The future is flexible but beware threat of digital exhaustion

This WORKTECH Briefing looks at new trend research from Microsoft which shows how a blended model of hybrid work is swiftly being adopted around the world amid alarming signs of employee disconnect

The move to hybrid work will be as great a disruption to the world of work as the move to remote work at the onset of the global pandemic one year ago, according to new global research commissioned by Microsoft.

The 2021 Work Trend Index, based on a large-scale survey in January 2021 of more than 30,000 full-time employees and self-employed workers in 31 different countries, sketches out a fundamental shift to a blended model where some employees return to the workplace and others continue to work from home. Seven trends are presented in the index.

Flexible work is here to stay: Employees want the best of both worlds. Over 70 per cent of workers want flexible work options to continue, while over 65 per cent are craving more in-person time with their teams. To prepare, 66 per cent of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments. The data is clear: extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.

Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call: Many business leaders are faring better than their employees. Sixty-one per cent of leaders say they are ‘thriving’ right now — 23 percentage points higher than those without decision-making authority.

High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce: Self-assessed productivity has remained the same or higher for many employees over the past year, but at a human cost. One in five global survey respondents say their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance. Fifty-four per cent feel overworked. The digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially, with the average number of meetings and chats steadily increasing since last year.

Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energised: An overlooked demographic appears to be suffering right now. Sixty percent of Gen Z — those between the ages of 18 and 25 — say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now.

‘We clung to our immediate teams for support in the pandemic but let our broader network go…’

Shrinking networks are endangering innovation: Evidence suggests that at the onset of the pandemic, our interactions with close networks at work increased, while interactions with more distant networks diminished. As we shifted into lockdowns, we clung to our immediate teams for support but let our broader network fall to the wayside – to the detriment of innovation.

Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing: Work became more human during the pandemic as people juggled work, home, family and pets. The future workplace will need to adapt to allow people to be their full, authentic selves at work.

Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world: One of the brightest sides of the shift to remote work is that it widens the talent marketplace. Forty-six per cent of remote workers surveyed are planning to move to a new location in 2021  because they can now work remotely. People no longer have to leave their desk, house or community to expand their career, and it will have profound impacts on the talent landscape.

The report concludes: ‘We’re all learning as we go, but we know two things for sure: flexible work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted. Remote work has created new job opportunities for some, offered more family time, and provided options for whether or when to commute. But there are also challenges ahead. Teams have become more siloed this year and digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat.’

Legal and financial change

The professional service sector is reaching a tipping point in rethinking its traditional working models. For most organisations in the sector, the concept of hybrid working is novel and alien. Many law and financial firms are looking to their peers to figure out what’s the new norm. WORKTECH is launching a Professional Services Workplace virtual event to help firms learn from their peers and create an engaging forum to ask questions and help navigate the journey ahead.

The Professional Services Workplace event will be held on Wednesday 21 April from 14:00-19:00 GMT. It explore rapidly developing technologies and evolving client demands whilst showcasing best-in-practice case studies and new research reports. Find out more about the event and register here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 7 April 2021.
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