Gen Z and millennials can thrive in hybrid work cultures, but a sense of purpose is needed: report

Dec 9 2021, 8:22 pm

Hybrid work. Can you remember when this term was loosely thrown around? When working from home or a remote location wasn’t much more than a dream for many?

The pandemic undoubtedly fast-tracked remote work, challenging us all to think, live, and work in new ways. Adapting to hybrid work has not been without complexities, though, bringing to light more questions about communication, culture, and leadership.

Consequently, flexibility, trust, and empowerment have become more important than ever, and research into the matter uncovers the why behind this. In January of this year, 31,092 full-time or self-employed workers across 31 markets took part in Microsoft’s annual Work Trend Index survey.

The findings of which have been used to support exclusive research and insights, all culminating in the 2021 Work Trend Index: Annual Report. Aptly titled “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work — Are We Ready?” Microsoft’s report reveals that while Gen Z and millennials can be successful in hybrid work cultures, they need to first be re-energized.

The report suggests that both employees who work at home and those who go into the office are seeking the same benefit — despite polar opposite work styles. This includes reasons cited for working in either environment: work-life balance, focus time, and meetings.

Looking more specifically at Gen Z and those aged between 18 and 25, the research found that 60% of this generation say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling. When compared to older generations, respondents reported that they were more likely to struggle balancing work with life and feel exhausted after a typical day of work.

Microsoft’s research highlights that this generation is more likely to be single and early in their careers, making them more likely to be impacted by feelings of isolation, struggling with motivation at work, and also lack the financial means to create workplaces at home.

To do better, companies need to combat digital exhaustion from the top, looking at ways to reduce the workloads of their employees, whether by adding additional staff or resources. This can help Gen Z staff to manage the intensity of their current day-to-day workloads.

“This is something top of mind for me and my team as we pause and reflect on what needs to stay and go in this next phase of work,” says Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365.

Gen Z also reported more difficultly than other generations in terms of feeling excited about or engaged in work, getting a word in during conference calls or meetings, and being able to bring new ideas to the table. For example, just 9% of boomers reported struggling to get a word in during meetings, contrasted with 12% of millennials and 16% of Gen Z.

Hannah McConnaughey, a product marketing manager at Microsoft, points to the “more daunting” roadblocks to networking those early in their careers now face with fully remote work, particularly if they moved to a new team during the pandemic.

“Without hallway conversations, chance encounters, and small talk over coffee, it’s hard to feel connected even to my immediate team, much less build meaningful connections across the company,” she shares in the report.

Since younger generations challenge the status quo and offer fresh perspectives, their contributions are essential and their experience of working remotely or in hybrid work cultures will set attitudes and expectations towards work in the future.

“Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time,” says George Anders, senior editor-at-large at LinkedIn. “It’s very hard to find their footing since they’re not experiencing the in-person onboarding, networking, and training that they would have expected in a normal year.”

As remote work looks likely to continue, the report states that ensuring Gen Z feels a sense of purpose and well-being is an urgent business matter. One way companies can look to address this and set their teams up for success is by creating hybrid work plans anchored in extreme flexibility and employee input.

This involves formulating a plan to empower people based on how they’re doing and what they need and providing guidance to them as the company experiments and learns. Being part of the plan can help team members feel valued, and thus, have a better outlook on their work.

Microsoft’s research also looked at how the isolation people feel in their personal lives is happening at work too during the pandemic. People are interacting with their immediate teams for support rather than the wider company team.

Between April 2020 and February 2021, the number of people sending chats posted in a Microsoft Teams channel (designed to include the entire team) decreased by 5%. Meanwhile, the number of people sending one-on-one or small group chats rose by 87%.

Now more than ever is a time for companies to rebuild social capital and cultivate a culture of kindness and cooperative collaboration. Social capital is linked to business outcomes, like productivity, sales, creativity, and innovation as it encourages teams to seek out diverse perspectives from neighbouring teams.

“Organizations need to understand that being nice to each other, chatting with each other, and goofing around is part of the work that we do. They are not a distraction or unproductive. They feed productivity and nurture the soil from which people will produce ideas,” says Dr. Nancy Baym, senior principal researcher at Microsoft.

Microsoft concludes that how we handle the avalanche of hybrid meetings has never been more important, especially if culture is made up of the everyday actions of employees. The technology leader continues to grow its Microsoft Teams software to help everyone feel equal in meetings and has developed hybrid meeting guidance materials.

At present, the future of work amid the pandemic is unpredictable, but a forward-thinking approach that embraces missteps and learning opportunities is integral.

To learn more about employee experience and hybrid work cultures, check out Microsoft Canada’s Hybrid Work page.

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