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September 14, 2020

COVID-Era Schedules Are Longer and Messier. Can AI Help?

Oliver Peckham

Odds are, if you worked in an office before COVID-19, your schedule looks a lot different now than it did then. With many companies continuing to rely on work-from-home (WFH) arrangements, making use of Zoom and other telemeeting apps, and shifting their production workflows, the clarity of the 9-to-5 workday has diminished somewhat over the last six months. Clockwise, a firm that uses AI to shift workers’ schedules in order to improve productivity, studied this COVID-induced scheduling shift.

“We wanted to see how COVID-19 was impacting people’s schedules and time allocation,” wrote Cathy Reisenwitz, head of content at Clockwise. “Specifically, we wanted to know whether mandatory WFH is making workers more or less busy.” Digging into its data, Clockwise found some startling results.

“We found workers are definitely getting busier, working longer hours, and seeing our calendars get more chaotic,” Reisenwitz wrote. Total meeting time increased by 5%, with a steep drop in out-of-office events (45%) offset (plus some) by steep increases in one-on-one meeting time (plus 24%) and team meetings (plus 29% — an extra 60 to 90 minutes). “The sharpest increase we’ve seen correlating to COVID-19 dates is team sync events,” Reisenwitz wrote. “The average worker is spending an extra one to one and a half hours per week in team sync meetings.”

A graph of how meeting times changed over the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image courtesy of Clockwise.

The data can even show more granular results – for instance, the effects of specific time points. “We saw a small peak in the third week of March when shelter in place was fully in effect in SF and being implemented in other cities,” Reisenwitz continued. “Many of those 1:1s might have been scheduled to discuss companies’ WFH policies.”

The post also points out that calendar time is becoming less structured. “Fragmented time,” which Clockwise defines as “chunks of time to work that are shorter than two hours,” increased by 11%, while “focus time” (blocks larger than two hours) decreased by 8%. In short: more time is being spent in meetings, but less of it is optimally scheduled.

Clockwise, of course, pitches itself as a solution to this problem. Clockwise’s “Autopilot” tool allows users to set parameters for how flexible their calendars are and what their priorities are – after which the tool automatically shifts meetings around in order to maximize “focus time” within those parameters (while keeping in mind the same factors for other meeting participants).

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