Microsoft’s second annual Work Trend Index outlined some interesting findings from 31,000 people in 31 countries on the state of hybrid work. (Source – Microsoft)

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index outlines the reality of hybrid work

Microsoft’s second annual Work Trend Index outlined some interesting findings from 31,000 people in 31 countries on the state of hybrid work. As the world begins to head back to some normalcy, employees are still having a huge say on how they would like to work.

Here are the five key findings from the Work Trend Index:

Employees have a new “worth it” equation – In the Asia Pacific region, 57% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic. Globally, 52% of Gen Z and Millennials are likely to consider changing employers this year, up 3% year-over-year.

Also, LinkedIn data showed that Gen Z is the most mobile generation on the platform. Since the pandemic began, their migration rate is up 23% in the U.S. 52% of Gen Z hybrid employees also said they’re moving to a new location because they’re able to work remotely. Gen Z’s likelihood to engage with a company posting on LinkedIn if it mentions “flexibility” is far higher (77%) than Millennials (30%) and others on the platform.

The report also stated that meeting these new employee expectations will require a mindset shift that considers the experience of the past two years. As employees’ “worth it” equation has change, it seems there’s no going back. For Microsoft, the best leaders will create a culture that embraces flexibility and prioritizes employee wellbeing, understanding that this is a competitive advantage to build a thriving organization and drive long-term growth.

Managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations – Many leaders say their company is planning a return to the office full time within the next year, but a majority of employees prefer the flexibility of remote and hybrid work. In Malaysia, 58% of leaders in Malaysia say their company is planning a return to full-time in-person work in the year ahead.

hybrid work

(source – Microsoft)

In fact, globally, 74% of managers felt they don’t have the influence or resources to make change for employees with another 54% of managers stating leadership is out of touch with employees. When it comes to productivity, 80% of employees believed they are just as or more productive since going remote or hybrid. However, 54% of leaders fear productivity has been negatively impacted since the shift.

For Microsoft, an important lesson of the past two years is that managers embody and instantiate the culture for every organization. Managers are a critical bridge between evolving employee expectations and leadership priorities. If empowered, they hold the key to unlock the potential of hybrid work.

Leaders need to make the office worth the commute – Globally, more than a third (38%) of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office. Yet few companies (just 28%) have established team agreements to clearly define the new norms.

Interestingly, 54% of leaders are redesigning meeting spaces for hybrid work, or plan to in the year ahead. However, despite 43% of remote employees and 44% of hybrid employees saying they do not feel included in meetings, just 27% of organizations have established new hybrid work meeting etiquette.

“Leaders must establish the why, when, and how of the office. This means defining the purpose of in-person collaboration, creating team agreements on when to come together in person, defining hybrid meeting etiquette, and rethinking how space can play a supporting role. Organizations that fail to grasp the new intentionality required to define the role of the office risk missing out on the true benefits of hybrid work,” stated Microsoft as a key takeaway from this.

hybrid work

52% of employees are open to using digital immersive spaces in the metaverse for meetings or team activities in the next year (Source – Microsoft)

Flexible work doesn’t have to mean “always on.” – Since February 2020, the average Teams user globally saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time and the number of weekly meetings has increased 153%. The average Teams user sent 32% more chats each week in February 2022 compared to March 2020 and that figure continues to climb. Workday span for the average Teams user has increased more than 13% (46 minutes) since March 2020, and after-hours and weekend work has grown even more quickly, at 28% and 14%, respectively.

Despite this, things are seemingly different this year. The survey showed that meetings are now starting later on Mondays and wrapping up earlier on Fridays. There are also fewer noon meetings, which may point to people taking a midday break. There has also been an increase in employees using their vacation time, with out-of-office time blocks on calendars increasing by 10% in the last year.

“Because everyone is working at different times and in different places, it’s important to shift as much work as you can to be asynchronous and get really intentional about the use of the synchronous time you have together,” said Jaime Teevan, Microsoft’s Chief Scientist.

At the same time, when asked about emerging technologies at work, 52% of employees are open to using digital immersive spaces in the metaverse for meetings or team activities in the next year. 51% of Gen Z and 48% of Millennials also envision doing some of their work in the metaverse in the next two years.

According to Mar Gonzalez Franco, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, “Our early research shows that when compared to an audio-only call, people feel more engaged, more present, and even more comfortable when using an avatar in a meeting. The people you are speaking with are better able to see your body language, and back-and-forth conversations feel more natural.”

Rebuilding social capital looks different in a hybrid world – In Malaysia, 58% of hybrid workers are considering a shift to full-remote in the year ahead. Companies cannot rely solely on the office to recoup the social capital lost in the past two years. 42% of leaders in Malaysia say relationship-building is the greatest challenge of having employees work hybrid or remote.

It’s the same globally as well. While a majority of hybrid employees seem to be maintaining their work relationships, only half of remote workers say they have a thriving relationship with their direct team, and even fewer have a strong relationship with those outside their team. 59% of hybrid employees and 56% of remote employees have fewer work “friendships” since going hybrid or remote.

Microsoft believes that in a hybrid world, it’s up to leaders to help all employees prioritize time to build relationships, with additional support to remote and newly onboarded employees, which research shows are most at risk of being left behind.

To sum it up

As Microsoft marks five years since the launch of Teams, more than 270 million people rely on Teams for hybrid work. Microsoft continues to add more innovative tools on Teams as well to enable employees to have better work experiences.

The reality is though, there is now a new mindset when it comes to work. Employees value flexibility and wellbeing, and these great expectations create an opportunity for every organization to reimagine work-life integration as a win-win.

For Microsoft, to make hybrid work work, leaders need to empower managers to be the culture keepers, rethink the role of the office, rebuild social capital for a digital-first workforce, and create new practices for sustainable flexible work.