March 18, 2022 by David Gambrill
COVID-19 has changed workers’ expectations, although it’s not clear yet whether company executives see this new emphasis on personal well-being and remote flexibility as “a temporary pendulum swing, or the beginning of our new normal,” writes Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of modern work at Microsoft.
In his article for Harvard Business Review, 5 Key Trends Leaders Need to Understand to Get Hybrid Right, Spataro shares the results of a Microsoft global survey of more than 31,000 workers across 31 countries. In addition to the survey, the Work Trend Index relies on analysis of labour trends from LinkedIn, and trillions of productivity signals from Microsoft 365.
The report identifies the following five trends in the newly emerging hybrid office world:
1) Employees have shifted their work-life balance priorities
“Compared to before the pandemic, 47% of employees are more likely to put family and personal life over work,” Spataro writes. “And 53% are more likely to prioritize their health and well-being.”
This shift in priority towards work-life balance is a driving force behind ‘The Great Reshuffle,’ which is far from over, Spataro adds. “Fifty-two percent of Gen Z and Millennials are considering changing employers this year (up 3% year-over-year), and 18% of all respondents quit their job in the past 12 months, with well-being, mental health, work-life balance and lack of flexible work hours cited as top reasons.”
2) Middle managers are caught in the middle
Although middle managers are closest to the employees’ wants and needs, they have very little power in many companies to do anything about it. They are often caught in the middle between the employees’ desire for flexibility and the senior management’s desire to get everyone back in the office.
“More than half of the managers we surveyed (54%) feel their leadership is out of touch with employees,” Spataro writes. “Case in point: Our 2021 study told us 73% of employees want flexible work options to stick around long-term. But this year, 50% of leaders say they either require or plan to require employees to be in the office full-time.”
And whereas 80% of remote workers believe their productivity has stayed the same or improved, 54% of business leaders say their team has been less productive since moving to remote or hybrid.
3) Making the office worth coming back for
Many senior leaders are struggling to explain the role of the office in the hybrid workplace, according to the study.
“Many organizations have been clear in encouraging employees to come back in, but what’s been less clear is the why,” writes Spataro. “If leaders don’t get this right, they’re going to risk employees giving up on the notion of hybrid completely.
“In fact, 51% of employees who are currently working in a hybrid model say they’re considering going fully remote in the year ahead….38% of them say their greatest challenge is knowing when or why to come into the office, and only 28% of them have a team agreement that answers those fundamental questions.”
4) Flexible work: Does it mean “always on”?
“Many of us have felt like we’ve been working more than ever since early 2020, and our data proves it,” write Spataro. “Looking at anonymized productivity patterns in Microsoft 365, we’ve seen a steady uptick in the average workday span (+13%), after-hours and weekend work (+28%, +14%, respectively), time in meetings (+252%), and chats sent (+32%). It’s a rising tide that’s not sustainable.”
Teams need to make arrangements so that one person’s “flexibility” does not increase other employees’ work hours.
5) Team-building is the greatest benefit of hybrid work
“While 58% of hybrid employees have been able to maintain thriving relationships with their direct teams over the past year, only half of those who are fully remote can say the same,” Spatano writes. Even fewer fully remote employees (42%) have strong relationships with those outside of their immediate team.
Newly onboarded employees also stand out as a group who will need more support, Spatano observes. “They have weaker workplace relationships, and 56% say they’re likely to consider changing jobs in the year ahead.”
Feature photo courtesy of iStock.com/Aleutie