What Microsoft found when it looked at our brains on back-to-back virtual work meetings


In this article

MSFTPrasit photo | Getty Images

If you are among the workers who live in fear of the stacked blocks in your Microsoft Outlook calendar detailing back-to-back meetings, this new discovery won’t surprise you, but we still need science to confirm what we all abundantly, anecdotally knew.

Microsoft brain wave activity researchers took a look at our minds on back-to-back virtual meetings and they did not like what they saw going on in there among the gray matter.

The research, published on Tuesday, confirmed that back-to-back virtual meetings are stressful. And the research is resulting in a sliver of mercy arriving on Tuesday for Outlook users. But, really just a sliver.

Microsoft is adding a customizable Outlook feature to set shorter meetings as a default and require breaks before another meeting begins.

“Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings,” said Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group in a new report.

The CNBC @Work Summit returns

This fall, October 13, Facebook CIO Atish Banerjea, Bank of America Chief Operations and Technology Officer Cathy Bessant, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani and Estee Lauder CFO Tracey Travis will talk building a resilient future and more. Register now.

For the research, 14 individuals took part in video meetings while wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment to measure brain activity, one day attending stretches of four half-hour meetings back-to-back, while on another day four half-hour meetings interspersed with 10-minute breaks. Lack of breaks resulted in spikes in the beta waves associated with stress building up near the transition periods between meetings, while breaks allowed brains to reset and better engage.

Pictures of what the human brain actually looks like “on meeting” are in the full report.

The effort by Microsoft to better understand how new work models are changing our wellness and productivity, and the links between the two, come as it is one of the major beneficiaries of the move to remote work and even more reliance on technology and the cloud to connect people through virtual