If 2020 was the year of the Chief Technology Officer, then 2021 will be the year of the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).
That’s according to Microsoft’s ‘2021 Work Trend: Annual report‘ which also notes that the world is “on the brink of a disruption as great as last year’s sudden shift to remote work: the move to hybrid.”
Remote, flexible working
Flexible working is here to stay. Microsoft surveyed 30,000 individuals across 31 countries and found that 73% wanted flexible remote working options to continue, while 67% said they craved more in-person meet-ups with their teams.
Employee’s interest in choosing where, when, and how they work is being increasingly acknowledged by employers. In fact, the survey found that 66% of business decision makers surveyed noted they were considering redesigning offices to better accommodate hybrid working.
Remote working has expanded and democratized the talent marketplace because location is no longer relevant.
“Companies in major cities can hire talent from underrepresented groups that may not have the means or desire to move to a big city,” explained LinkedIn chief economist Karin Kimbrough.
Research by LinkedIn shows that women, Generation Z, and those without graduate degrees are those most interested in remote opportunities.
On another note, separate research by LinkedIn found that the vast majority (75%) of learning and development professionals in the UK said that community-based learning was more important to their business today than before the global pandemic.
How collective experiences humanize work
Although 2020 brought “unprecedented stress” to the workforce, the report found this tough year also made “work more human.”
This was particularly the case in sectors on the frontline or hit hardest by the pandemic: healthcare, education, and travel/tourism.
More genuine interactions between coworkers have, therefore, potentially created a more authentic workplace where individuals are more likely to be themselves.
Chief vice-president of Microsoft 365 Jared Spataro noted:
“The shared vulnerability of this time has given us a huge opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture and transform work for the better.”
The report found that 61% of business leaders said they were thriving while working from home, including strong relationships with colleagues and leadership. This was 23% higher than those without decision-making authority.
Generation Z, women, and those new to their careers have particularly struggled with remote working over the past year; they feel disconnected from their teams.
For instance, 60% of 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed said they were merely surviving or struggling with remote working — primarily because they struggled more than their older colleagues to achieve a work-life balance. They also felt more exhausted and burn out after a day of work.
LinkedIn senior editor-at-large George Anders explained: “It’s very hard to find their footing since they’re not experiencing the in-person onboarding, networking, and training that they would have expected in a normal year.”
Embracing extreme work flexibility
Ultimately, it seems business leaders might be out of touch with their workforce, and particularly younger generations.
Microsoft’s survey found that 41% of the workforce was considering leaving their current employer in the next year — this rises to 54% for Generation Z.
To retain and attract talent, Microsoft concludes that employers need to focus on creating a hybrid workplace where everyone can thrive.
The report says companies need a hybrid working plan that “puts people at the center and encompasses policy, physical space, and technology.” This involves investing in space and technology that bridges the physical and digital worlds – something which Microsoft itself is also figuring out for its own employees.
“Along with physical spaces, organizations need to invest in technology that enables people to fully participate from home, in the office, on the go, and from the manufacturing floor. This includes creating inclusive meeting experiences where everyone can contribute regardless of location”, noted Spataro.
This also extends to thinking about working from home and ensuring that employees have the right equipment, including good internet connections, to do so.
With remote working being more than just a short-term blip due to the pandemic, companies need to start taking responsibility for their staff’s home offices.
Another element of the future of hybrid work is overcoming digital exhaustion and burnout, with a particular focus on Generation Z and those at earlier stages of their careers.
Microsoft recommends doing this by reducing the number of unnecessary, unproductive meetings, and using meetings more for employee wellbeing or creative topics than for technical discussions.
The decisions companies make in these areas “will impact an organization’s ability to compete for the best talent, drive creativity and innovation, and create an inclusive work environment for years to come,” the report says.
“If we embrace extreme flexibility, follow data insights, and continue listening closely to employee needs, together we can create a better future of work for everyone,” it concludes.