Virtual Teams

Post-COVID way of working study of 3 million people

The pandemic represents an unprecedented natural experiment in new ways of working at huge scale. This will be a treasure trove of information for academics and practitioners. We found one of the first major academic studies which dig into the changes – Collaborating during coronavirus : the impact of COVID-19 on the nature of work, from the US National Bureau of Economic Research

This is a major study based around meeting and email metadata from over 3 million users from other 21,000 organisations around the world.

They found that compared to pre-pandemic levels:

  • the number of meetings per person had increased by 12.9%
  • the number of attendees per meeting had increased by 13.5%
  • the average length of meetings had reduced by 20.1%
  • overall time in meetings had reduced by 11.5%, Saving 18 minutes per day on average
  • there were significant and enduring increases in the length of the average work day +48.5 minutes

There was also a change in email usage, with emails typically being sent to slightly more people, but these changes were not as significant

The study compared the eight weeks before lockdowns in various cities with the eight weeks immediately following, so it may be that these trends have developed further or changed since then.

In our experience working with thousands of participants around the world over this period, most of this isn’t a surprise. Many tell us they experienced an increase in the number of meetings though this study suggests this was more than offset by the reduction in average length of the meetings. It also reinforces our long-term findings that meetings typically take around 2 days per week of people’s time.

Virtual meetings will tend to be shorter as they have less opportunity for social interaction, attention spans are shorter and many of our clients report short meetings to discuss issues that they previously would have covered in a face to face one to one conversations.

It is clear that the ability of people to run and attend interactive and engaging online meetings will be an ongoing requirement as our ways of working evolve to include higher levels of remote and working from home. If an activity takes up 40% of our time, then we need the skills to do this properly.

The longer working day may reflect people using some of that saved commuting time to start work earlier, or it may reflect other family and other personal commitments that people needed to deal with during the day, which naturally leads to a later finish time.

I suspect this will be one of the first of many fascinating studies on how our ways of working are evolving. Many of our clients are now running future way of working projects to look at the longer-term changes that they need in their skills, ways of working and cultures.

if you’d like to find out more about our work in this area please let us know.

Get a copy of the full research paper at

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