The latest Silicon Reef Work Happy Survey unearthed a frightening truth about employee attitudes to post pandemic working practices. In amidst the hardships of the pandemic, the past two years have opened our eyes to a different way of working and shown us a life of balance and more personal choice. Employees have woken up, and they are calling for change.

Our survey showed us that we are at risk of losing a staggering 71% of the workforce if we can’t offer the flexibility they have grown used to over the past year.

We all know the pandemic has changed the way we work. The corporate world is buzzing with talk of returning to the ‘new normal’ and the internet is falling over itself to define hybrid working. But it’s not just about establishing where our teams work day-to-day. Our 2021 survey results send a strong message: people were happier working from home and now know, and can prove, that they can be productive in a home environment. 

And the evidence is showing us that if we don’t give them the flexibility to choose how they work in the future, they’ll walk.

The retention challenge

With everything that we’ve learned over the last two years, it’s no surprise that employees are calling for change in the workplace, and that they are prepared to move on if they don’t get it.

In many sectors – where roles can be done remotely – geographic barriers to employment have fallen, significantly opening up access to the recruitment market. The fear of a significant change in lifestyle – including disruption to family life, the need to move house, or work away from home – has gone, giving even the most cautious of employees the confidence to put their skills on the open market.

Now we – as employers – also have the benefit of a near unlimited pool of talent, but only if we can establish a working model that attracts the best people. Our research shows us that, to succeed, that model must be one that offers choice for the individual. 

The question is: if people are prepared to leave to enjoy the flexible way of working that they have become used to, are we prepared to change to hold on to our best talent, and potentially attract more?

Responding to the challenge

With 86% of employees looking for the freedom to work from home to some degree or another in the future, we need to be taking this change in attitude seriously and plan for flexibility and the provision of the appropriate tools and structures.

So, what do employees want from a flexible workplace? 

Recognise me

Without line-of-sight visibility from line managers or colleagues, the biggest challenge to our respondents was being able to demonstrate to people they were working.

Microsoft Viva provides a wealth of features to support employees both at home and in the office, and Viva Connections is all about bringing people together to work visibly and collaboratively – wherever they are. Personalised and curated experiences connect the remote employee with the rest of the organisation and keep them engaged in the flow of work. 

Of course, businesses offering collaborative working through Microsoft Teams have visibility across peer groups, from line manager to employee, and Teams ‘shout outs’ can be used to praise and recognise employees, wherever they are working.

Help me protect my free time

Freedom – autonomy – is a precious commodity that, as employers, we should help our people to protect to create the work/life balance that is at the heart of Work Happy. Using this free time to exercise (as 30% of our survey respondents found they were able to do) is better for health, energy and long-term well-being.

Viva Insights is specifically designed to empower employees with the tools and information they need to balance their own productivity and well-being, providing data driven insights into the way employees are working and giving them personalised, privacy-protected recommendations to improve their productivity and personal well-being. 

Teams has a range of new tools to support work/life balance with a virtual commute to bookend the day with time to reflect and Headspace now nicely integrated for accessing meditation and mindfulness support. These are the tools designed to make it easier to carve out time for personal experiences, learning and health 

Give me space to work

Without a framework, permission not to respond to every request, and the tools to ‘switch off’ and focus on the task at hand could see employees collapsing under the ‘digital load’.

Teams has long had the option to change your status to ‘do not disturb’ and add a more detailed status message to flag when you might be available again, or how to contact you in an emergency. In a neat step to guard against those pesky interruptions, Viva Insights weekly email allows an employee to add auto placeholders to their diary for focus time, email time or learning time.  Personal and manager level working pattern insights supplied by Viva can also help individuals take control of their working day, and give managers the tools to coach and support employees.

Equip me with the tools to do my job properly

Lack of appropriate or responsive tools for the job has been a theme across our surveys throughout the pandemic. In 2020 more than a quarter of our Work Happy survey respondents told us they didn’t have the tools to do the job, and this year’s numbers show us that technology provision doesn’t seem to have shifted much at all. With flexible working becoming a permanent fixture, there really is no excuse for not investing in the tools and processes to support our employees to do their best every day.

Providing a platform for everything from microlearning to formal courses, Viva Learning is integrated into Teams to allow you to equip employees with new skills. Leaders and employees can curate, create, and track learning while aligning activities with both business outcomes and personal goals. 

Viva Topics is a powerful, AI-driven tool for curating and organising expertise and valued content across your business. Sorted into topics relevant to your organisation, knowledge is managed and accessed through customisable web pages and is integrated with Microsoft Search. Viva Topics can ensure that any individual – wherever they are working on any given day – can access the same wealth of knowledge and information as any other employee in the business.

Conclusion

The workforce has woken up. The pandemic has changed something far more fundamental than just our level of comfort with video calls, or proficiency with Teams chat. Our employees know what they want now: they know what works best for them, and they know how they can do their jobs in a way that suits them and makes them happy.

As employers we need to look closer at employee well-being as we design our future working models. We need to understand what engages our people, how they can be supported to Work Happy every day, and how we can create a flexible workplace.

It’s time for us to change. To create a model that works for our businesses and our people, that allows us to retain and attract the best talent in a Work Happy environment that engenders great engagement and productivity.

We no longer have to imagine what a flexible working model could look like. The reality is here for the taking.