Learning & Development

Data Illustrates Extent of Time Spent on Communication Apps

An office cliché from the pre-COVID years is the concept of “watercooler talk,” the idea that employees gather informally around the office in places like the watercooler, coffee machine, or breakroom and make small talk, exchange gossip, or just socialize.

With the widespread shift to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might think such informal, not-so-productive chatter would have sharply declined. Research from online giant Microsoft, however, suggests the same telecommunications tools that have made widespread remote work possible in the first place are also being used extensively by staff to communicate in ways that may have more in common with watercooler chatter than an intensive working session.

Social App Overuse?

Microsoft’s latest study shows the average employee spends 57% of their workweek on communication apps such as Zoom, Outlook, and Slack. At first glance, this may seem like a negative trend, and it may very well be for some organizations. Time spent on small talk over Zoom is just as unproductive as time spent on small talk at the watercooler. To some extent, this is simply human nature. Humans are social creatures. But socializing can be distracting and take away from the organization’s productive work.

On the other hand, there are actual implications of Microsoft’s findings.

Or Important Collaboration Tools?

Is it really a bad thing that telecommunications tools have become so pervasive and embraced by staff that they choose to use them for both socializing and work?

Moreover, there’s a reason for that old watercooler cliché. It’s true that people in the office spend a lot of time chatting about things unrelated to work. People in the physical office regularly “waste” valuable company time socializing. Isn’t using telecommunications tools to simply socialize the virtual equivalent of watercooler talk?

That kind of casual collaboration, even when not entirely business-focused, can still build relationships that lead to increased employee engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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