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A year in, bosses are out of touch with the average worker’s pandemic experience

March 22, 2021, 1:24 PM UTC

The pandemic did not affect everyone at work equally. A new survey from Microsoft out this morning reveals some stark differences in attitudes, differences which could lead to big mistakes in formulating the hybrid workplace employees end up returning to.

Business leaders had to abide by the same lockdown rules as everyone else, but generally had more resources and more control than typical workers. So by the end of January, 61% said they were thriving and only 39% checked the box for surviving or struggling, according to the survey. But for frontline workers, the numbers were exactly reversed, with only 39% thriving and 61% struggling. New employees, on the job less than a year, fared even worse, with 64% struggling.

Another wide gulf showed up between married people, who were 46% thriving and 54% struggling, versus single people, with just 33% thriving and 67% struggling.

Emma Williams, a corporate vice president at Microsoft who works on workplace transformation, emphasized that the bosses felt better because they experienced the lockdown differently. They felt more connected to their leadership teams, they took vacations, they were less overwhelmed. They also tended to skew white male and older, she said. “So what you saw was that they’re actually out of touch with the lived experiences for the rest of the workforce, which involves women, underrepresented minorities, and Gen Z, who have been really hard-hit,” Williams told me.

At the core of the problem may be that regular employees worked more and much harder to maintain productivity during the pandemic. Lack of direct human interaction has forced more digital interaction (and if you read Cal Newport’s interview about his new book, you know that’s not making anyone happy). Among users of Microsoft’s Office 365, Teams users are sending 45% more chats overall than they did before the pandemic and 42% more during off hours. The number of emails delivered on Microsoft’s platforms increased by almost 41 billion messages in February from the same month last year. And there are a lot more interruptions—a workplace satisfaction killer according to Newport. About 62% of Teams calls and meetings are not scheduled or are conducted ad hoc.

The bottom line could mean a lot of turnover. The Microsoft survey found 41% considering leaving their current job within the next year, about double the typical cohort looking to leave in a normal year. Almost half of the workers looking for a change say it’s because they want to work remotely.

So as companies remake the workplace, they need to pay more attention to crafting a more inclusive and less chaotic environment, and one with more defined boundaries.

“I need to make sure I’m super inclusive in the way that I build a new workspaces, the way I look at technology, the way I think about the culture of my company,” Emma Williams says. “Because the smart ones are going to show they will make a difference to who stays in your company, who leaves your company, and who joins your company.”

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

You end up mad at me for makin' a mess. The Swiss hacker who revealed the lax security at security camera service Verkada last week is in some trouble of his own. U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment against 21-year-old Tillie Kottmann for allegedly stealing data and credentials from more than 100 organizations. In a case that's further developed, Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov of Russia pled guilty to trying to bribe a Tesla employee to install malware on the company's network. Kriuchkov, who was arrested in Los Angeles last year, faces up to 10 months in prison under the deal.

Justice league. The antitrust case of Epic Games v Apple is shaping up to be quite a doozy. Apple CEO Tim Cook, software boss Craig Federighi, and former marketing head Phil Schiller will all testify in person in court sometime after the trial begins on May 3, Apple said in a filing on Friday. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney and VP Mark Rein will also take the witness stand. Speaking of antitrust, Rep. David Cicilline who oversees antitrust policy in the House of Representatives, tells Axios in an interview that he plans to offer a bevy of small fixes to address big tech's dominance instead of one huge proposal. "It's harder for (the tech companies) to manage and oppose, you know, 10 bills as opposed to one," Cicilline said.

Beach buggy charging in the sand. Back on the electric truck beat, Jeep doesn't want to be left out. On Sunday, the company debuted its forthcoming Wrangler Magneto BEV, which will allegedly come with a six-speed manual transmission. CNET frets that the range, which Jeep didn't disclose, may be limited based on the BEV's battery specs.

The return. Former president Donald Trump is looking at creating his own social media platform. Trump has been suspended from mainstream sites like Twitter and Facebook since his posts encouraging the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

About a year ago, VC firm Sequoia Capital published a warning to startups everywhere that they should batten down the hatches and prepare for a COVID catastrophe, the "Black Swan of 2020." Now the firm is back with a sequel offering advice that is focused on seizing the future.

The last year has been trying in ways we couldn’t have imagined. It’s been exhausting. However, change also brings opportunity and constraint breeds creativity. We saw it in the last financial crisis, and we’ve seen it in the pandemic as companies have adapted business operations, launched new products and founded new businesses to meet evolving needs. Technology is flattening the world and bringing us together in new ways. Remote work has already begun expanding geographic hiring opportunities, combating bias and broadening entrepreneurship. We see many green shoots as we enter a post-vaccine world.

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BEFORE YOU GO

You know I am the biggest doughnut fan on the planet. I even have a shirt that says "Doughnut crazy." Now I'm going to have to be careful when passing any Krispy Kreme outlets: The company says it's going to give anyone who shows a vaccination card a free doughnut. The offer starts today and is supposed to run for the whole year. That's a lot of free doughnuts!