale. They advised that managers should understand what factors each employee is dealing with in their personal life, understand that productivity will likely vary considerably across the workforce, and put more focus on the quality of work and output rather than the number of hours logged.

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