According to Microsoft, seven key trends will define the new world of work – with the hybrid model first among them.

When Microsoft announced its intention to embrace hybrid working for the long term earlier this year, this was just one of many strong statements about the way working culture has changed thanks to Covid-19. 

In the wake of the pandemic, firms as varied as HSBC, PwC, Ford and Google have adjusted their approach to how and where employees work. IWG has struck deals with an array of large companies in 2021, including Standard Chartered bank and NTT. 

Altogether, such partnerships have seen two million new users welcomed to its global network of flexible workspaces. 

The hybrid model has emerged as the preferred approach of employees and employers alike – perhaps because it combines all the benefits of remote working while ensuring the corporate HQ still has a part to play in inspiring and motivating staff. 

In its 2021 Work Trend Index, Microsoft argues: “2020 created lasting changes to the way we work”. The report presents findings from a study of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries around the world and outlines seven trends that it says will “shape the future” of a hybrid working world. 

1. “Flexible work is here to stay” 
According to Microsoft’s research, more than 70% of workers want the increased flexibility they’ve experienced during the pandemic to continue once it is over. Meanwhile, 66% of decision-makers surveyed by Microsoft said they were considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work. 

Organisations including BP, Lloyds Banking Group and JP Morgan Chase have signalled their intent to shrink office footprints. “The data is clear,” says Microsoft’s report. “Extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.” 

However, the study warns that executives need to consider what this means in terms of investment: “Even after a year of working from home, 42% of employees say they lack essential office supplies and one in 10 don’t have an adequate internet connection.” 

Issues such as these can be addressed via the provision of flexible workspace located near employees’ homes – a step that combines the convenience of working remotely with all the benefits of a professional office environment. 

2. “Leaders are out of touch with employees” 
Microsoft argues that business leaders have fared significantly better than their employees during the Covid-19 crisis. The Work Trends Index shows that while 61% of leaders feel they are “thriving” right now, only 38% of those without decision-making authority feel the same. 

Jared Spataro, CVP at Microsoft 365, says: “Impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and then pick up on important cues as they respond.”

Finding new ways to build meaningful connections with staff – and ensuring they feel motivated and valued – is more important than ever as the new hybrid world takes shape. 
3. “High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce” 

While research from CIPD and Accenture implies that hybrid working can boost productivity, Microsoft points out the potential for employees to do too much.

“The digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially,” says its report, “with the average number of meetings and chats steadily increasing since last year.” What’s more, the average meeting is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35 to 45 minutes. 

All in all, says Microsoft, the “barrage of communications is unstructured and mostly unplanned… and workers are feeling the pressure to keep up. Despite meeting and chat overload, 50% of people respond to Teams chats within five minutes or less.” 

One way to combat the tendency towards blurred work-life boundaries is by encouraging employees to spend some time every week at their local flex space. Not only will this offer a break from domestic distractions, but it also demarcates ‘office’ and ‘home’ time more clearly than is possible when working from the kitchen or spare room. 

4. “Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energised” 
Despite being digital natives, Microsoft argues that Generation Z has suffered more professional challenges than its older counterparts during the pandemic.

Its report points out the negative effects of losing face-to-face contact with more senior, experienced colleagues, highlighting the reduced opportunities for mentoring and feelings of isolation many young people have experienced. 

“This generation is more likely to be single and early in their careers,” Microsoft says, And they may “lack the financial means to create proper workplaces at home.” 

This last point is critical if businesses are to avoid creating an unequal playing field among hybrid employees. The availability of desks at convenient, well set up flexible workspaces can make all the difference to young professionals who wish to avoid commuting, but would prefer not to work from home. 

5. “Shrinking networks are endangering innovation” 
“As we shifted into lockdowns,” Microsoft says, “we clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside. Put simply, companies became more siloed.”

Dr Nancy Baym, Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft, says: “When you lose connections, you stop innovating. It’s harder for new ideas to get in.” 

This underlines the ongoing importance of the corporate HQ in a hybrid working model, and its role in facilitating creative, collaborative experiences that strengthen company culture.

6. “Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing” 
Another effect of Covid-19 on the way we work, says Microsoft, is that it “became more human”. One in five people met their colleagues’ pets or family members virtually, while 17% of workers have cried with a teammate at some stage in the past year. 

“The shared vulnerability of this time has given us a huge opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture and transform work for the better,” says Spataro. 

What’s more, the enhanced sense of connection could literally pay dividends. According to Microsoft’s study, people who interacted with their coworkers more closely than before not only experienced stronger work relationships, but also reported higher productivity.

IWG Founder and CEO Mark Dixon points to the value of local flexible workspace in further boosting inclusivity. “Having a base in local communities where people actually live enables businesses to recruit better people,” he says.  

The time is now
“Taken together,” Microsoft’s report concludes, “these trends show we are no longer bound to traditional notions of space and time to work together. Instead, we can set aside our long-held assumptions and shift our mental model to embrace flexibility.” 

Dixon agrees: “These trends are irreversible and accelerating fast. The future of work is already with us, and it’s only going to improve.” 

About IWG 
IWG is the global operator of leading workspace providers. Our companies help more than 2.5 million people and their businesses to work more productively. We do so by providing a choice of professional, inspiring and collaborative workspaces, communities and services. 

Digitalisation and new technologies are transforming the world of work. People want the personal productivity benefits of living and working how and where they want. Businesses want the financial and strategic benefits. 

Our customers are start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises, and large multinationals. With unique business goals, people and aspirations. They want workspaces and communities to match their needs. They want choice. 

Through our companies we provide that choice, and serve the whole world of work: Regus, Spaces, No18, Basepoint, Open Office and Signature. We create personal, financial and strategic value for businesses of every size. 

From some of the most exciting companies and well-known organisations on the planet, to individuals and the next generation of industry leaders. All of them harness the power of flexible working to increase their productivity, efficiency, agility, and market proximity.