For the majority of office workers, working outside the office has been the new normal for nearly two and a half years. However, hybrid work has created a growing disconnect between employees and leaders, according to new research from the latest Microsoft Work Trend Index Pulse Report, released in conjunction with the latest product upgrades to employee experience platform Viva.
The report “Hybrid work is just work. Are We Doing It Wrong?” is based on data from 20,000 people in 11 countries, in addition to trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity alerts and findings from LinkedIn and Glint People Science.
Organizations have reached a critical inflection point in the evolution of hybrid work, and Microsoft’s findings clearly demonstrate that a new approach is needed from companies, said Sunita Khatri, senior director of product marketing at Microsoft.
“Now more than ever, leaders must balance the interest of employees with what is necessary for the business to run successfully,” Khatri said. “This means aligning people’s tasks with work that matters or makes an impact, and creating an employee experience that meets employee expectations.”
These tensions are particularly acute when it comes to performance issues. Dubbed by Microsoft “productivity paranoia,” research shows that 85 percent of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that their employees are productive, while 87 percent of employees surveyed for the report say are productive at work.
Managers miss visual performance cues
Many leaders and managers miss the old visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can’t physically “see” who’s working hard, according to Microsoft. The report found that 49% of hybrid work managers say they have a hard time trusting their employees to do their best work, compared to 36% of in-person managers.
Additionally, 54% of hybrid work managers report having less visibility into the work their employees are doing, while only 38% of in-person managers report having the same problem. As a result, employees are now under pressure to ‘prove’ they are working, leading to an increase in so-called ‘digital overload’.
Therefore, unless leaders stop worrying about whether their employees are working and instead focus on helping them prioritize the work that matters most, Microsoft suggests that hybrid work will become unsustainable. This issue is further illustrated by the fact that 81% of employees surveyed said it was important for their managers to help them prioritize their workload, but only 31% said their managers had ever given clear direction during a one-on-one conversation.
The report also highlights the need for organizations to better understand what motivates their employees to come to the office. Seventy-three percent of employees and 78% of business decision makers surveyed say they need a better reason to go to the office than company expectations, with 84% saying they would be motivated to go , if they can communicate with colleagues, and 85% referring to the ability to restore team ties.
To retain employees, Microsoft research highlights the importance of retraining and upskilling your employees. Of those surveyed, 55% of employees say the best way to develop their skills is to change companies. However, 68% said they would stay longer at their company if it were easier to change jobs internally, a figure that rose to 76% if they knew they would be offered training and development support.
To try to address the challenges identified in the report, Microsoft has released a number of new additions to its Viva platform.
Microsoft Viva addresses the challenges of hybrid work
Khatri said that along with trying to bridge the disconnect between employees and managers, all updates to the Viva platform are focused on unifying the employee experience. These include two new apps, Viva Pulse and Viva Amplify.
Viva Pulse is designed to allow managers and team leaders to seek regular and confidential feedback on their team’s experience, using smart templates and research-backed questions to help managers determine what’s working well, where to focus on and what actions can be taken to address the team’s needs.
“This [product] is really focused on empowering managers to regularly seek feedback from their teams and then be able to act on those confidential responses,” Khatri said.
In comparison, Viva Amplify aims to improve communication between leaders and employees. The app centralizes communication campaigns, offers writing guidelines to improve message resonance, enables publishing to multiple channels and distribution groups in Microsoft 365, and provides metrics for improvement.
In addition to the app launch, Microsoft is also introducing a range of new capabilities to Viva, including Answers in Viva, Leadership Corner in Viva Engage and People in Viva.
Answers in Viva uses AI to match employee questions with answers and experts across the organization to help put collective knowledge to work for all employees, while the Leadership Corner provides a space where employees can interact directly with leadership, share ideas and prospects, to participate in organizational initiatives, and more.
The people at Viva are too AI-a managed capability that creates profile maps detailing an employee’s interests, knowledge, and team goals to help colleagues easily discover connections, experts, and insights across the organization.
Viva’s integrations enhance ease of use
Viva Goals, which launched over the summer, will also have enhanced capabilities, including deeper integration with Microsoft Teams for checking OKRs (goals and key results), new integrations with Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Project, and an Azure DevOps extension.
The integrations improve ease of use, said JP Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.
“The fact that many of the employee experiences can be used right in Teams is helpful in reducing some of the complexity of the many features,” Gounder said.
In addition, improved integrations between Viva Learning and LinkedIn Learning will make it easier for users to access content from the LinkedIn Learning Hub, all of which will be synced directly within Viva. The new Viva Connections home experience will bring all Viva apps together in one place, and Viva email updates will provide more personalized productivity recommendations to help employees catch up on work, meetings and studies.
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