Emerging from two years of limbo, employers and their employees are redefining the long-term vision of the ‘perfect’ hybrid workplace.
By now, we’re all clear on the pros and cons of hybrid working. The flexibility of being able to work anywhere and everywhere and get the job done just as well, with the right technology and processes in place, has been an overwhelming positive. On the flipside, there are challenges that come with hybrid work; work/life balance, meeting fatigue and social bonding.
As we move from short-term pandemic fixes to more permanent hybrid arrangements, there’s inevitably some push and pull between businesses and teams to get it right. Flexibility and choice is golden, but so is productivity and profitability. What’s the balance that’ll make everyone happy? Is one or two days a week in the office the ideal setup, as per recent research from the Harvard Business School? Or are there more complex factors that go into the holy grail of hybrid work?
These issues are unpacked in the findings of Microsoft’s latest Annual Work Trend Index Report for 2022: Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work, which surveyed more than 31,000 workers across 31 countries about how they want to work.
Kochie’s Business Builders asked Andy Malakooti, Microsoft Australia and New Zealand’s Commercial Category Lead, Device Partner Sales, to take us through the report’s key insights that will set up hybrid workplaces for long-term success.
1. Understanding the new “worth it equation”
Employees have a new ‘worth it’ equation they bring to the office. The report found that 53 per cent of employees are more likely to prioritise health and wellbeing over work than they did pre-pandemic.
“We are definitely aligned to those global figures and, if anything, probably slightly higher being a developed country with strong technology integration in our country,” Malakooti explains.
“What I would say is that flexibility has become key. People have really started to reprioritise time with the family, health and flexibility over other things.”
So, for a hybrid strategy to succeed, business leaders need to consider their employees’ “worth it equation” and equip them the tools they need to do their best work wherever they choose to be.
2. Look out for the manager wedge
Managers are crucial to the success of a hybrid workplace. Surprisingly, 74 per cent of managers surveyed said they don’t have the influence of resources to make changes for their employees; and 54 per cent said company leadership is out of touch with employee needs.
It’s a delicate balancing act, especially if leaders are mandating a return to the office while staff are asking managers for more flexibility.
“A lot of it is around the approach, and the expectation around how staff should work,” Malakooti says. “It’s about understanding that staff need that flexibility to work in unusual hours, away from the traditional nine to five, and in unusual locations away from the traditional office. Having that flexibility but ensuring deadlines are met – that’s really the opportunity for a successful hybrid work environment.
“And it comes from both directions. There’s the trust from the employer that timelines are going to be delivered, and then it’s the responsibility from the staff to ensure they’re delivering what they need to deliver on time and as a result, they’re getting the flexibility that they require.”
3. Defining the ‘why’ of the office
Is your office worth the commute? More than a third (38 per cent) of hybrid workers said their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office, while only 28 per cent of leaders have established team agreements to clearly define the new norms.
The solution? Business leaders and managers need to redesign the workplace with what the Microsoft report calls “radical intentionality”. This could mean experimenting with ‘Team Tuesdays’ or quarterly offsites to bring people together, or perhaps even just adapting aspects of the physical office itself.
“Some people like to work in more quiet environments whereas others miss that face-to-face collaboration,” Malakooti adds. “I think what employers need to be looking at now is designing their workplaces to support a combination of those things. So you have quiet places in the office where people can sit and focus; or there are other areas which are collaboration areas where people can get together as teams as discuss ideas, whiteboard opportunity ideas and so forth.”
This also means making sure the shared experience extends to hybrid meetings, where programs like Microsoft Teams Rooms are optimised for hybrid collaboration.
“As people start coming back into the office some days a week, there’s still going to be members of your teams that will be working remotely,” Malakooti says. “So having that consistent experience of being in the office or being at home for larger team, project or customer meetings, is absolutely critical. That’s where technology really has to be at the forefront of that.”
“It’s our role to help facilitate our customers giving that to their staff through the technology – through the devices and the access, through Teams collaboration, through Windows 11 devices powered by Intel vPro®.”
4. Let’s talk hours… but not for hours
Digital exhaustion is real. Based on analysis of collaboration activity of Microsoft 365 tools over the past two years, the average Teams user is spending 252 per cent more time in meetings weekly than in February 2020. We’re also spending more time on after-hours work and our workdays are getting longer.
“There’s more quick informal conversations that would’ve normally happened in the office, that have now switched to meetings,” Malakooti observes. “There’s a level of etiquette required to ensure that meetings are scheduled for the right reasons. So, make it a bit of team practice to ask ‘can we make this an email or chat instead of a full meeting?’ Can you look for opportunities to divide meetings between team members? Can you have meeting invites where certain people are required and certain people are optional?”
Fun fact: meetings are now starting later on Mondays and finishing earlier on Fridays. While 9am to 11am are still the busiest times for meetings, the 2pm to 3pm slot is on the rise. Take note!
5. Rebuilding social capital
One of the consequences of the pandemic was the siloing of teams. Now, a positive hybrid workplace experience is one that recognises how social capital needs to be rebuilt between teams.
According to the report, hybrid employees feel more connected to their direct teams than those who are fully remote. However, both hybrid and remote workers cite a lack of connection to their wider teams. This can prove challenging for new employees, but also for workplace friendships in general.
As such, business leaders need to take an active role in making sure hybrid and full-time remote employees foster social relationships at work – whether that involves informal virtual coffee catch-ups or cross-team experiences.
“It’s really about making sure that sense of connection with the organisation and with the broader team is still there,” Malakooti adds.
It’s important to remember that hybrid work is still a work in progress. It takes trial and error. It takes consultation between teams, managers and leaders. And finally, it takes redefining how we use modern technology to collaborate productively – and most of all, happily.
For more, read the full 2022 Work Trend Index: Annual Report here.
Want to know how to improve your hybrid workplace with Windows 11 modern devices powered by the Intel vPro platform? Find out more here.
This article is brought to you by Kochie’s Business Builders in partnership with Microsoft.
Feature image: AdobeStock