The past year has been challenging for both companies and employees. Adjusting to the changing nature of work, one that is now slowly returning to a hybrid model of work has been a major cause of the disruption. But as companies emerge out of the pandemic, business heads and team leaders find themselves in a crucial position. In their hand lies the reins to steady their ships as their companies navigate that current period of transition into a hybrid workforce. While past success in managing productivity in times of rapid changes might provide confidence, a lot depends on how effective companies can hire, retain, engage, and motivate their employees.
Transitioning to hybrid work requires companies to recognize their complexity and act accordingly. Different employees, teams, and communities all interact with each other within modern-day companies In the recent past, such networks have been rooted in interacting in a physical space. The sudden shift to remote work meant a lot of the old ways of holding people together and leading them were no longer relevant. Employees have had to work remotely for more than a year. These factors have had a cascading impact on how we work, what employees prefer, and how they interact with each other.
'Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work.' This is what Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft explained, looking back at how the world of work evolved during the pandemic. While companies formulated newer practices that in turn have gone on to play a crucial role in operating successfully in a world of remote work, the fast-approaching world of hybrid work requires leaders to pay more attention to what their employees have to say.
This is not without its reason.
The current landscape
The 2021 Work Trend Index, a global state of work-study conducted by Microsoft, outlines the critical shifts in the business world that are bound to impact companies. Over 73 percent of the workers reported their desire for flexible remote work options to continue. This while over 46 percent are planning to change locations during the year. Additionally, over 47 percent plan to make a pivot or even change their careers in the coming years.
The report also noted other internal challenges leaders would have to address as they transition into a hybrid world. Speaking at People Matters Microsoft Virtual Roundtable, Nishanth Satheesan, Employee Experience Solution Lead, APAC and India noted that 'while companies across the board maintained their levels of productivity, with some far exceeding their expected performance, during the pandemic it all came at a cost.' Over 54 percent of workers reported feeling exhausted and while over 60 percent of GenZemployees reported being 'flat-out struggling' when it came to adjusting to the new nature of work. For Singapore markets, these numbers rise to 58 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Combined with the fact that 37 percent of employees report that their companies are asking too much out of them paints a picture where employees feel increasingly disconnected and exhausted with their work.
Communication levels have also suffered. While 1 to 1 communication has risen among team members, the report notes that other networks and relationships have reduced due to a shift to remote work. These 'weak ties' as Nishanth notes, have gone down. 'There have been multiple reports over the years that link innovation to such cross-functional networks where people from different departments talk to each other,' he adds.
These changes in how employees perceive their jobs and connect are bound to play an important role in how companies transition into a hybrid workspace.
Listening to employee concerns
'Flexible work is here to stay,' explains Nishanth, going to highlight how it’ll soon become an ‘important way for companies to attract the talent they want in future.' Even retention today hinges on how effectively are companies able to react to employee demands. The pandemic accentuated existing gaps between how companies and business leaders address employee concerns. This has led to trends like the ‘Great resignation’ emerging across countries in the last year.
If leaders do not rise to the challenge today and improve people processes to make them more emphatic and impactful in dealing with employee concerns, many stand to lose their talent. The Work Trend Index report notes that over 41 percent of the global workforce is considering leaving their current employer. For Gen Z this number rises to over 54 percent. 'This is a major disruption that organizations are facing today,' notes Nishanth.
Transitioning into a hybrid work model requires leaders today to operate in an environment where employees need and concerns are being heard. Lynn Dang, HR lead of Microsoft Singapore explained how Microsoft created a robust mechanism of listening to employee concerns and finding a way to better address their problems. 'One of the key aspects of what Microsoft did during the pandemic was innovate and bring in new models to how we listen to our employees.' shared Lynn. In addition to the usual more active ways of listening to what employees need, Microsoft paid great attention to what Lynn called the 'ambient' part of their listening ecosystem. This more passive listening involved tools like workplace analytics, assessing social sentiment, keeping a track of external issues and analysing the requests that the 1st tier of HR support has been facing. 'These ambient signals help us understand the engagement and motivation levels better,' adds Lin. 'Its role has become critical during the pandemic and as we deal with transitioning into a hybrid model. It helped us assess the state of work-life balance and take proactive steps in fixing the issues employees face.'
'One way that leaders can truly bring change is by bringing in a philosophy of 'extreme humanism',’ explained Nishanth. A moniker coined by Tom Peters, the term refers to how business leaders today need to develop stronger connections with their employees to deal with these tumultuous times, together. As companies transition back to a hybrid work condition, leaders need to build a deeper connection with their teams and employees to lead them successfully.
Click here to know more about how Microsoft is helping organizations a seamless transition into a hybrid workspace.