Hybrid work trends every business leader needs to know in 2021

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Hybrid work trends every business leader needs to know in 2021


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Summary

  • Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic peaked last year, the workplace has never been the same both for employers and their employees.
  • Businesses worldwide had little option but to go remote as contagion rates shot upward in the first phase of the outbreak in 2020.
  • Millions of office workers were forced to take to telecommuting to keep business operations going despite the numerous challenges such as slow internet connection speeds, attacks by hackers and software bugs.

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic peaked last year, the workplace has never been the same both for employers and their employees.

Businesses worldwide had little option but to go remote as contagion rates shot upward in the first phase of the outbreak in 2020.

Millions of office workers were forced to take to telecommuting to keep business operations going despite the numerous challenges such as slow internet connection speeds, attacks by hackers and software bugs as well as concerns about work efficiency by some employers.

And even as the pandemic begins to cool off in some parts of the world, companies are pondering on how the operations will be in the future.

Multiple surveys by different groups however show that most company are set to adopt hybrid systems where some of their workers will return to the workplace while others continue to work from home.

“We know two things for sure: flexible work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted. 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 new challenges ahead. Teams have become more siloed and digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat,” Microsoft says in its newly published Work Trend Index for 2021.

The Microsoft Index surveyed more than 30,000 people across the globe and outlined key trends that are likely to be registered in the work place this year.

FLEXIBLE WORK IS HERE TO STAY

Employees want the best of both worlds: 73 per cent of workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue, while at the same time, 67 per cent are craving more in-person time with their teams. To prepare, 66 per cent of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments.

The research by Microsoft also shows leaders may be too narrowly focused on where to invest. Even after a year of working from home, 42 per cent of employees say they lack office essentials, and one in 10 don’t have an adequate internet connection to do their job. Furthermore, only 46 per cent of workers say their employer helps them with remote work expenses.

“This is important to recognise because technical difficulties can be very exclusionary,” says Sean Rintel, a Microsoft principal researcher focused on socially intelligent meetings. “If you can’t hear them and they can’t hear you, people can’t contribute.”

LEADERS ARE OUT OF TOUCH WITH EMPLOYEES AND NEED A WAKE-UP CALL

The Microsoft research suggests most business leaders are faring better than their employees. An estimated 61 per cent of leaders say they’re “thriving” right now — 23 percentage points higher than those without decision-making authority. They also reported stronger relationships with colleagues (+11 percentage points) and leadership (+19 percentage points), and a higher likelihood of taking all or more than their allotted vacation days (+12 percentage points).

Business leaders surveyed were also more likely to be millennials or Gen X, male, information workers, and farther along in their careers. In contrast, Gen Z, women, front-line workers, and those new to their careers reported struggling the most over the past year. And workers feel the disconnect. Thirty-seven per cent of the global workforce says their companies are asking too much of them at a time like this.

Now more than ever, employees are expecting employers and leaders to empathise with their unique challenges. 

HIGH PRODUCTIVITY IS MASKING AN EXHAUSTED WORKFORCE

Self-assessed productivity has remained the same or higher for many employees over the past year, but at a human cost. Nearly one in five global survey respondents say their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance. Fifty-four per cent feel overworked. Thirty-nine per cent feel exhausted.

And trillions of productivity signals from Microsoft 365 quantify the precise digital exhaustion workers are feeling. The digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially, with the average number of meetings and chats steadily rising since last year.

There is hope, however, that hybrid work will offer some reprieve. There were two countries where time spent in meetings did not triple year-over-year: China (+67 per cent) and Australia (+125 per cent). Both have spent more time in hybrid work environments and may offer a hint at what the future holds.

AUTHENTICITY WILL ENCOURAGE PRODUCTIVITY AND WELL-BEING

As people navigated unprecedented stress on the front lines, balanced childcare and home school, worked from living rooms and quieted barking dogs, something changed: work became more human.

Co-workers leaned on each other in new ways to get through the last year. 1 in 6 (17 per cent) has cried with a colleague, especially those in healthcare (23 per cent), travel and tourism (21 per cent), and education (20 per cent).

More genuine interactions with co-workers may help foster a workplace where people feel more comfortable being themselves. Compared to one year ago, 39 per cent of people in the Microsoft study said they are more likely to be their full, authentic selves at work, and 31 per cent are less likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed when their home life shows up at work.

And people who interacted with their co-workers more closely than before — by meeting their children and pets over video, or even sharing a cry — not only experienced stronger work relationships (+12 percentage points), but also reported higher productivity (+23 percentage points) and better overall well‐being (+9 percentage points).

TALENT IS EVERYWHERE 

A vast talent marketplace is one of the brightest outcomes from the shift to remote work. Remote job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic, and people are taking notice.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of those we surveyed are planning to move to a new location this year, indicating that people no longer have to leave their desk, house or community to expand their career opportunities.

This fundamental shift expands economic opportunity for individuals and enables organisations to build high-performing, diverse teams from a near-limitless talent pool

A wider talent pool offers immense opportunity, especially as the pandemic subsides and childcare options are more readily available.

Organisations will be able to hire the best and brightest from around the world, while people broaden their career and economic possibilities without compromising well-being and family priorities.

GEN Z IS AT RISK AND WILL NEED TO BE RE-ENERGIZED

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

This generation is more likely to be single and early in career, making them more likely to feel the impact of isolation, struggle with motivation at work, and lack the financial means to create proper workplaces at home.

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

Gen Z also reported more difficulty feeling engaged or excited about work, getting a word in during meetings, and bringing new ideas to the table when compared to other generations.

Ensuring that Gen Z feels a sense of purpose and well-being is an urgent business imperative in the shift to hybrid.

SHRINKING NETWORKS ARE ENDANGERING INNOVATION

The pandemic-driven isolation people feel in their personal lives is also happening at work. Anonymised collaboration trends between billions of Outlook emails and Microsoft Teams meetings reveal a clear trend: the shift to remote shrunk our networks.

At the onset of the pandemic, our analysis shows interactions with our close networks at work increased while interactions with our distant network diminished.

This suggests that as we shifted into lockdown, we clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside. Simply put, companies became more siloed than they were pre-pandemic.

And while our close networks are still stronger than they were before the pandemic, the trend shows even those close team interactions have started to diminish over time.

What’s more, Teams chats reveal a similar trend. Between April 2020 and February 2021, the number of people sending chats posted in a Teams channel — designed to include the whole team — have decreased by five percent. In contrast, the number of people sending small group or one-on-one chats have increased by 87 percent.

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