Can We Thrive in Hybrid Workplaces?

October 19, 2021 Staff Writer

We’re sure you’ve read the headlines about the Great Resignation and the difficulty hiring new staff members, and we’re also sure that no one is exactly sure what to do about it. Some of us are sold on working from home. Others really miss the interaction with colleagues in the office. What’s a manager to do?

It seems that the hybrid workplace is here to stay, and we must learn how to navigate it. To help us, companies like Microsoft are commissioning large research projects and have begun reporting their findings. 

The 2021 Work Trend Index from Microsoft identifies seven trends that are shaping how we think about our work lives:

  1. Flexible work is here to stay.
  2. Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call.
  3. High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce.
  4. Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized.
  5. Shrinking networks are endangering innovation.
  6. Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing.
  7. Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world.

As a part of the survey, Microsoft asked what organizations are doing to meet these new challenges. They learned that 66 percent of decision makers are thinking about redesigning physical spaces for hybrid work environments. That sounds good, except the research also shows that “42 percent of employees say they lack essential office supplies at home and one in 10 don’t have an adequate internet connection to do their job.” More than 46 percent say their employer doesn’t help with the expenses they shoulder because of remote work.

In the Room Where It Happens

When everyone was working virtually, workers tended to feel more included because everyone was “in the same room.” With the move to a hybrid model, conflict can arise between those at home and those physically “in the room” at the office. How to manage these situations is specific to the culture of the team and the organization, but you can see that a dichotomy between those in the office and those at home could be a problem.

Leaders are Out of Touch

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Business and association leaders should pay special attention to the second trend in this list: “Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call.” Leaders report that they’re thriving. They are building relationships with their colleagues and leadership, earning higher incomes, and taking all their vacation days.

What they’re missing are the subtle cues from in-person offices that alert them to the unhappiness of the people they manage – those chances to ask “How are you?” As Jared Spataro, CVP of Microsoft 365, is quoted, “But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them.”

We’re All Exhausted

Surveys show that productivity has remained high, but workers are feeling overworked and exhausted, sure the organization doesn’t care about their work-life balance. Here’s a sample of what Microsoft has found from research on its own collaboration platform between February 2020 and February 2021:

  • Time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings has more than doubled (2.5X) globally and, aside from a holiday dip in December, continues to climb.
  • The average meeting is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35 to 45 minutes.
  • The average Teams user is sending 45 percent more chats per week and 42 percent more chats per person after hours, with chats per week still on the rise.

Microsoft also found that much of these communications are unstructured and unplanned, and workers are feeling pressure to keep up. We are experiencing digital overload.

But Gen Z is Really Exhausted

Members of the age group between 18 and 25 seem to be merely surviving or “flat-out struggling.” They tend to be single and are early in their careers. Both factors make isolation and maintaining their motivation even harder. They often can’t create comfortable work-at-home environments because of finances.

This group has an enormous impact in the workplace in terms of energy and fresh ideas. If they are struggling, your fast track into innovation may also suffer. Innovation may also suffer as networks shrink and teams turn inward. The more siloed we are at work, the less able we are to borrow concepts from other teams and adopt innovative perspectives.

WFH Has Made Us More Authentic

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As we’ve worked from home, we met our co-workers’ families and pets. Until we all adopted virtual backgrounds, we visited our colleagues’ living rooms and home offices. Seventeen percent of survey respondents admitted they had cried together, particularly in hard-hit industries like education and healthcare.

The result of having to share our home lives is that a larger percentage feels we’re being more authentic at work. Teams that shared with each other grew closer, were more productive, and reported greater well-being.

Talent is Everywhere

One of the bright spots in our work lives is that we can work from anywhere. Talent isn’t limited by the length of a commute. Authors of the Work Index Report write, “People no longer have to leave their desk, house or community to expand their career, and it will have profound impacts on the talent landscape.”

What Do We Do About It?

The final statistic is perhaps the most disturbing. It indicates that 41 percent of workers are considering changing jobs. What would you do if you lost almost half of your staff in the next year?

The 2021 Work Index concludes with suggestions for moving forward:

  • Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility.
  • Invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds.
  • Combat digital exhaustion from the top.
  • Rethink employee experience to compete for the best and most diverse talent.
  • Prioritize rebuilding social capital and culture.

Are you grappling with this? We can help. Contact us to chat, or jump straight to our Hybrid Workplace Workshop for a simple and enlightening way to hammer out the details with your team.

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