Episode 36: Forecasting the Future of Hybrid Work with Jared Spataro

Jared Spataro hs
Jared Spataro07/21/2021

In this episode of #shifthappens, Jared Spataro, the Corporate Vice President, Modern Work & Business Applications at Microsoft, discusses the future of hybrid work options and what companies should consider to keep their employees happy and engaged.

Spataro explains that organizations are still figuring out how to make hybrid work options effective, but that one thing that is certain is that employees want the flexibility to work remotely and the collaboration tools to support them. He then explains his view of what the hybrid office looks like, which involves three elements: how, when, and where employees work. During the pandemic, the world moved entirely remote, and companies had to learn how to use technology effectively. Post-pandemic, Microsoft believes that employees will want the flexibility to choose how, when, and where they work. This will make operating models more complex, but the benefits of the hybrid model outweigh the challenges.

Spataro notes that the social cohesion that comes from being in the same physical space is still valuable, and Microsoft is implementing a 50/50 policy to encourage employees to be in the office 50% of the time. He went on to discuss Microsoft's shift towards hybrid work and the company's journey over the past year, which has included extensive research into the market and the development of a new operating model. He notes that people who left the office in March 2020 are not the same people coming back in the fall of 2021, as people have changed in their headspace about their employment and the flexibility they want. Remote work has introduced the idea that a lot is possible across different geographies and time zones. The company put together a multidisciplinary team to shape what the hybrid model will look like moving forward.

Spataro also discusses Microsoft’s own Hybrid Workplace Flexibility guide, which is designed to help organizations set a strategy in place for hybrid work. The guide includes the key decisions Microsoft had to make in the areas of people, places, and processes, such as the 50% policy, which allows for 50% of time to be spent remote or in a hybrid state, and the other 50% to be spent on-site at the office. The guide is intended to be useful for Microsoft's customers, who have been asking the company what its approach is to hybrid work. The guide provides a touchpoint and a yardstick for others to understand how Microsoft is approaching hybrid work and to develop their own strategies.

The conversation then turns to Microsoft Viva, an employee experience platform that was developed to complement the existing Teams platform. The shift to remote work has emphasized the need for more persistent and relationship-based communication channels to facilitate employee engagement, well-being, and professional development. While Teams is more transactional and focused on task completion, Viva is intended to provide a more cohesive social environment that promotes cultural identity and allows for better employee experiences.

The conversation highlights how Viva helps organizations collect data and aggregate signals on employee well-being and performance to address the challenges of the current remote work environment. Spataro believes Viva has significant potential for organizations that want to improve their employee experience and overall performance. Viva's features like professional development, wellness programs, and analytics can help both employees and employers.

Many people felt overwhelmed by the shapeless workday, unsure of how to support a work-life balance and struggling to keep productivity. However, recent data suggests that employees are adapting to this new way of working and taking responsibility for their well-being. Spataro believes that companies should play a role in helping employees maintain this balance, as there is a lot of upside for both the employer and the employee. Increased flexibility is now seen as part of the benefits package, and many employees are willing to take a salary cut for it. The flexibility allows them to have more time with their families and prioritize their well-being.

Spataro also warns companies resistant to the new way of working and demanding their employees to return to the office to understand the changes happening in the labor market and employees’ mindset. Those who do will be better prepared to take advantage of the situation instead of getting left behind.

Spataro ends with practical advice for leaders to prepare for the new model of work. Firstly, he recommends having a shared vision of where the company is headed, rather than starting with policy. Second, he advocates for having a growth mindset and being willing to be flexible as nobody knows what they are doing. Third, he suggests investing in infrastructure by cutting down on expenses such as travel budgets and reallocating that money towards technology. Lastly, he highlights the importance of leaders modelling what hybrid work looks like and taking care of themselves to achieve balance.

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