Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

Starbucks just revealed the truly disturbing effect of working from home

Working from home has made people alter their habits in even more radical ways than may intially appear. Employees and consumers just aren't the same anymore. Some changes are extraordinary.

Remote working from home. Freelancer workplace in kitchen with laptop, cup of coffee

The first coffee of the day? Or the fourth?

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I worry about my friends.

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I don't get to see them so often -- if at all. I want to know if they've changed. I want to know if working from home has altered them in such a way as to fundamentally affect how they live and who they are.

It's clear that all the Zooming and Teaming has placed us ever more in front of screens and away from what we used to call a normal life.

Last week, I wrote about how Microsoft has studied how its employees are now behaving. They're sending far more IMs between 6 pm and midnight, for example. Their working hours have expanded. They start earlier and finish later.

Whatever products your business is peddling, it's worth reflecting on how people's behavior has altered in fundamental ways.

This week's spate of corporate results offered all sorts of little insights. The most absorbing came from Starbucks. 

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.

On revealing the company's results, Starbucks executives also revealed just how much human behavior has changed and it's oddly disturbing.

It isn't so much that more customers are ordering via the company's highly efficient app. It's that their working days are very much reflective of Microsoft's research.

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.

It seems, then, that many employees might be making coffee at home and disappearing into their laptops and computers the minute they get up. Sometimes, one hopes, after taking a shower and dressing. 

Technology can now make working from dawn happen. If everyone is behaving according to Microsoft's research results, then they're starting their days earlier and managing little breaks -- wherever they can get them -- during the day.

Starbucks is also seeing another peak that didn't really exist previously: 2pm is now another time when business picks up.

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 early afternoon?

They know their working day will be extended. They know they'll have to (try to) fit in life issues in the middle of all the IMs that are flooding onto their screens. Which still leaves the question: Why are they rushing to Starbucks? Partly, perhaps, to pick up food too.

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 their every last move.

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

Those wonderfully enticing sales emails that arrive in inboxes at the crack of dawn may no longer be appreciated or even noticed. People are already too busy working.

But, should you choose, say, 9:42am to send those emails -- just after someone has taken five sips of their luscious Starbucks Almond Milk Latte -- you might see a more pleasing result.