While the workforce landscape changed, not all decision-makers read the room as they aimed for first to post on pre-pandemic return-to-office prize ribbons. Some companies are seeing an employee push-back, while others fail at blending 2019 normal with 2022 work-life balance efficiencies and success. In December 2021, I wrote in A Return To Office, Prehistoric Flashback, that “if the desire and belief to return to pre-pandemic inefficiency and waste is a marker for perceived success over the pandemic itself, then we will have learned little outside the medical science of COVID19.” That remains a true challenge as leaders over-steer return-to-office solutions like a formula one race car with wet tires on a sunny day.
In a world where data is a valuable commodity that can influence profit and performance, remote work data hasn’t quite become the foundation for hybrid models in a way that reflects all the pandemic-workday lessons learned. Industry data companies continue to share that feedback.
Microsoft, a trusted office-efficiency technology company released five key findings in 2022, “Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work, Work”, that provide supporting insights on the hybrid business world, and leaders pining for the good old days might be pushing back on these trends as much as remote workers who are woke to the mutual benefits.
Employees Have a New “Worth It” Equation
When an employee looked at work in the context of the space they utilize at the office, material things like office space, equipment, and window views might have been perks that influenced priorities. As workers transitioned to remote work, the perks shifted from office space materials to health and family balance. “53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic,” reports Microsoft in this study. Employees are asking a simple question, “Is it worth going into an office to do work that I can do just as, or even more effectively and efficiently at home, while also having a better health and family life?” If the answer is no, they’re not buying into the necessity for pre-pandemic normal to satisfy reasons outside of their benefit structure.
Microsoft identified the top 5 reasons employees left their job:
1. Mental Health
2. Work-Life Balance
3. COVID Risks
4. Lack of Confidence in Leadership
5. Lack of Flexible Work hours/location
Comparatively, failed recognition or lack of raises was lower on the list, whereas in the past it would have been much higher.
The trend continues to favour those companies who are supporting more remote work opportunities than in-office as 68% of workers have or are planning to move so they can continue to work remotely.
Leadership Virtue & Value
There are also two trends tied to leadership tangled in value and virtue. The first is that Managers are being caught between employee expectations and leadership mandates. Microsoft reported that, “over half (54%) of managers feel leadership at their company is out of touch with employee expectations; 74% say they don’t have influence over resources they need to make changes on behalf of their team.” So, in the process of grasping at the way things used to be, managers are being caught between the front-line realities and the back-room idealists. In addition to managers influencing positive culture by understanding employee needs and maintaining current success, if there is a need to have some employees return to an office the value must be communicated and the journey to the office made worthwhile. Microsoft reported that “38% of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office.”
It's clear that not everyone needs to be in an office for continued success. It’s also clear that the tools and means for flexibility are proven. Executives must empower their leadership teams and use the feedback to design the hybrid models accordingly.
As the remote technology proved its worth maintaining and exceeding deliverables, it also demonstrated that meeting culture had not changed. Microsoft reported that, “since February 2020, the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time and the number of weekly meetings increased 153%.” So, while flexibility was achieved in work location, it didn’t necessarily translate to workload and effort. That alone should be a head-scratcher for any leader who still ties their anchor to the SS Office Minnow in opposition of remote work and viable hybrid models. Flexibility needs to include an understanding of the work culture itself and that has been a challenge with decades of regurgitated solutions as leaders come and go along with the centralization and decentralization of technologies across all industries. The requirement to truly understand people is at the core of flexibility success.
Ensuring that people are understood and that relationships continue to grow within and across teams has been one of the bigger challenges of remote work. It will continue to grow as an issue if leaders are incapable of bringing together hybrid and in-office workers. Microsoft reported that, “66% of respondents say doing informal coffee chats virtually feels like more of a chore than an in-person get together.” That said, the tools are in place to support the hybrid model providing that some fundamentals like trust, transparency, open communication, honesty, and integrity are demonstrated in a genuine and sincere manner.
Relationship building must and can evolve if the organization is willing to support the culture to do it.
The hybrid work model might be one of the easiest, most efficient, and effective changes to how people work in the last hundred years. While the past was marked by technology advances that made everyday living easier, the last two years has catapulted society to a new way of working that has eliminated geographic boundaries, shown the positive impacts to the environment, increased people’s capability for better health, and brought families closer together. The change was so long overdue that nature seemingly forced it on the world. The only real question is, are the decision-makers listening or still struggling with hybrid work plans on foolscap paper?
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Reference: Microsoft: Great Expectations Making Hybrid Work