COVID-19 has transformed the world of work forever. As Microsoft put it in its 2022 Work Trend Index, “We’re not the same people that went home to work in early 2020. The collective experience of the past two years has left a lasting imprint, fundamentally changing how we define the role of work in our lives”.
Ultimately, hybrid sets to be the future of work. 38% of 31,000 people in 31 countries surveyed by Microsoft are hybrid working, and 53% are considering it in the year ahead.
But having successful hybrid models is going to require a lot of work from employers, leaders, and managers.
Those that get it right – aka those with a “culture-first, learn-it-all approach” – will come out ahead in the ‘Great Resignation’ or the ‘Great Reshuffle’ as Microsoft terms it.
Meet employees where they are at
The first challenge identified by Microsoft’s survey, as well as analysis from Microsoft and LinkedIn tools, is that employees are rethinking whether the job they are in is “worth it”.
This is because their priorities are changing – compared to before the pandemic, 47% are more likely to put their family and personal lives above work, and 43% are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work.
This is driving the ‘Great Resignation’. 46% of workers told Microsoft in 2021 that they were considering leaving their current role because of a lack of remote options; 38% told said the same in 2022.
Although 80% of employees believe they were just as productive since going remote or hybrid, 54% of leaders were concerned that remote or hybrid work would have a negative impact on productivity. Clearly, leaders are out of touch and need to be more trusting of their workers.
Employees want a positive culture at work (46%), mental and wellbeing benefits (42%), purpose and meaning at work (40%). Gen Z also wants recognition at work and career development to be prioritized by their manager.
Along the same vein, employees are keener for side hustles than ever before – they see this as giving them the opportunity to be more creative.
70% of Gen Z and 67% of millennials told Microsoft they wanted to work on side hustles – in this context, is it time that employers re-think non-compete clauses in their contracts to employees to do this?
Ultimately, “a few months of remote work could have been a blip, but 24 months in, people have proved you can be a great employee and have a life. Now, flexibility and wellbeing are non-negotiables that companies can’t afford to ignore,” according to Microsoft.
Rethinking the office and meetings
With the future of work being hybrid, the office still has a role to play in the world of work.
Microsoft argues that companies need to make sure the office is worth the commute. 38% of workers said they struggled knowing when and why to come into the office.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – and Microsoft recommends that companies experiment in order to figure out what works for their teams. Could having ‘Team Tuesdays’ be the answer? Only 28% of leaders surveyed said they had a team agreement on when and why to come into the office.
“You must design workplaces with enough flexibility to support every employee. A mix of quiet places, collaboration areas, and touchdown locations helps ensure everyone can be connected, engaged, and productive,” noted Michael Ford, CVP of Global Workplace Services at Microsoft.
Another major concern is the future of meetings. Digital exhaustion is real in the remote and hybrid world of work; between 2020 and 2022 the average Microsoft Teams user had a 252% increase in meeting time and a 153% increase in weekly meetings. They were also dealing with 32% more chats each week compared to March 2020.
Not only is over-meeting a problem, but many of those working at home feel excluded from meetings (44% of hybrid workers and 43% of remote employees). Unfortunately, only 27% had a remote meeting etiquette, but 54% were considering redesigning meetings in the future.
“Making hybrid meetings a great experience for everyone requires investing in three things: hardware, software, and culture”, according to Microsoft’s report.
It continues: “Start by augmenting existing hardware with AI-powered cameras designed for the people not in the room; consider adding larger screens to give everyone a seat at the table and create a canvas for collaboration.
“Second, have everyone join Teams—including those in the room—to create a shared experience. Third, create new cultural norms for hybrid meetings to help everyone feel included and able to contribute.”
Going beyond this, it seems employees are keen to use the metaverse for meetings and team bonding sessions. 52% said they were open to digital immersive spaces at work, 47% were okay with being represented by an avatar – 51% of Gen Z and 48% of millennials envision the metaverse to be used for work in the next two years.
Only 16% of all employees said they did see a role for the metaverse at work, and 13% admitted they didn’t know what the metaverse was.
Workplace friendships are good for business
With the office being rethought, Microsoft makes it clear that it also means the office cannot be seen as the only place for employees to build workplace friendships.
Only 56% of those surveyed said they had thriving relationships with their teams – this dropped to 48% when asked about friendships outside of their teams.
To fix this, leaders need to be intentional about encouraging employees to build relationships with their colleagues. Work isn’t all about productivity and how much you produce – in fact, those with better workplace friendships perform better.
Those with thriving in-team friendships had better wellbeing 76% (compared to 57% of those with poor relationships). They also report higher productivity (50% versus 36%) and are less likely to change employers in the year ahead (61% versus 39%).
In addition, those with good relationships with people outside of their immediate teams are more fulfilled and satisfied at work, according to Microsoft.
30% of leaders are aware that workplace friendships are good for business – how are these created?
So managers and leaders need to focus on “fostering close team bonds and acting as dot connectors to help employees broaden their networks”.
“In a hybrid world, it’s up to leaders to help all employees prioritize time to build relationships, with additional support to remote and newly onboarded employees, who our research shows are most at risk of being left behind,” notes Microsoft.
Are you ready to make these changes?
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