Has it only been two years? Pretty much. In that time, we have changed the way we meet, the way we communicate, the way we schedule, our work culture and in the process our work mindsets.

The whirlwind brought to us by an infinitesimally small viral particle has changed us as leaders and employees. No one has been spared. The times have tested our resilience, personalities, and inner strength. The stress of adjustment, abrupt changes in opportunities, dashed hopes and new approaches left us all to wonder, what’s next?

Microsoft modern work team leader Jim Spataro reporting on data from Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index stated those “who embrace a new mindset and shift cultural norms will best position their people and their business for long-term success.”

What are the 5 Key Trends that Jim Spataro sees for work in the years ahead? I want to briefly explore these trends from the dual standpoints of leaders and workers.

  1. Rethinking life-work priorities. The pandemic caused many to reflect their life choices, rethinking whether the demands on their time and energy were worth it. Did anyone really like commuting two hours a day, every day? Did anyone embrace those endless “meetings to discuss the next meeting?” I didn’t think so. As a result, 47% of employees are now more likely to put family and personal life over work and 53% are more likely to prioritize their health and well-being. Rethinking priorities translated to 4.3 million people quitting their jobs in January, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That level is near a record set in November, 2021. What do employees want from their employer? Turns out 46% desire a positive culture, 42% well-being benefits, 40% a sense of purpose and 38% flexible hours.

Takeaway: When leaders make time for one-on-one’s and create connection rituals amongst team members, deeper relationships are formed allowing leaders to draw out individuals’ purpose and create meaning within the team. Meaning and purpose make even the smallest of tasks worthy of our time. Teams that care and support one another are best positioned to bring out each other’s best.

  1. Managers need to get unstuck. The latest data shows that overwhelmingly, “managers feel wedged.” The majority say “they don’t have the influence or resources to make change for employees.” Organizations must address this or resignations will continue. Upper management may pound boardroom tables and demand a return to “Back to the Office – or else” inflexibility; their workers don’t want it and middle management is absolutely stuck. Upper management must become more resilient. Workers need to take time off for doctors’ appointments; workers love the fact they can remotely care for their babies; some workers want to start their work days at 3:00 a.m.

Takeaway: If the work gets done, does it really make a whoop if the report is written “9 to 5” at a faux Oak desk or at the kitchen table near a pot of spaghetti sauce slow-cooking for dinner? Trust your managers to work with your valued employees. It may make for greater productivity and happiness. Please.

  1. Why do we meet in offices? It is a valid question that demands thinking and reflection. The Microsoft study found that 38 percent of leaders “need to make the office worth the commute.” Interestingly, “more than a third (38%) of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office.” As the workplace shifts from Boomers and Gen-X to Millennials and Zoomers, the percentages will skyrocket. Guaranteed.

Takeaway: If managers want their workers to come into the office and occupy offices and cubicles, they need to explain what it will accomplish that a remote environment cannot. Managers need to know that for years, unnecessary commutes and pointless in-person meetings added to worker stress. Workers will need to understand that if properly structured and with directed purpose, meetings can be very useful, team empowering and vital social interaction.

  1. How many meetings do we need to have anyway? Hybrid or flexible work does not, as the Microsoft study showed, “that we have to be ‘always on.’” All this accomplishes is to ramp up stress and that will continue to lead to turnover. According to the study: “Increase in weekly time spent in meetings for the average Teams user since February 2020 is 32 percent.” In fact, “since February 2020, the average Microsoft Teams user saw a 252 percent increase in their weekly meeting time and the number of weekly meetings has increased 153 percent.” Seriously, friends? While managers may be delighted that our enlightened company is more hybrid that ever, workers may be at the end of their ropes! If meeting overload has gone through the roof, what are we truly accomplishing in helping the work-life balance?

Takeaway: Both managers and workers need to ask themselves the following questions: Why is this meeting necessary? Are we going to decide, debate, collaborate or celebrate? What outcomes must occur as a result for this to be the best use of our time? How can we structure the meeting so everyone feels included whether they’re remote or onsite?

  1. Let’s not forget one another. Please remember this – the study underscores this point: “59% of hybrid employees and 56% of remote employees have fewer work ‘friendships’ since going hybrid or remote.” Despite all of the espoused glories of digital, hybrid and remote, we still need one another. I want to share this final point from the study: “55% of hybrid employees and 50% of remote employees feel lonelier at work than before going hybrid or remote.” Don’t misconstrue this to mean we want to go back to the way we were two years ago.

Takeaway: Management must see their workers as people and build in water-cooler moments. They must create systems to encourage collaboration with other departments. Workers must find ways to get to know team members personally, ask for assistance when they need it, and we all must reach out to one another.

Since we cannot change history, let’s embrace the future that COVID-19 accelerated. It has led us to a new age, and perhaps we can make it a better one.

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