Will the future of work be defined by employee experience?
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Will the future of work be defined by employee experience?

Will the future of work be defined by employee experience?

The acquisition and retention of great talent requires great foresight

The pandemic forced enterprises to rethink entire business models, as they scrambled to keep their employees safe and yet productive. Our innate human ability to adapt to the unforeseen may have helped us achieve economic continuity, but it has also given rise to new conundrums.

Hybrid work is the future because employees wish it so, but the same employees that demand the flexibility of working from anywhere have also expressed the desire to have more contact with colleagues. This apparent contradiction is so widespread, it led Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to coin the term “Hybrid Paradox” to describe it.

Meanwhile, business leaders are having to rethink their approach to working models, as well as their culture and values, to appease employees who are rethinking how, where, and most importantly, why they work. This new dynamic between employee and employer to maximise engagement and productivity has been labelled by LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky as the “Great Reshuffle”.

Microsoft’s annual Work Trend Index report, a compilation of trillions of productivity and labour signals from across our Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn platforms, is a stark revelation of the Hybrid Paradox and the need for the Great Reshuffle.

The Middle East and Africa region is in economic recovery. Its ability to respond to continual changes in consumer expectations and market conditions are contingent upon having the right talent in place. But that talent’s expectations, as we have briefly seen, are also drastically shifting. So perhaps the biggest change wrought by Covid-19 is that the employee experience may now supplant the customer experience as the number-one consideration for the thriving business.

In a year when Microsoft told 160,000 of its employees to work from home for their safety, we also remotely onboarded 25,000 new people. And we found, in our internal surveys, that a record-high 90 per cent of our people now feel included.

Some 90 per cent of our internal survey participants said they had full confidence in their line manager. This is also reflected in the fact that 95 per cent said they had a positive working relationship with their manager.

But challenges remain. We found that even though our employees’ productivity had not faltered through working remotely, their satisfaction levels regarding team connection and work-life balance were trending very low. So, the lesson is that, in the world of hybrid work, a one-size-fits-all approach is a failed notion.

Case in point: some Microsoft employees said work-life balance, focus time, and meetings were major reasons for them to work from home, but others said they were reasons to be based in the office.

If we take employees that prefer remote work and those that prefer office-based work, the majority of each of those groups cite the same number-one reason for their preference: the ability to focus.

Listen and adapt
In the Work Trend Index study, we also found a correlation between seniority and these preferences, with managerial employees tending to favour an office environment. The good news is, organisations need not necessarily have to worry about the disconnect between teams and their leaders over time spent in the office. Almost half (48 per cent) of employees say they plan to come to the office three or four days a week, but only 28 per cent of managers expect this level of commitment. Still, to find themselves on the right side of this disconnect requires commitment from employers.

The ability of regional organisations to adapt to the world of hybrid work and its attendant shifts in expectations will require open channels of communication. A nurturing culture of empathy and flexibility will lead to greater trust between companies and their employees. Some 49 per cent of leaders agree that it will be crucial for managers to lead with empathy and trust, and 62 per cent cite communication as a top priority on the list of skills executives should possess. A further 59 per cent consider trust as essential for leading a distributed workforce.

The acquisition and retention of great talent requires great foresight. We have the data; we have the technology. All that remain are the will and the commitment. How shall we proceed? Are we prepared to build a highly proficient workforce, with energetic purpose?

This is achievable by all, through one simple strategy. Put simply: put people first.

Mohammed Arif is the business group director, modern workplace and security for Microsoft UAE

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