Microsoft ANZ's head of HR reveals six factors to successful hybrid working

Microsoft ANZ's head of HR shares her insight on the future of work

Microsoft ANZ's head of HR reveals six factors to successful hybrid working

HR leaders are once again questioning what a return to the office looks like post-lockdown as Australia’s 80% double-dose vaccination rate looms. At that point, businesses are no longer required to allow employees to work from home – but of course, many will.

The desire for flexibility and a hybrid working structure is clear. According to Gartner research released this year, 39% of knowledge workers could leave if their organisations insisted on a 'hard return' to working in the office full time.

But as identified by Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index, and the company’s CEO Satya Nadella, organisations are facing a growing “hybrid paradox”. Employees want the flexibility of working from home, yet they also crave the in-person connection they’ve lacked during lockdown. So what’s the answer?

Speaking at Microsoft’s Unpacking Australia’s Future of Work event, attended by HRD, the firm’s ANZ head of HR Ingrid Jenkins said there is a complexity that comes with how leaders approach their return-to-work strategy.

“What we're hearing are things like, ‘I want flexibility without compromising collaboration. I want to be part of an inclusive culture without the constraints of location. I want to learn and grow my career, but not have to commute to do that’,” she said.

“So, as we consider this and the opportunity for leaders, I think it's both in terms of capability and mindset where leaders have an opportunity to reflect deeply on what the future look like.”

Pointing to Microsoft’s own thought process, Jenkins said they have identified six key contributors leaders should be mindful of when it comes to designing how employees work in the future.

Trust and empowerment of hybrid workers

The first is trust and empowerment – something she believes is a key ingredient. If hybrid working is grounded in trust, not only will it be more successful, but organisations will also likely see a rise in discretionary effort from their employees too.

Care as the new leadership currency

“The next thing that we focus on and talk about in terms of the leadership opportunity is around care and authenticity,” Jenkins said. “Certainly, I think over the last 18 months, I've seen extraordinary leadership, and I think if ever there was a time for leaders to really show up with care, it has been in the last year and a half.”

Microsoft has deemed care the new leadership currency. According to Microsoft’s research of its own staff, employees were 2.5X more likely to express positive sentiments about their productivity and work/life balance when their managers dedicated time to coaching and supporting them. Care and investment matters.

Jenkins said the focus on care goes beyond managers and their direct reports, but to colleagues, teammates and the wider employee network. It creates a positive ecosystem where employees are encouraged and supported to bring their whole selves to work.

Read more: Flexible working: Is it given or is it earned?

Rethinking performance

It’s one of the key concerns of managers and leaders – how do I know my employees are working if I can’t see them? Firstly, it comes back to the trust element, but also rethinking performance management. If how employees are working has changed, so too should how they are evaluated for that work.

“There's just a slight twist in the way that we think about performance which I hope will help leaders in this thinking, and that is moving from activity to impact,” Jenkins said. “Activity infers that if I can see someone working, I know they're contributing, I know that they're working. But impact is the difference between ‘I reflect on the performance of individuals by assessing the impact and the outcomes’. I know that if I see those outcomes that the individual is delivering, then I don't need to see the activity.”

Talent is everywhere

As a booming tech company, Microsoft is feeling the effect of Australia’s talent shortage just like the majority of businesses in ANZ. Today’s vastly different labour market needs a different approach, removing the geographical constraints of the past.

Naturally, hybrid or fully remote working broadens an organisation’s talent pool, but it also enables them to hire from a far more diverse spectrum of jobseekers.

Jenkins said: “For individuals, that's very compelling because their location is no longer the predominant guidance around how they think about where they work, the type of work and who they want to work for.”

According to the 2021 Microsoft Work Trend Index, 46% of remote workers surveyed were planning to move to a new location this year because they can now work remotely.

Trust in tech

Just like a trust in people, trust in tech is also fundamental. Because while hiring from anywhere might be all well and good, if employees don’t have the tools they need to collaborate and socialise virtually, they’ll be set up to fail.

Beyond enabling employees to work well, technology can also provide valuable insights into workforce habits and act as a powerful prevention tool. It could help employers to answer questions like: Are my employees working too long and therefore prone to burnout? Are my employees getting enough social and networking time in their day? Are my employees in back-to-back meetings without a break?

Jenkins said leaders also need to think about how technology filters into equity and making sure all employees have equal opportunity to contribute, whether they’re in the office or at home. Listening tools like feedback surveys are another key use of technology, allowing HR leaders to have their finger on the pulse as employees return to work.

Read more: Expanding beyond the border: 3 key challenges for HR leaders

An experimental mindset

Jenkins’ final point was around thinking of the future of work as an experiment, rather than a concrete roadmap. After all, there is no user manual for returning to the office after a global pandemic.

“When I talk to people I think one of the concerns is they feel like they've got to have all the answers,” Jenkins said. “But we are all learning together. There will be things that we do now that we'll reflect on in the future and say we would do that differently and that's okay. We're experimenting, we're learning as we go, we're refining and we're tweaking.”

While this experimental period may feel unsettling, leaders should rely on data to give more clarity as they go and as always, anchor each step to the organisation’s core purpose and vision.

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