The Return to Office Conundrum: What Will Make People Stay
The pandemic made remote work a reality. Two years in, people have become comfortable working from home and as companies urge workers to return to office, employees are unhappy to say the least.
Microsoft’s studies have thrown up some surprising findings that will redefine the future of work — over 50% of people admitted that they will consider transitioning to hybrid work in the year ahead.
For Gen Z and Millennials, work is part of their identity but not the core of who they are. They are ready to prioritize themselves (read personal wellbeing or mental health) over their jobs. Earlier, Apple employees demanded more flexibility and protested the hybrid model in place at the time.
Is hybrid work culture the future?
On September 22, Microsoft released a report on hybrid work titled Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong? that highlighted the growing disconnect between managers and employees engaged in a hybrid workplace. The study gathered data from 20,000 people in 11 countries, along with analysis of Microsoft 365 productivity signals, LinkedIn labor trends and Glint People Science insights.
The report clearly states that 87% of employees report they are productive at work, but 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence their employees are being productive. In Microsoft’s Annual Work Trend Index Report released earlier this year, 50% of leaders revealed that their company already requires, or plans to require, full-time in-person work in the year ahead.
Employees and leaders have major differences on what constitutes productivity, how much autonomy is good, and the importance of flexibility. Leaders lean towards enforcing a return to office but workers are not in agreement and appear to prefer a hybrid workplace.
The report makes it undeniably clear that though return to office should be a part of hybrid work, the future of work will be defined by shared experiences that help employees feel valued and trusted no matter the place or time.
“Thriving employees are what will give organizations a competitive advantage in today’s dynamic economic environment,” said Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO, Microsoft.
How can a hybrid work environment be improved?
In the survey, 73% of employees mentioned that they are not keen to return to office, but will feel motivated to be working at the office if they can socialize with their colleagues (84%) while 85% would do it to rebuild team bonds. To a majority, working at the office is palatable only if it offers them a chance to strengthen their workplace relationships.
Both leaders and employees agreed that communication is the most important skill to be successful. The art of communication must be honed by everyone. Around 55% of employees also admitted that the best way to upskill is to change companies. However, 68% said that they would consider staying longer at their current company if they could switch jobs internally or if the company had good learning and development pathways in place.
Human resource professionals are of the opinion that managers must prioritize bridging the gap between employee and leader mindsets. Unless there is a relationship of trust between employees and managers, the future of a hybrid workplace is in jeopardy.
The survey makes it clear that employees are willing to shift jobs in case their needs for learning are not met. Microsoft’s Annual Work Trend Index Report found that 52% of Gen Z and millennial workers are planning to change employers this year, up by 3% year-on-year. Furthermore, 53% are prioritizing health and well-being over work than before the pandemic.
One big takeaway is that today, employees are evaluating their workplaces and jobs on scope for learning and flexibility. If they are not receiving what they want, they are ready to jump ship.
Colette Stallbaumer, General Manager, Microsoft 365 & Future of Work at Microsoft, mentions that employers need to help workers think of their future in terms of a career playground rather than a corporate ladder and offer the mobility to switch teams and roles. According to Stallbaumer, younger employees are increasingly pursuing aspirations outside of work, such as side hustles, the creator economy and entrepreneurship, because they prioritize well-being and a sense of purpose. They are unafraid to take up challenges if they fit into their values.
Although leaders are still not in agreement over return to office and hybrid work, Stallbaumer believes the future depends on providing adequate flexibility and catering to the needs of the workers. Workers must be able to learn and work in ways that work for them while driving impact for the organization.