Great expectations: A road map for making hybrid work work

Remote attendees participate in a Microsoft Teams Room meeting

As organizations around the world make the definitive shift from remote to hybrid work, one thing is clear: the people who went home to work in 2020 are not the same people returning to the office in 2022. There’s no erasing the experience of the last two years and employee expectations are higher than ever. They want flexibility and face time, and are making career changes that prioritize personal goals and well-being. And based on findings from our 2022 Work Trend Index, there’s no going back to the way it once was. Understanding and keeping pace with new expectations is a challenge facing every leader today — and one that will be key to making hybrid work work.

Our second annual study outlines findings from a survey of 31,000 people in 31 countries, along with an analysis of trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labor trends on LinkedIn. From the front lines to the C-suite, we explored leadership’s plans for the year ahead and got feedback on what employees want from their employers — what motivates them to stay or go, what they want out of an in-office experience and the role technology plays in creating a worthwhile work experience.

Five key trends emerged from our research, which serves as a road map for leaders today as they chart their course into the uncharted territory of hybrid:

Employees have a new ‘worth it’ equation

The how, where and when of work is changing, and so is the why. What people want out of work and what they’re willing to sacrifice for a job has evolved. Our survey found 53% of people are now more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work. These aren’t empty words — 18% of respondents quit their jobs last year. Looking ahead, 52% of Gen Z and millennials are likely to consider a new job in the next year — it’s clear the Great Reshuffle is far from over.

Managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations

Keeping pace with these new employee expectations is no mean feat. And it won’t be possible without managers. These individuals are closest to employees and have the greatest visibility into problems and solutions. But all that insight doesn’t add up to much if managers aren’t able to act. For instance, despite the undeniable desire for flexibility we see in our research, 50% of leaders say they have plans for a full in-person return to the office this year. This tension is falling on managers — 54% of managers feel leadership is out of touch with employee expectations and 74% percent don’t feel they have the influence or resources they need to implement change for their team. Getting out of the way and empowering managers to lead their teams will lead to better outcomes for everyone.

Leaders need to make the office worth the commute

Today, 38% of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office, yet only 28% of leaders have created new team agreements for hybrid work. In addition, 43% of remote workers do not feel included in meetings, but only 27% of leaders say their company has developed hybrid meeting etiquette to ensure everyone is included and engaged. It’s time to rethink the role of the office and adopt a degree of intentionality around the who, where and why of in-person gatherings. These new cultural norms will ensure the office is additive to the employee experience — helping all employees feel connected, engaged and able to innovate and do their best work.

Flexible work doesn’t have to mean ‘always on’

Based on productivity trends in Microsoft 365, we see meetings and chats are on the rise, frequently spilling over the traditional 9-to-5 workday. In fact, weekly time spent in meetings for the average Teams user is up 252% since March 2020, and after-hours and weekend work has grown at 28 percent and 14 percent respectively. It’s great to see people reshaping the day to meet their needs — for instance people are taking fewer meetings at lunchtime — but for flexible work to be sustainable, managers will need to create new norms and set boundaries to guard against a 24/7 workday.

Rebuilding social capital looks different in a hybrid world

One of the most felt aspects of remote work is the impact it’s had on our relationships. Last year’s Work Trend Index revealed that teams became more siloed, and this year’s study shows the trend one year later. While a majority of hybrid workers have been able to maintain their team bonds (58%), only half of remote workers say they have a thriving relationship with their direct team and even fewer (42%) have a strong relationship with those outside their team. In a hybrid world, it’s important to prioritize time to build relationships, and give additional support for remote and newly onboarded employees, who are most at risk of being left behind.

Hybrid work requires a deliberate, thoughtful approach. While so much relies on new cultural norms, the transition will benefit from technologies designed for this hybrid world — ones that bridge the digital and physical, ensuring every employee can engage and contribute, regardless of where, when or how they’re working. We’re excited to share some of our latest product innovations that make hybrid work possible.

  • Outlook RSVP
    With coordinating time together a top challenge for hybrid workers in our study, it’s time to make planning easier. Outlook will enable you to indicate whether you’ll attend a meeting in person or remotely. After all, not many people want to commute into an empty office.
  • Teams Rooms with Front Row
    As our research shows, making everyone feel included in a hybrid meeting, regardless of where they’re sitting, will be key to making hybrid work work. With Front Row in Teams, the video gallery appears at the bottom of the screen so in-room participants can see remote colleagues face-to-face — almost as if they were in the same room.
  • Surface Hub 2 Smart Camera
    Surface Hub has always been an incredible tool to connect teams and enable collaboration in new ways. With updates to the Microsoft Teams and Whiteboard experiences, and the addition of the new Microsoft Surface Hub 2 Smart Camera, the benefits of Surface Hub further extend to remote participants. The Surface Hub 2 Smart Camera represents the first AI-powered camera from Microsoft with automatic framing, ultra-wide field of view, and image optimization designed to give remote attendees a first-class view of what’s happening regardless of conference room size or configuration.
  • Teams Connect
    Nearly every organization relies on digital tools to get work done, and that digital collaboration can’t stop at your organization’s own walls. Teams Connect lets you establish seamless, secure and trusted collaboration across multiple organizations in a matter of minutes, where everyone can work as one extended team while staying in their own Teams environment and without having to change tenants.
  • PowerPoint Recording Studio and Cameo
    Time spent in meetings higher than ever before. To reduce meeting overload, our customers need new ways to collaborate asynchronously. With PowerPoint Recording Studio, you can record yourself delivering a presentation and share it with colleagues to watch on their own time. And thanks to Cameo, you get to decide how and where you appear in your slides.
  • Viva Inspiration Library
    We’re also introducing a new Microsoft Viva Insights resource that will provide thought leadership and best practices from Microsoft and other world-class experts at Harvard Business Review and Thrive. In addition to helping employees make the most of their workday, the Inspiration library will help guide managers and leaders as they define their teams’ new normal.

For more on these updates and other exciting news across Microsoft Loop, Surface Hub, Whiteboard and Teams visit our M365 blog.

The shift to a hybrid workplace doesn’t start with new technology or corporate policies. It begins with culture — one that embraces a growth mindset, a willingness to reimagine nearly every aspect of the way work gets done. Every employee will need to develop new skills to adapt to this new way of working, and with the right support and tools, hybrid work can unlock potential for a workplace that works for everyone.

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