As every organization grapples with making hybrid work work, research shows that flexibility and wellbeing are no longer negotiable: people are seeking a sense of meaning and purpose at work, and for leaders, the challenge is to create a culture that enables flexibility and personal agency while uniting the organization around a shared purpose. Getting there will require continuous learning. Here are five insights on hybrid work that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shared with Adam Grant on a recent episode of the Taken for Granted podcast.
1. Hybrid collaboration requires first-class experiences across time and space
Expectations around what, where, and how we work have gone through a structural shift—people need meaningful collaboration, but also the ability to catch up on their own time. They need to come together in person to regain the social capital that was lost in remote work, but they need to connect and collaborate in hybrid and remote scenarios, too. “If you say people are either together or remote, and are collaborating synchronously or asynchronously,” Nadella explained, “before the pandemic, you could get away with creating some norms and sort of forcing people into one or two [of these]. Whereas now, [you] have to be excellent [at all], at any given time, in order for work to get done and for collaboration to happen.”
2. Be mindful of the “triple peak day”
Hybrid work gives people flexibility over when, how, and where they work. Which can, of course, mean working outside of the traditional 9 to 5 framework. Indeed, when Microsoft researchers looked at the data across Microsoft Teams, they noted that some employees showed an evening spike in work outside of regular work hours, something they dubbed the triple peak. Is this a good thing, allowing people maximum flexibility? Or is it bad for disconnecting and maintaining sufficient down time? It’s an area that needs more research, Nadella said. “Wellbeing has been one of the most important pieces of productivity,” he said. “I think a little bit of the hybrid peak is the desire that everyone has for flexibility. And so that paradox, if you need flexibility and yet you’re trying to get work done, some of it means the workday does get spread out.”
When it comes to hybrid onboarding, “The biggest, biggest thing we found is the direct connection to your immediate manager.”
3. Physical space is still “the ultimate collaboration tool”
While the role of the office needs to evolve, it will continue to play a critical role in bringing people together. “Somebody said to me, space is the ultimate collaboration tool that was refined in a 200-year period,” Nadella told Grant. “We’re not just going to trade it away, but we’re going to use it perhaps differently.” So how do leaders leverage physical space while also meeting the flexibility expectations of today’s employees? At Microsoft, researchers are studying data on how employees are using space, and then using that data to build best practices around how office space should evolve. They’re also working to build flexibility into every space to bridge the gap between physical and digital, designing as much for people not in the room as those who are on-site.
4. Managers hold the key to hybrid onboarding
Microsoft onboarded thousands of new employees during the pandemic. And one clear insight emerged: “The biggest, biggest thing we found is the direct connection to your immediate manager,” Nadella said. Whereas before organizations could count on a full onboarding system, where many people contributed to the onboarding success of a new employee, “the full-service concierge is now your manager” in hybrid work. While digital employee experience platforms like Microsoft Viva are vital to hybrid onboarding, Nadella said leadership and management and technological excellence are equally important, “and we actually have to put our money where our mouth is and focus on building that managerial capability.” He cited Microsoft’s Model, Coach, Care managerial framework—open sourced to the public this spring—as critical to the company’s success in the move to remote and hybrid models.
Using the delay-send option in Outlook avoids “the surest way to destroy a whole bunch of people’s weekends.”
5. Leaders set the tone and the expectations
Rather than sending that non-urgent email on a Saturday, using the delay-send option in Outlook avoids what Nadella described as “the surest way to destroy a whole bunch of people’s weekends.” But even the most intentional leaders will give in to impulse from time to time, so it’s equally important to communicate when an immediate response is not expected. “One of the things I’m at least getting better at,” Nadella said, “is being able to set that expectation.”