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InfoQ Homepage News The Post COVID Normal Will Be Hybrid Work Environments

The Post COVID Normal Will Be Hybrid Work Environments

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The Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index Annual Report points to flexible, hybrid work being the new normal, leaders being out of touch with their employees, an exhausted workforce, innovation at risk, shrinking networks, the need for authenticity to spur productivity and well-being, and a huge negative impact on Gen Z. The report also provides concrete advice for charting the way forward to overcome these and other challenges.

IBM released a research report titled An Injection of Hope looking at life after the COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed. The IBM report points to vaccinated people planning to travel more, engage in more group social activities (but at a lesser level than prior to the pandemic). They also identify that 62% of the respondents in this study want to retain their current working arrangements.

For people who work from home, 44% want to continue doing so after they receive the vaccine, while 35% want to move to a hybrid model. For those working in a hybrid model, 57% want to continue and 43% want to try something new.

The Insurance Journal reports on a UK survey showing that remote and hybrid working will continue after the pandemic ends.

The Microsoft report identifies seven trends that business leaders need to be aware of:

  1. Flexible work is here to stay. Employees want the benefits of remote working with the option of collaborating in-person when needed. This hybrid model will be the norm going forward and employers need to consider how they arrange the office environments to accommodate it. The FlexJobs blog provides advice on how to ask your boss for a hybrid working schedule.
  2. Leaders are out of touch with their employees. Leaders are thriving in the current environment and many have lost empathy for their people. The groups who are suffering most are Gen Z, women, frontline workers and those new to their careers. Mark C. Perna has written a Forbes article on the challenges facing Gen Z workers. A Harvard Business Review article explores why working from home isn’t necessarily good for women.
  3. Productivity has remained high, masking an exhausted workforce. One in five of the respondents say their employer doesn’t care about work life balance, and a majority feel overworked and exhausted. Ashley Stahl explains in an article why work from home burnout is a serious danger which needs to be carefully managed.
  4. Gen Z (18-25 years old) is at risk. The early career workforce have lost out on the networking and peer support that was normal prior to the pandemic. The IBM report also points out the impact of the pandemic on the social habits of Gen Z, in particular as they became even more focused on digital interaction rather than in-person than they were prior to the pandemic.Holly Walker, a loneliness researcher, has pointed out the significant risks of leaving some groups marginalised in the post-COVID world.
  5. Shrinking networks are endangering innovation. Interactions have become more focused on smaller groups which results in more siloed behaviours and less opportunity for serendipitous connections which can generate innovations. An HBR article explores the impact of shrinking networks on innovation, creativity, problem-solving and employee well-being.

    According to Dr. Nancy Baym, senior principal researcher at Microsoft:

    When you lose connections, you stop innovating. There are no new ideas getting in and groupthink becomes a serious possibility.

  6. Authenticity will spur productivity and well-being. The shift to working from home opened our lives (including families and pets) to each other, and for many work became more human and people feel more able to be their full authentic selves at work. For minorities this was harder and organisations need to be mindful of creating a more inclusive environment. A McKinsey article provides advice on sustaining and strengthening inclusion in remote environments.
  7. Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world. The shift to remote work has removed the geographic restrictions and opened opportunities for a vast marketplace of diverse talent. Many workers are planning on moving to different locations away from their current workplaces. The Microsoft report quotes figures from LinkedIn showing that members of disadvantaged groups are more likely to apply for remote roles.

The report points out that 41% of employees are actively planning to change jobs in the coming year - which can have a hugely disruptive impact on employee organisations. A Fast Company article puts the figure at 52% of workers considering changing jobs, and 44% having actual plans in place to do so.

The Microsoft report goes on to point out the need to make a big shift:

one that will require leaders and organizations to fundamentally reexamine and rewire their operating model.

It then explains what this rewiring needs to include and provides advice on what’s needed to be successful in the hybrid environment:

  • Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility
  • Invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds
  • Combat digital exhaustion from the top
  • Rebuilding social capital is a business imperative
  • Rethink employee experience to compete for the best and most diverse talent

The report concludes:

If we embrace extreme flexibility, follow data insights, and continue listening closely to employee needs, together we can create a better future of work for everyone.

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