It’s no surprise — the last two years have shifted how we work. Employees are reprioritizing almost everything when it comes to work. From where the work gets done to the overall is it “worth it” equation, we’ve seen a fundamental shift that is likely here to stay. Leaders and organizations are now faced with decisions to make hybrid work and the flexibility that employees want actually work while also balancing the unpredictability of our current business climate. It’s a lot of uncertainty, but also an exciting time for new opportunities. New data from Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Index, which outlines the findings of 31,000 people across 31 countries, shows that we are learning as we grow, but most importantly that leaders are at precipice — adapt with intention or risk it all. The report covered several critical pieces of our new hybrid work equation. Here are a few key takeaways that caught my attention.
The Tickle Down Impact of Is It “Worth it”?
The pandemic and the aftermath of all that we’ve experienced in the last two years has had a fundamental impact on our lives. Most of us know are shifting focus to what’s important, whether that is mental health, family, or a better work-life balance. According to the report, 53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work. 47% are more likely to put family and their personal lives first.
The shifting perceptions are having a big impact on the workplace. Perks like snacks and ping pong are not enough to keep employees happy. And if the big resignation is any indication, employees are leaving the jobs that don’t match their priorities. 43% of employees are somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing jobs in the coming year.
Again, not surprising, Millennials and Gen Z are leading that change with more than half considering changing employers, which is an increase of 3 percentage points from last year. Only 35% of Gen X and Baby Boomers by comparison are considering the switch.
It’s clear that flexibility and mobility are key to the younger generations in the workforce. And if employers want to find, hire, and retain the top talent, offering the benefits that this division of the workforce wants is non-negotiable. Feeling like you make a difference in an organization and having a life outside of work is possible today. Employers need to recognize that this is what their employees want and rise to the occasion.
Building a Strong Culture and Stronger Relationships
Workplace culture has always been a key factor for employees. And while most of us agree that managers and employees are responsible for culture, there is often a disconnect from the top. According to the index, 54% of managers feel that leadership is out of touch with employee expectations. That is a huge number and is likely one of the reasons for the great resignation.
Adding to the disconnect? 50% of leaders want to return to the office full time whereas 52% of employees are considering going hybrid or fully remote in the coming year. We are seeing opposite priorities meet head-to-head. Employees are feeling more productive working from home, but leaders don’t see this and fear there is a decrease in productivity.
From a relationship standpoint, 43% of leaders say relationship-building is one of the greatest challenges of hybrid work. We’ve lost some of the social capital we had in the workplace, so it makes sense that leaders would suggest returning to the office as a solution., but it’s not always the right option.
Managers are clearly the key to bridging this divide. Empowering the people in the middle of the organization to make decisions that will improve the lives of employees will likely improve the bottom line of the organization too. Focusing on relationships and the flexibility that employees want will have a trickle-down impact. Employees with thriving workplace relationships report better wellbeing, higher productivity, and are less likely to change employers.
Managers also play a critical role in balancing expectations from both employees and leadership. With the right tools and channels of communication, managers can change the culture from within — and for the better. And tools aren’t only about working more. They must be implemented to help work more efficiently to help with the next big trend of the report, which zeroed in on balance.
Finding the Hybrid Work Balance
One thing is clear about hybrid work — planning requires intention. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work anymore. Gone are the days of open floor plans or just communal workspaces. Employers need to plan with every employee in mind. A mix of spaces is key. This planning also extends to hybrid meetings and the technology needed to create meeting equity. 43% of employees who work remotely say they do not feel included in meetings. Turning to technology that is optimized for meeting equity such as Poly’s video conference studio equipment or Microsoft Teams Rooms will go a long way in making a difference for employees.
But beyond the intentionality of creating the right spaces, employees are saying they don’t have clearly defined expectations of when they will come to the office. Leaders need to work with managers to define what works for each individual team. Company-wide expectations won’t work.
At the same time, these expectations for employees also need to be clearly defined and upheld by managers and leaders to avoid digital burnout. With the use of collaboration technology soaring, the index showed that since February 2020 employees saw a 252% increase in time spent in meetings, 32% more chat messages being sent, 13% increase in time spent working during the day, and even more time spent working after-hours and on the weekends.
These trends can spell disaster if employers are not careful. Leaders and managers need to work to find the right hybrid work balance. Encourage employees to disconnect and respect the boundaries that they set — that is the key to long-lasting productivity and sustainable hybrid work.
The Paradigm Shift Here to Stay
As I said before, leaders and organizations have incredible opportunities before them to reimagine how their companies work. We are operating in a digital-first world. Employees want to be able to work whenever and wherever, but expectations need to be clear from the outset and the disconnect between being able to work, and expecting endless productivity leaves a lot of introspection for leaders that have enjoyed the pandemic-induced productivity boost. Moving forward, leadership needs to empower managers to make decisions that best suit their team, whether that is clearly defining meeting or in-office expectations or adopting a new piece of technology that will aid in productivity. Mangers are the key drivers of success going forward.
Creating new practices that fit this evolving mindset will make hybrid work, work for the future. And as the world continues to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and other global events, aligning priorities from the top down will improve culture, employee happiness and loyalty, and how organizations operate — for the better — a key to success in the coming decade .