Hybrid work is inevitable

7 urgent trends every business leader needs to know in 2021

Looking at 2001 Work Trend Index: Annual Report, it shows that the next challenge is hybrid working.

The year 2020 changed work forever, impacting every person and organization across the globe and shifting to remote work. Now, when the offices are slowly reopening there will be a move to hybrid working, a blended model where some employees return to the workplace and others continue to work from home. The choices leaders make in this next phase of hybrid work will impact an organization’s ability to compete for the best talent, drive creativity and innovation, and create an inclusive work environment for years to come. It will require a significant mental shift to change any operating model to meet new employee expectations. The opportunity now is to build on what we’ve learned over the past 12 months to create a workplace where everyone can thrive. Successful organizations will embrace an experimental, agile approach.

To help organizations through the transition, the 2021 Work Trend Index outlines findings from a study of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries and analyses of productivity and labour signals across Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn. It also includes perspectives from experts who have studied collaboration, social capital, and space design at work for decades.
I encourage you to read the whole report on following page to explore how the last year changed the way we work, and the seven trends that will shape the future of work.

Below you can learn 7 urgent trends every business leader needs to know in 2021 based on this report:

1. Extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.
Employees want control of where, when, and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options. The decisions business leaders make in the coming months to enable flexible work will impact everything from culture and innovation to how organizations attract and retain top talent.

Employees want the best of both worlds: 73% of workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue, while at the same time, 67% are craving more in-person time with their teams.

To prepare for to this, business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments, as well as to give everyone the tools they need to equally contribute from anywhere.

2. Leaders are out of touch with employees and need awake-up call
The research shows that the leaders are doing slightly better than the employees, who feel disconnected and exhausted, as 37% of the global workforce confirms that their companies are asking too much of them during pandemic. There is a need to find new ways of engaging with people and listening more carefully to their worries and needs. You may find some of the solutions in my earlier blog The New Leadership Mindset.

3. Digital overload is real and climbing
The digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially, with the average number of on-line meetings steadily rising since last year. High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce.

According to dr. Mary Donohue, Founder of The Digital Wellness Center, the exhaustion we’re feeling can be blamed on the speed and urgency of virtual work. In-person conversations give our brains a chance to assess things like tone, social cues, and body language to make meaning. But technology can create digital static: “the gap between what you try to communicate online and what the person receiving the message understands.” And as that digital static increases, so does employee fatigue, anxiety, and burnout rates — while motivation and engagement decline.

4. Generation Z is struggling more than other generations
60% of this generation — those between the ages of 18 and 25 — confirm that they are merely surviving, feeling the impact of isolation, struggling with motivation at work, and not experiencing the in-person induction, networking, and training that they would have expected in a normal year.

Younger generations offer fresh perspectives and challenge the status quo. Their contributions are critical, and as the first generation to enter the workforce in a completely remote environment on a widespread basis, their experience will set expectations and attitudes toward work moving forward. Ensuring that Generation Z feels a sense of purpose and wellbeing is an urgent business imperative in the shift to hybrid.

5. Shrinking networks are endangering innovation
The research confirms that although the interactions with our immediate team, or close networks, increased with the move to remote work, our interactions outside of that team, or distant networks, have diminished. According to dr. Nancy Baym, Microsoft Senior Principal Researcher „When you lose connections, you stop innovating. There are no new ideas getting in and groupthink is lees likely to happen”.

As companies balance a mix of in-person and remote teams, it will be important to remember that remote work makes for more isolated teams. Leaders must look for ways to foster the social capital, cross-team collaboration, and spontaneous idea sharing that have driven workplace innovation for decades. However the analysis of the research suggests that hybrid work may help revive our professional networks.

6. Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing
As people navigated unprecedented stress this year, balanced childcare and home school worked from living rooms and quieted barking dogs, something changed, a tough year made work more human and changed the vulnerability to the company culture. These more personal interactions have the power to drive inclusion, productivity, and innovation for years to come. Leaders and teammates should be aware and ensure their workplace interactions encourage authenticity among all groups, especially in hybrid environments.

7. Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world
Remote opportunities are more attractive to diverse applicants. A vast talent marketplace is one of the brightest outcomes from the shift to remote work. Remote job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic, and people are taking notice.

46 % of those who were surveyed are planning to move to a new location this year, indicating that people no longer have to leave their desk, house or community to expand their career opportunities. This fundamental shift expands economic opportunity for individuals and enables organizations to build high-performing, diverse teams.

Hybrid working will impact the organization for years to come and will require from the leaders the decisions about how to shape the organisation culture, how to attract and retain talent, how to respond to changes in the environment and future innovation. It’s a moment that requires a clear vision, the creation of strategic plans that puts people at the center and encompass policy, physical space, and technology.

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