Microsoft and LinkedIn conducted a 30,000 person, 31 country study over this past year of remote work to help shape their hybrid work strategy. Hybrid work is defined as a mixture of people returning to the workplace and others continuing to work from home/remotely. It’s the next great disruption in how we work – something at this point that we all see coming.
But there are underlying trends to note if you want to successfully transition to hybrid work. I’ll highlight some of the key insights and implications from the research.
1. Flexibility is no longer a benefit, it’s an expectation.
I give a keynote on the secrets to the highest performing organizations, in which I used to talk about flexibility being a key perk. No longer – the pandemic has thrust flexibility into expectation status. Not surprisingly, employees now want the best of both worlds – having flexibility to work from home and the ability to reconnect with a physical workplace.
Implications: Many will leave if they don’t get this best of both worlds. 41% of the workforce is considering leaving their employer in the next year. It represents nearly a doubling of job-switching intent. Employees may be considering leaving for many reasons now, but not baking flexibility into jobs certainly won’t help prevent massive turnover.
Companies will have to step up even the basics of support here. Incredibly, the study indicated, “Even after a year of working from home, 42% 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. Yet, over 46% say their employer doesn’t cover remote work expenses.”
That’s not going to cut it. Beyond taking care of the basics for enabling flexible work, every organization will need a plan that addresses policies and processes, physical work space, and technology. It starts with a basic assessment of what do people need to work effectively in a flexible work arrangement? It continues with an investment in the physical work space itself – enough so that it entices people to want to commute into the office. And with enough technology investment to bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds. These investments can mean a talent retention and recruiting competitive advantage.
2. Leaders are out of touch with employee struggles, especially newer employees.
The Microsoft/LinkedIn study showed that many business leaders are doing much better than the employees reporting to them, creating a distorted view of how difficult hybrid work will be for those employees. 61% of leaders said they’re “thriving”, 23 percentage points higher than those without decision-making authority. They also reported stronger relationships with colleagues (+11 percentage points) and their boss (+19 percentage points), earning higher incomes (+17 percentage points), and taking all or more of their vacation days (+12 percentage points).
Meanwhile, newer workers, especially Gen Z’ers, i.e. those without established careers, are struggling the most. They feel overloaded, don’t feel connected to their co-workers, and don’t have a cross-company network to pull on for support. It makes sense when you think about it. Imagine you just joined a company and then bam – you’re in lockdown mode working from home where your only connection is with people on your immediate team.
Implications: More than anything, it requires an intentional effort from leaders to survey and directly connect with their employees to get an understanding for what they’re really going through. Awareness of the issues isn’t enough, of course. Then it requires treating the solutions like a major strategy. Because it is. Hybrid work is the next great disruption in how we work. Period. Adapt or die.
3. Culture must be a driving thought, not an afterthought.
Related to the above point, many employees feel isolated. Teams are becoming more siloed, less collaborative, and less innovative in general. An emphasis on culture can bring everyone together. A culture where connection, network building, a foundation of social support and building of social capital isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity. A culture that puts processes in place to enable all of this. A culture that builds from one good thing remote work has brought us over the past year – a more authentic workplace. Due to remote work, 1 in 5 people have met their co-workers families or pets, 1 in 6 have cried with a colleague. 39% of people say they are more likely to be their authentic selves at work now.
Implications: Treat culture as an absolute priority. Enable a culture wired for the future, with the social-building structures required and that learns from the past, with the trend towards authenticity at its core.
4. Digital burnout is real.
While productivity has gone up as the lines between work and home blur, there is a dark side. Research shows the number of digital meetings, time spent in meetings, the amount of chats, the number of documents to read, and the number of emails have all gone up dramatically.
I bet you’re personally experiencing this. It leads to increased expectations of what we must give to our jobs to be successful.
Implications: The idea of productivity must take on a broader definition. As the study points out, in a hybrid work world, productivity must include measures on collaboration, learning and personal growth, and overall wellbeing. Without a broader view of what’s needed in a hybrid world, we’re doomed to follow pure metrics of productivity to their inevitable end – record levels of burnout and disengagement. And this new definition must be introduced and reinforced from the organization’s leaders.
Hybrid work is here to disrupt. Plan for it well and you’ll disrupt expectations of what a great place to work looks like.
Exciting News! – You Can Now PreOrder My Book, already an Amazon #1 BEST-SELLING new release in Management Science!
Leading from the Middle: A Playbook for Managers to Influence Up, Down, and Across the Organization (publication date is May 18th, 2021). Order here https://amzn.to/3as5tK8 OR… Get a massive BONUS BUNDLE by ordering 5 or more copies here: http://lftm.bulkbooks.com/ Check out a detailed book description here: https://bit.ly/2MLe5Do