With the virtual commute, Silicon Valley is attempting to rebuilding our lost boundary between work and home.  

 

 

Microsoft wants to give those in lockdown and missing their travel to-and-from work (if there are any) a ‘virtual commute’, signifying the tech giant’s move into corporate well-being.

The company aims to rebuild the lost boundary between home and work life through an update to its Teams package of workplace collaboration tools, according to The Wall Street Journal. While headache-inducing and painstakingly depressing at times, the daily commute at least defined a start and end to the workday in times past, while also offering a set time to think, removed from the demands and distractions of the home and office.

Expected in early 2021, the update will allow users to schedule ‘virtual commutes’ at the beginning and end of each shift where workers will be prompted to set goals in the morning and reflect on the day in the evening.

Historically, Teams has focused on employee connectivity and productivity. However, Kamal Janardhan, general manager for workplace analytics and MyAnalytics at Microsoft 365, the parent division of Teams, confirms that the virtual commute feature represents Teams’ move into employee wellness.

“Enterprises across the world right now are coming to us and saying, ‘I don’t think we will have organizational resilience if we don’t make well-being a priority,’” Ms Janardhan said. “I think we at Microsoft have a role, almost a responsibility, to give enterprises the capabilities to create these better daily structures and help people be their best.”

Even though getting to work isn’t exactly a revered part of the working day, a 2001 study suggests that most people would choose to commute even if they were given the option to give up the journey.

 

Expected in early 2021, the update will allow users to schedule ‘virtual commutes’ at the beginning and end of each shift where workers will be prompted to set goals in the morning and reflect on the day in the evening.

 

“I don’t miss my commute per se,” said Adam Clenton, a London-based lawyer who spent 80 minutes commuting each day before his office closed during the pandemic. “But it did give me the chance to switch off on the way home. It helped demarcate the day in a way that isn’t possible now.”

Ms Janardhan said the update will ask how users are feeling before they start work. If they say they are feeling overwhelmed, the virtual commute assistant will ask if they want to block time off in their calendars to focus on work or de-stress. Janardhan also mentioned that the evening experience would rely on one-click options; anything that feels more like cognitive effort would make people less likely to complete it at the end of the day. It ends with an optional 10-minute guided meditation produced by Headspace, the mindfulness and meditation app.

Microsoft have plans to further develop the product post-launch, including letting users recommend books and podcasts to their virtually commuting colleagues, facilitating more water-cooler style chat the next day.

The initiative has its critics though.

“The meditation idea is excellent, but I wonder if the ticking off of tasks would still keep us in work mode too much,” said Daniel Cable, a professor of organizational behaviour at London Business School. “I think a lot of people would just try to finish off that one last email, or make that last call, or that last search.”

Mr Clenton came to the same conclusion.

“I’d much rather mark the beginnings and ends of my days by physically being outside or doing something else,” he said, “rather than being sat at the same screen I’m working at every single hour of every day.”

 

 

 

 

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