Microsoft Off the Clock

Microsoft wants to keep your boss from bugging you after hours.

Photo by Tirachard via iStock.

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Microsoft wants to know what you’re getting up to in your 5-to-9 after your 9-to-5. 

The company is seeking to patent a method of “tracking sources of after-hours activity” in communication apps. Microsoft’s system relies on a log that stores information about the timing, receiver, and sender of an “event” — anything from meetings, emails, calls, and tasks assigned on a deadline — sent on a communication platform during a defined after-hours work period. The system then cross-references these events with organizational data, such as department, title or location.

Microsoft’s system organizes all of this information on a dashboard that’s continually updated, aiming to identify which groups in an organization are logging the most after-hours communications. 

If this system determines that a user or group is logging an excessive amount of after-hours communication (aka, consistently bugging other employees off the clock), it will modify how the platform operates during those hours. For example, this system may add pop-up warnings before sending events, delay communication until the receiver’s after-hours period is over, or disable the user from sending after-hours communication entirely. The more after-hours events a user has racked up, the “more dramatic modification” they get. 

Microsoft said this system aims to essentially eliminate work peer pressure, or when one user’s after-hours activity triggers that of another user. If the employer doesn’t know that work is happening after work hours, that “puts the onus of change on the users working during the after-hours period and fails to identify or address what is triggering these users to work during their after-hours period.” 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

With the rise of remote work, companies have become even more reliant on connectivity tools like Microsoft’s suite, which has long had a stronghold on the workplace and productivity tools market. The company’s productivity and business processes unit brought in $17.5 billion in revenue in the most recent quarter, up 11% year-over-year, and made up roughly a third of its total revenue. Google’s Workspace suite, by comparison, takes up only a small fraction of the productivity tools market share. 

But after more than three years of remote work and easier communication access among colleagues, it’s not uncommon for the lines between work and life to get blurry.

Forcing employees back to an office full-time likely isn’t the answer: One survey from Remote.co found that 63% of the 1,100 employees surveyed would look for a new job if they couldn’t continue to work remotely, while 79% name work-life balance as a top factor in evaluating job opportunities. Microsoft’s tech could provide a solution for both issues, allowing employees to continue working from home while ensuring that their monitors can power down when the clock strikes five. 

While this patent is seemingly an attempt to refortify the work-life boundary, the question of whether or not employees will be comfortable with this level of tracking still remains. This tech leans on a vast amount of continuously updated work-related data, requiring employees to give up certain privacies in the name of improved work-life balance. 

Like any monitoring technology, adoption may depend on how much convenience it can offer. Similar to how Baidu and Airbus are working on up-close tracking for physical safety purposes, employees’ comfort with this level of monitoring would likely hinge on how much of a benefit a system like this could promise. 

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