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What Starbucks And Microsoft Can Tell You About The Future Of Remote Work (And Consumer Behavior)

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Matt Wujciak


Microsoft finds the results (or consequences) of too much remote work

Thirty-five percent of the customer experience (CX) workforce will work from home (WFH) by 2023, up from 5 percent in 2017.

According to CCW Digital research, nearly 75% of companies say remote work will be a permanent option for at least some employees.

As they transform their remote work models from crisis response necessities into permanent strategies, customer-centric businesses will reconsider all facets of the remote environment. 

Like many tech giants today that cherish the goldmine of employee productivity, Microsoft has been studying their behavior. For example, the tech giant found  that employees are sending far more instant messages between 6 pm and midnight. Their working hours have expanded. They start earlier and finish later. 

Microsoft was proactive in sending many of its employees home. The company has also been proactive in studying the results, or should I say consequences. The results (or consequences) of this study were recently published in the Harvard Business Review and the main finding of being stuck at home (yet at work) is that the working day has become longer. "People were 'on' four more hours a week, on average," say the researchers.

Here are some other findings from the study: 


  • Before the crisis, we typically saw a 25% reduction in instant messaging during the lunch hour, but now that reduction is down to 10%.
  • A new “night shift” has taken root, which employees are using to catch up on work — and not only focused individual work. The share of IMs sent between 6 PM and midnight has increased by 52%.
  • Employees who had well-protected weekends suddenly have blurrier work-life boundaries. The 10% of employees who previously had the least weekend collaboration — less than 10 minutes — saw that amount triple within a month.


Depending upon our industry or position, it's worth studying, or at least reflecting on how workforce behavior has changed, and Starbucks is serving as a modern laboratory.  

Which time of the day will get which results

As Chris Matyszczyk recently put it: 

This is a brand that's a barometer of American life. Working life, especially. You go to Starbucks first thing in the morning and you witness the precise stress levels of your fellow humans in real time. That's how it used to be.

Read More: Retail Customer Experience Trends

People are no longer making Starbucks their first-thing-in-the-morning injection of life. Instead, they're carving out a break at around 9:30am, in order to rush to Starbucks for a rush. - Chris Matyszczyk.

Yes you read that correctly - “Rush to Starbucks for a rush.” It’s almost as if the modern workforce doesn’t know how to spend excess time given back by not having a commute - or remote routines are still evolving, at least. 

If Microsoft's research results mean anything, then people are starting their days earlier and managing little breaks during the day. Starbucks traffic is reflecting exactly that.

The brand is also seeing another peak that didn't previously exist: 2pm is now another time when business booms. 

Could it be, again consistent with Microsoft's research, that people know their working days will be stretched out so they're having to recharge in the afternoon? Or is it that there’s a lack of scheduled structure in the workforce - maybe the modern employee should just be alert constantly, only to sneak breaks in when they can. 

From a manager's perspective, it's worth learning how alert your employees might be at particular times of the day and why. It might even be worth giving those remote employees coffee breaks when they truly need them rather than, say, using AI to monitor employees’ every move, a tactic many industries, academia, or really any remote working environment are beginning to adopt.

But if you're a brand selling a product, you may need to make enormous adjustments to how you sell, what you sell, and, thanks to the remote environment, when you sell.

Enticing 8am sales emails that arrive in inboxes at the crack of dawn may no longer be appreciated, as if they were before. People are already too busy working, and if they’re not, then they’re probably sleeping before half consciously logging into a remote desktop. 

Starbucks exemplifying the blend between digital and brick-and-mortar 

Starbucks isn’t just a breeding ground for studying remote work, or production. It’s also a real-life experiment for consumption. 

Starbucks, the coffee-house chain, is using the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic to “move aggressively and further differentiate” its brand from competitors. 

Read More: How The Pandemic Is Igniting Customer Loyalty

Kevin Johnson, president/CEO of Starbucks, discussed this on a subject during a quarterly earnings call held with investors. And even though the company’s revenue fell by 38% year on year, he was optimistic for the long term, and here’s why.

“In every industry, there are periods of disruption that create great opportunity for those businesses that adapt to the disruption, invest in relevant ways and strengthen their differentiation and competitive advantage,” he said.

Digital touchpoints like mobile orders and the Starbucks Rewards loyalty program both saw an uptick in customer engagement and demand in the last quarter and are at the heart of its differentiation efforts. This goes back to the point about humans spending more time on digital devices than ever before, whether it be remote working or purchasing. Finding consumers on the channels of their choices is no new trend, but it is an evolving one. 

“Within the quarter, we saw significant acceleration in the number of customers who downloaded the Starbucks App and joined Starbucks Rewards, totaling three million in the quarter, and up 17% from Q2.”

Engagement with Starbucks Rewards’ customers also outpaced non-Starbucks Rewards members, with year-over-year sales growth from Starbucks Rewards customers turning positive in early July.

“As a result, Starbucks Rewards as a percentage of tender in Q3 rose four percentage points from a year ago to 46%, which is above the pre-COVID trend. [This] highlights our success in acquiring new loyalty members as well as re-engaging our existing customer base,” Johnson said.

“Starbucks Delivers transactions tripled in Q3 from Q2 levels, with the highest volume in the late morning and midday,” Johnson said.

“All of this indicates that customers are adapting their routines, and we are well-positioned to drive further recovery by simply increasing throughput and enhancing those safe, familiar and convenient experiences customers desire.”

This is a time when the world is vulnerable, where every person and organization is adapting to life with a live virus in their midst, where no one is operating from a best-in-class pandemic playbook to survive modern financial Darwinism. Brands, including marketers and customer service departments must become the very people they’re trying to reach. This means that among innovation, compliance, time and technology, humanity must become the greatest application. 

Read More: How-to Guide: How To Create An Omnichannel Contact Center

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For media coverage, lead gen, and digital marketing inquiries, (or to say hi), contact me at, or connect with me on Linkedin at Matt Wujciak.