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Remote work has changed the rules of work, so be careful

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Everyone has their own experience of how the work week has changed.

And there’s plenty of research from companies trying to figure out how things got better — or worse.

Microsoft recently brought us the good news that over the past two years we’ve created a third peak in the workday – one at 10am, one at 3pm and… one at 10pm.

It’s the result of the shift to remote working that has allowed us to spread our tasks over the workday, which is good in some ways (it makes you more flexible throughout the day) and bad in others (you always work at 10 p.m.).

And now, separate research has revealed another unexpected feature of the new world of work – one that actually makes it much harder to get things done.

Instead of doing the job they were employed to do, he claims workers find themselves spending half their time doing ‘work on the job’, which means checking for updates or switching between apps .

And for managers, it’s even worse. They hardly ever do work, apparently.

“Over-notification destroys employees’ ability to focus by constantly fighting for their attention, putting them in a near-constant state of multitasking while filling their days with menial micro-tasking and administrative work,” notes my colleague Owen Hughes. in his story about finding Asana.

For me, the big problem is that while the tools we introduced solved some of the problems created by distributed teams, they also introduced many new ones.

We’re still trying to find the right set of behaviors for the new world of work, and we make mistakes along the way.

After all, it’s relatively easy to see if someone is working while they’re sitting next to you in an office. It’s much harder if you work miles apart. This means that now, working remotely, we’re all eager to jump on any notification that comes in to prove we’re actually at our desks and paying attention.

Hence the blizzard of alerts that keep distracting us.

Part of the problem is that the teamwork software we use is often inspired by social media.

It makes sense – social media has proven (for better and for worse) very effective in creating communities from people who rarely or never meet in the real world.

But social media companies have also worked really hard to design websites that make us want to keep scrolling and liking – and spending as much time there as possible.

It’s great if you have time to look at photos of your cousin’s pets. It’s worse if you’re trying to find information in an enterprise teamwork tool and then go and get some work done.

Especially if you’re then wondering whether to “like” an update on someone else’s project, or wondering what emoji to use to indicate your approval of the sales forecast.

This is so you can spend half of your time working on the job and not the actual job.

And in some cases, that might be the most rational answer.

The danger is that, for some, the murky world of real-world office politics is being replaced by online office politics and your position on the team (and your chance of promotion) is going to be defined by who can do the funniest status update or find the right GIF to respond to the boss.

In this scenario, putting more effort into your workplace digital identity might be more important than the actual work you do. Smarter teams and managers will be able to see past the frenzy of alerts and updates to see the real work you’re doing, of course. But it might be a good idea to brush up on your emoji skills, just in case.

ZDNet’s Monday morning opener is our first tech release of the week, written by members of our editorial team. We are a global team, so this editorial is published Mondays at 8:00 a.m. AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00 p.m. Eastern on Sundays in the US and 11:00 p.m. in London.


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