Remote working
Remote work. Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels

Remote work has created new job opportunities for some, offered more family time, and provided options for whether or when to commute. But there are also challenges ahead.

The first annual Microsoft Work Trend Index reveals that high productivity masks an exhausted workforce working from home.

“Self-assessed productivity has remained the same or higher for many employees over the past year, but at a human cost,” said Microsoft’s 2021 Word Trend Index.

The survey finds that one in five global survey respondents say their employer does not care about their work-life balance. Fifty-four percent feel overworked. Thirty-nine percent feel exhausted.

The survey further discovered that with over 41% of the global workforce considering leaving their employer this year, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work would be critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent.

Work Trend Index
Work Trend Index

The index surveyed more than 30,000 people in 31 countries and analysed trillions of labour signals across Microsoft 365 and career social networking site LinkedIn and found stark disparities behind the disconnect between management and workers.

The business leaders surveyed – the majority of whom reported they are “thriving” – were more like millennial or Generation X men, information workers and farther along in their careers.

Work Trend Index
Work Trend Index

Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energised

An overlooked demographic appears to be suffering right now: Gen Z. Sixty percent of this generation — those between the ages of 18 and 25 — say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now.

This generation is more likely to be single and early in their careers, making them more likely to feel the impacts of isolation, struggle with motivation at work, or lack the financial means to create good workplaces at home.

Survey respondents reported that they were more likely to struggle to balance work with life (+8 percentage points) and feel exhausted after a typical day of work (+8 percentage points) compared to older generations.

Work Trend Index
Work Trend Index

Gen Z also reported difficulties feeling engaged or excited about work, getting a word in during meetings, and bringing new ideas to the table.

Digital overload is real and climbing

Work Trend Index
Work Trend Index

Even one year in, time spent in meetings and chats sent per person each week continue to climb.

Shrinking networks are endangering innovation

The pandemic-driven isolation people feel in their personal lives is also happening at work.

Companies became more siloed than they were before the pandemic. And while interactions with our close networks are still more frequent than they were before the pandemic, the trend shows even these close team interactions have started to diminish over time.

Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing

As people navigated unprecedented stress on the frontlines, balanced childcare and homeschool, worked from living rooms, quieted barking dogs, and pushed away curious cats, something changed: work became more human.

One in five have met their colleagues’ pets or families virtually, and as we clung to each other to get through the year, one in six (17%) have cried with a colleague this year. This number was even higher for those in industries hit hardest during this time, like education (20%), travel and tourism (21%), and healthcare (23%).

“Before the pandemic, we encouraged people to ‘bring their whole self to work,’ but it was tough to truly empower them to do that. The shared vulnerability of this time has given us a huge opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture and transform work for the better,” says Jared Spataro, Corporate vice president at Microsoft 365.

Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world

One of the brightest sides of the shift to remote work is that it widens the talent marketplace. Remote job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic, and people are taking notice.

Forty-six percent of remote workers we surveyed are planning to move to a new location this year because they can now work remotely. People no longer have to leave their desk, house, or community to expand their careers, which will profoundly impact the talent landscape.

“This shift is likely to stick, and it’s good for democratising access to opportunity. Companies in major cities can hire talent from underrepresented groups that may not have the means or desire to move to a big city. And in smaller cities, companies will now have access to talent that may have a different set of skills than they had before,” says Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn.

The way forward

Taken together, these trends show that we are no longer bound to traditional notions of space and time to work together. Instead, we can set aside our long-held assumptions and shift our mental model to embrace extreme flexibility. And with these five strategies, business leaders can rewire their operating model to successfully change hybrid work.

Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility!

Every organisation will need a plan that encompasses policy, physical space, and technology. It starts with answering critical questions: How are people doing, and what do they need? Who will be able to work remotely, and who might have to come in? How often? Codify the answers to these questions to formulate a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility, then guide employees as you experiment and learn.

Invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital world’s!

Office space no longer stops at the office. Leaders must consider how to equip all workers with the tools they need to contribute — whether they’re working from home, the manufacturing floor, in the office, or on the go.

Combat digital exhaustion from the top

As we look to create a better future of work, addressing digital exhaustion must be a priority for leaders everywhere. It won’t be easy, but consider how to reduce employee workloads, embrace a balance of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, and create a culture where breaks are encouraged and respected.

Prioritise rebuilding social capital and culture

Broadening our networks and building social capital takes effort in any work environment, but it’s even more difficult in the digital world. Teams must reframe network-building from a passive attempt to a proactive one, encourage and reward managers for prioritising building social capital at work, and seek to create a culture where social support thrives.

Rethink employee experience to compete for the best and most diverse talent

The talent landscape has shifted, and employee expectations have changed. The best leaders will empathise with each group’s unique needs in their organisation and see remote work as a lever to attract the best and most diverse talent.

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