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Is Hybrid Work the Next Great Disruption?

The pandemic influence on where we work

Microsoft didn’t let any dust settle under their forward momentum during the pandemic. An extensive study recently released by the tech giant says the global workplace is on the cusp of disruption. This is based on changes to the physical location where work takes place.

The hypothesis
Here’s the concept: The world suddenly shifted to remote work during the pandemic. Some returned to a brick-and-mortar location, some remained working remotely. Companies learned how to manage remote workers. 

Workers wanted to hang on to the benefits of remote work, including more family time and avoiding rush hour traffic. But there were also challenges—teams that were more siloed and digitally exhausted from spending more hours online.

The growing trend is for a hybrid scenario, continuing to work remotely, but going to a company location for brainstorming and other group meetings, raising social capital and creating a positive compromise. Business leaders may be open to the change after seeing productivity and job satisfaction increase with remote work.

Microsoft’s proposed solution
Microsoft’s report says more than 40% of the global workforce is ready to change jobs this year. This creates a strong need for companies to take a new approach to attract and retain talent. The solution, according to Microsoft, is hybrid work. The company has been using its own workforce as a petri dish, creating hybrid work scenarios for 160,000 employees around the world as needed through the pandemic.

To help companies transition, Microsoft has created a Work Trend Index, based on a study of 30,000 people in 31 countries, plus “an analysis of trillions of productivity and labor signals across Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn.”

Microsoft highlighted seven global work trends, citing its research. There has already been some industry feedback on a few areas. The trends and industry comments are below.

1. Flexible work is here to stay: 73% of workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue, while at the same time, 67% are craving more in-person time with their teams.

“The data is clear. Extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.”

Remote team placement company Terminal concludes that leaders are not ready to lead the hybrid team. In their own research document, Terminal has revealed that most leaders are tackling the challenges of remote work for the first time, with 77% of leaders reporting that they’ve never managed a fully remote team, and 89% having never managed a partially remote team. Their solution is to prioritize leadership development by improving effective leadership skills of the hybrid team.

Man working from home thinking

2. Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call: Research shows that 61% of leaders say they are thriving right now – 23% higher than those without decision-making power.

“Thirty-seven percent of the global workforce says their companies are asking too much of them at a time like this.”

There definitely does seem to be a disconnect between leadership and employees. An investigation from Top 10 VPN revealed global demand for employee monitoring software shot up 87% in April 2020 compared with pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, employees are placing post-it notes over their cameras to avoid being spied on by managers, and placing devices on keyboards to simulate keystrokes to avoid the “Away” status being displayed on platforms such as Microsoft Teams. 

Why are managers questioning whether employees are “away’ from their computer if their work productivity is maintained or increased? Leadership methods need to evolve from command and control to empowerment, delegation and trust.

3. High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce: 54% feel overworked while 39% feel exhausted.

“Self-assessed productivity has remained the same or higher for many employees over the past year, but at a human cost. Nearly one in five global survey respondents say their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance. Fifty-four percent feel overworked. Thirty-nine percent feel exhausted.”

With less in-person office time, chats and online meetings have increased, creating increased screen time and technology burnout. Online interactions are often unstructured and unplanned. Are all of these online meetings really necessary, or could a shared online document meet the need, or maybe a simple phone call?

4. Generation Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized: 60% of this generation, those between the ages of 18 and 25, say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling.

“An overlooked demographic appears to be suffering right now: Gen Z. Sixty percent of this generation —those between the ages of 18 and 25 — say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling.”

Younger and new employees may be particularly vulnerable since they did not experience the same onboarding, networking and training over the past year. The shift to remote work meant loss of those important interactions and social networking that build social capital. Leaders will need to be innovative in onboarding young remote workers to make sure they feel included, engaged and motivated.

5. Shrinking networks are endangering innovation: Aggregate trends across billions of Microsoft Teams meetings and Outlook emails show interactions with our broader networks diminished with the move to remote work.

“The pandemic-driven isolation people feel in their personal lives is also happening at work.”

As we explored in my article about loss of social capital among remote workers, interactions with our networks are essential for innovation at work. While there are ways to build social capital among distributed teams, in-person networking, as could happen with hybrid work, is valuable

6. Authenticity will spur productivity and well-being: Co-workers leaned on each other in new ways to get through the past year. Seventeen percent say they have cried with a colleague, especially those in healthcare (23%), travel and tourism (21%), and education (20%).

“Compared to one year ago, 39 percent of people say they’re more likely to be their full, authentic selves at work and 31 percent are less likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed when their home life shows up at work.”

If anything, we got a little more human, exposing more of our true selves working in our home environment. Even though I avoided scheduling midday meetings when my four-footed partner would loudly be greeting her archenemy, the mailman, it is a little easier to be myself during a meeting conducted from home.

As long as workers can still be professional, leaders can foster this hybrid environment where we mutually share more authentically.

7. Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world.

“A vast talent marketplace is one of the brightest outcomes from the shift to remote work.”

It’s true there may be more availability of talent since 46% of Microsoft’s respondents reported they plan to move to a new location this year. But without geographic barriers, employees will have a greater choice of employers. Companies must up their game, including offering a comprehensive health and wellness package, because reputation is going to increase in importance. 

We’ll end with this thought from Karin Kimbrough, chief economist from LinkedIn:

“During this pandemic, we’ve observed a swift acceleration of certain pre-COVID trends. But perhaps one of the most exciting trends is this rise in remote work. As opportunity is democratized with remote work and talent movement, we’ll see a spread of skills across the country, and this is the time for business leaders to take the opportunity to access different skills and talent not previously available to them.”

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