Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index survey says we’re drowning in meetings and emails. But fret not, the enabler is the saviour

If you often find yourself sitting at your desk at the end of the week wondering where all your time went, new data from Microsoft’s annual Work Trend Index might confirm something you already suspected: you’re spending way more time in meetings or writing emails than on your work.
“The heaviest email users (top 25 per cent) spend 8.8 hours a week on email, and the heaviest meeting users (top 25 per cent) spend 7.5 hours a week in meetings,” the report found, noting that the average included frontline workers, likely resulting in a bit of an undercounting.
“For knowledge workers, who rely even more on digital communication, the share of the week taken up by emails and meetings is even greater,” the report noted. Their data, pulled from millions of Microsoft Teams users, found that 57 per cent of the day was taken up by only three things: emails, Teams Chat or Teams meetings.
Microsoft believes their data should be cause for some alarm. “Nearly two in three leaders (60 per cent) are already feeling the effects, saying that a lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas on their teams is a concern,” they wrote. “There are only so many minutes in the day ― and every minute we spend managing this digital debt is a minute not spent on the creative work that leads to innovation.”
The data gives a bit of credence to something we’ve been hearing (and feeling) for a while ― our meeting and email culture is becoming suffocating and overwhelming. “People feel quite overwhelmed, a sense of feeling like they have two jobs, the job they were hired to do, but then they have this other job of communicating, coordinating and collaborating,” Microsoft’s Jared Spataro told the Wall Street Journal.
Is there a way out? For Microsoft ― owner of an enormous stake in OpenAI ― the answer is (surprise, surprise) AI, which it sees as a solution to mundane, productivity-killing administrative tasks. “People are more excited about AI rescuing them from burnout than they are worried about it eliminating their jobs,” said report author and organizational psychology professor Adam Grant.
Others, though, see a bit of irony in Microsoft being alarmed that people are spending too much time using their communication products ― like an arsonist worrying about your house suddenly being on fire, while selling you a bucket.
“Microsoft’s assertion that work is broken is also a tacit admission that it’s somewhat Microsoft’s fault for providing so many communication tools that management really want to use,” said Richard Currie in The Register. “What is to be done? Well, it’s 2023. In 2017 it was blockchain. In 2021 it was the metaverse. Now AI is the answer to all civilization’s ills. Quite obviously, given where its allegiances currently lie, Microsoft also believes the wundertech is the solution.”

Content written by Kieran Delamont for Worklife, a partnership between Ahria Consulting and London Inc. To view this content in newsletter form, click here.