Getting the hybrid workplace right takes radical intent

Much has changed in the way we work in the past two years. In fact, according to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index, the “why” of work has shifted as employees now have high expectations when it comes to what they get out of their jobs and what they’re willing to give back.

In my opinion, the most compelling finding is that the workers who went home to work in 2020 are not the same workers who will return to the office in 2022. To be successful well into the future, employers must reconnect with their people and find a balance as they strive to find a new normal.

From an employee’s perspective, the concept of flexibility is anything but flexible – it has become non-negotiable. While many organizations prepare to reopen their doors and welcome employees back, others continue to question the value of the office. And who can blame them? After two years, we not only survived working remotely, we got pretty good at it.

That is not to say that there is nothing to gain from an office, on the contrary. Our research shows that it plays a critical role in strengthening workplace relationships, satisfaction and engagement. Not to mention the ways it facilitates problem solving and innovation.

Related: Putting Wellness Above Work

But achieving these benefits in a hybrid world is not self-evident. Getting it right requires flexibility, new norms and radical intentionality. For example, I might still go to the office most days, but what time and who I’ll see there will vary based on the needs of my team and the type of work I have to do that day.

So much has changed in the way we work – shouldn’t the office too?

A new look at the office starts with intentionality

Faced with ever-changing circumstances, organizations are stuck in the “messy middle” of hybrid – not quite completely remote, not quite completely hybrid. And employees feel the pain. Half (51%) of hybrid workers are considering moving to fully remote next year, indicating they are not yet convinced that they really need to go to the office to get their work done.

One of the biggest frustrations employees cite is ambiguity. More than a third (38%) don’t know when or why they should come to the office, but only 28% of organizations have team agreements in place that help answer those fundamental questions. By clarifying the “who, why, and where” of face-to-face meetings, leaders set their people and teams ready for success.

The ‘who’ of the office

At its best, the office is a place for personal collaboration, team building and casual connection. At its worst, workers navigate rush hour only to find themselves alone in a sea of ​​cubicles, making video calls all day and missing the convenience of being in the hallway from their fridge.

Much of the value of the office lies in the magic of human connection — and that magic requires more planning in a hybrid world. Coordination at the team level or across key partner groups maximizes the value of time in the office. For example, parts of my team will try to make ‘Team Thursdays’ a priority (but completely optional) in-office day to help reach critical mass and recreate some of what we’ve lost working remotely . We also make it a best practice to indicate whether we are in person or remotely when we respond to meetings, and clearly indicate on calendars when we are at home, in the office or on the road.

The ‘why’ of the office

Traditionally, the office was where employees went to ring the bell. Today, it’s up to leaders to make sure the office complements the employee experience — one that makes them feel productive and connected. Managers should work with their teams to determine the best ways, times and occasions to meet in person.

For some teams, this may mean prioritizing team connection to rebuild the bond or help new hires feel immersed in the team culture. Others may prioritize personal time for creative brainstorming or solving complex problems. And this will likely also differ between hybrid and remote workers: hybrid workers can commute to weekly team meetings, while their remote colleagues can only visit the office once a quarter for on-site team scheduling.

The ‘where’ of the office

While in the past the office was a purely physical destination, today leaders must give equal weight and focus to the digital and physical office experience.

The 2020 meeting room was all about the personal experience. We design for this in hybrid not in the room so that everyone can sit at the table. By reorienting the seating in the room to the video view, the participants face each other. AI-powered camera technology creates individual video streams for everyone at the physical table, adjusting in real time as people move around the room and zooming in on those who are speaking. Assigning someone to moderate the chat, keep an eye out for hands raised, and those who mute the sound ensures that every voice is heard.

Creating the Hybrid Office work isn’t just about getting back into a shared physical space – it’s about getting into a shared main space. Leaders must be consciously engaged in fostering connection, making team agreements, and rethinking the physical space. It requires new standards and flexibility to adapt and learn along the way. The office is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution – and I believe that’s a good thing.

Jared Spataro, a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, heads the company’s Modern Work team, which looks to the future of work and the technologies that will take us there. His team is also working to deliver new products and features within Microsoft 365.

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