The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major upheaval for all, and the new normal is looking more and more focused on remote or hybrid working. This also shows in Microsoft’s 2021 annual Work Trend Index report; 73% of the respondents say that they want flexible remote working options to continue, but 66% also want more in-person interactions with their colleagues.

Microsoft Work Trend Index 2021
Credit: Microsoft

“Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work. Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly — inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today,” Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said. “All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.”

Indeed, the report shows that higher productivity is masking signs of an exhausted workforce, with nearly one in five global respondents saying their employers don’t care about work-life balance and one in two feeling overworked.

Microsoft Work Trend Index 2021
Credit: Microsoft

Comparing Microsoft 365’s collaboration trends from February 2020 and February 2021, we can see that time spent in Microsoft Teams has more than doubled and the number of emails delivered to commercial and education customers went up by 40.3 billion.

Hybrid working conditions might offer a reprieve from burnout, however: China and Australia have spent more time in hybrid working systems, and they are the only countries where time spent in meetings did not triple year-on-year.

Microsoft Work Trend Index 2021
Credit: Microsoft

People are definitely struggling at work, but business leaders seem to be adapting to it the easiest. Gen Z, frontline workers, new employees and employees who are single are all more badly affected, with 60%, 61%, 64% and 67% respectively admitting to struggling with work.

“Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time,” says LinkedIn Senior Editor-at-Large, George Anders. “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.” 

Microsoft Work Trend Index 2021
Credit: Microsoft

With all the change in the world, people are also rethinking priorities and their lives. 41% of global respondents are considering leaving their employer this year, and 46% are considering relocating because they can now work remotely. The ability to adapt to this new normal and figure out how to support employees will be instrumental in deciding whether companies are able to retain and hire talent.

So what are some ways that employers might be able to better bridge this transition? Well, addressing the digital intensity of the workday for one. Microsoft 365 Corporate Vice President, Jared Spataro suggested: “Find ways to reduce employees’ workloads. If possible, look where you can add additional staff or resources towards helping your colleagues manage the intensity of the day-to-day.”

Being open to extreme flexibility and learning how to empower employees is another. LinkedIn’s George Anders says, “Be ready to build a new plan — not just once, but maybe two, three, four times. What worked for your people and business in April may not be the same as November.”

The full report can be found on Microsoft’s website here.


Written by Cheryl Tan