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Microsoft Announces One Good Idea, One Bad for Remote Workers

3 min read
Oct 15, 2020

In a move that is sure to make their employees happy, Microsoft announced that their employees will be able to work remotely, on one level or another, permanently. The announcement didn’t come as much of a surprise because it aligns with what is happening throughout the industry. Many companies, including Twitter, Google, and Facebook, have made similar announcements during the pandemic.

Microsoft will allow most employees to work from home for less than 50% of their working hours. They can also request permanent remote work from their manager, however, they will lose their dedicated office space if they go fully remote. To make up for the lost office space, they’ll have access to Microsoft locations around the world.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all of us to think, live, and work in new ways,” Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s Chief People Officer, said in a note to employees. “We will offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual work styles, while balancing business needs, and ensuring we live our culture.”

Microsoft employees who opt for permanent remote work will have their home office expenses covered, have access to flexible hours, and will be able to relocate. Those that choose to relocate will have to pay for their own relocation expenses, and their pay and benefits will be adjusted to match the cost of living in their new home.

In another move, one that seems to totally miss the mark, the company’s Teams collaboration software revealed that they have developed a replacement for the daily commute, i.e., a “virtual commute.”

Huh?

They want to recreate the experience of having to wake up earlier in the morning so I can pile into a smelly, crowded bus or train, listen to other people’s music or conversations, and have my health threatened, all while paying for the privilege? Sign me up!

Seriously though, this announcement came as more of a head-scratcher. The sentiment behind the idea seems pure. Since working remotely was forced on many this year, some research has shown that people miss their commute because it allowed them to prepare for, and wind down from, their workday (there’s also plenty of research suggesting otherwise).

The idea is for a virtual work helper to ask users before they start work how they are feeling. If they say that they feel stressed out or overwhelmed, the assistant will suggest blocking off time in their calendars to de-stress or focus on work. It can also suggest reviewing your to-do list or winding down with a meditation app.

According to Microsoft, this move is all about protecting employees’ mental health and well-being.

“The thing we didn’t predict that we’ve learned is now at the top of customers’ mind is really the well-being of their employees,” Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela said. “Now it’s getting to be much more about ‘Hey how do I know if an employee is burned out, how do I know how they are doing — if they are working too hard?’ All of the things around the emotional well-being or the mental health of employees has risen to the top faster in a way that we didn’t really predict.”

While that sounds nice, for most of us, winding down from the day or mentally preparing to start work on the commute wouldn’t likely involve additional screen time. It also, for many, wouldn’t involve even thinking about work.

They say “it’s the thought that counts,” so we can give Microsoft some credit for caring about our mental health. However, this idea needs to be reimagined or scrapped entirely. Luckily, the “feature” isn’t scheduled to be released until 2021, so there’s plenty of time for them to get it right.