How do you achieve a truly functional model of hybrid working? What can managers do to ensure a healthy and inclusive hybrid environment? Which specific tools can be used to bring both technical and cultural change? We asked Klara Zizkova, HR Lead for Czech Republic and Slovakia at Microsoft, to share her insights.
This blog post was created in partnership with Microsoft and includes paid promotion.
How has the pandemic affected HR processes in your company? Have you had to change the way you function as an employer?
Not fundamentally, due to the large percentage of remote workers, which is based on the nature of the IT field, HR processes have not changed much. However, it is true that the hybrid model of work definitely became our default set-up in 2020.
Have you conducted any research on the hybrid work phenomenon? Do you have any interesting numbers to share?
Our ongoing research shows employees crave more in-person time with their team, but still wish to keep the flexibility of remote work. Over 70 percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65 percent are craving more in-person time with their teams. This complexity is what we call the Hybrid Work Paradox.
Right now, with the tug of war for talent growing stronger each day, the power has shifted from employer to employee and people will vote with their feet – a phenomenon LinkedIn has labelled the ‘Great Reshuffle’. Microsoft’s own research has shown that 41 percent of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year.
In the Czech Republic, just a little less than a third of employees (32%) are about to change jobs within the next year.
How would you describe Microsoft’s approach to hybrid working? What makes it unique?
At Microsoft we see the hybrid model as an opportunity to attract and retain diverse talent by giving people flexibility in how, when, and where they work. It is a model the company has been successfully operating for several years now. As a company, we value and support flexibility as part of our hybrid workplace where every employee can do their best work by working the way they work best.
The key pillars of work and life at Microsoft are growth, community, flexibility and wellbeing. The year of 2020 allowed us to advance Hybrid Workplace Flexibility as the main mode of running our workplace. Work schedule flexibility is now considered standard for most roles.
Microsoft - as a technology company developing products and services for a huge range of companies from all segments of the market and social life - started to explore the benefits of flexible (now more hybrid) working several years ago. As a result, today Microsoft delivers the most comprehensive solutions for effective remote working and has become one of the first global companies to permanently transition to a hybrid style of working across the full breadth of its operations.
The decision on the nature of the team (whether to work remotely or hybrid) is determined by a number of circumstances, including the preferences of the leader and team members. A number of teams in MS are entirely virtual (e.g. the CEE region leadership team), others are based in Prague and meet in person.
In general, however, all teams at Microsoft can and do work hybrid, i.e. combine working from the office with working from anywhere. This trend is largely determined by the employees themselves. The IT industry is quite specific in this respect and many MS job seekers take working from anywhere, even in a completely different time zone, for granted.
At Microsoft we see the hybrid model as an opportunity to attract and retain diverse talent by giving people flexibility in how, when, and where they work.
What have been the results of applying Hybrid Workplace Flexibility?
We see that it pays off and we see concrete results. In a year when we sent 160,000 people home to work and remotely onboarded 25,000 new employees, the share of people who report feeling included at Microsoft is at an all-time high of 90%. According to surveys, employee confidence and support from our managers is also at an all-time high.
In a year when we sent 160,000 people home to work and remotely onboarded 25,000 new employees, the share of people who report feeling included at Microsoft is at an all-time high of 90%.
In which ways is Microsoft helping other companies transfer to hybrid working? Do you offer any specific products or solutions?
MicrosoftS sees - also based on its own long-standing experience - a hybrid way of working as the future. We are trying to meet the trend by developing and improving tools for remote collaboration - see e.g. updates of MS Teams, MS Viva, as well as by educating our partners and the wider public, for example through activities of the Collaboration from Anywhere Day.
However, the transition to hybrid working is not just a question of technical change, but mainly of cultural change - the mental set of managers (trust) and subordinates (responsibility). At MS, the culture change took about 2 years, but has resulted in greater flexibility and freedom for all employees.
The Collaboration from Anywhere Day is one of the most important activities through which the Czech Microsoft office has been trying to spread awareness of the benefits of flexible working style and its importance in the future for many years. Hard data from the labor market, surveys of the attitudes of employees and their managers show its gradual promotion. Using concrete examples from practice, it presents suitable ways to apply the new forms of work to companies or organizations from different segments and inspires them to adopt it. With the most comprehensive range of hybrid work style products, cloud services and a wide network of partners, it makes the transition to hybrid work style easier for companies. Microsoft's own journey demonstrates the importance of changing the company culture, which is a prerequisite for setting up a working model of hybrid working, alongside the technical background.
The transition to hybrid working is not just a question of technical change, but mainly of cultural change - the mental set of managers (trust) and subordinates (responsibility)
How does hybrid workingwork impact company culture? For some employees entering the job market now, it’s the only reality they know. Can this cause any problems?
To achieve true hybrid working – rather than simply a mix of remote and on-premise employees – requires a change of mindset and a culture of trust and inclusion, where managers are able to lead and empower their people to work towards agreed goals, without daily physical supervision. It means ensuring employees have clarity on what they’re there to do, but also the autonomy to make choices and find their own solutions for how to do it; while still having access to their managers and colleagues for input, feedback and co-creation along the way.
Implementing and providing technology and tools is only one half of the picture – employees will need appropriate training and guidance to ensure they have the digital skills to leverage them effectively and productively.
Continuous skilling on leadership and digital skills - learning is an important addition to what is classed as ‘productive’ time – not something that is done a few times a year by attending pre-scheduled training, but rather something that is part of the daily agenda.
Hybrid work requires a higher level of autonomy and responsibility from workers and a higher level of trust, guidance and leadership from managers.
What’s more, when people log in to work from outside of the office, they probably don’t realize they have their company’s security in their hands. Hybrid workforces need tools and support to help them protect their digital identity and company’s security’ in a way that does not hamper efficiency.
Learning is an important addition to what is classed as ‘productive’ time – not something that is done a few times a year by attending pre-scheduled training, but rather something that is part of the daily agenda.
What would be your advice to a manager implementing the hybrid model in their team?
Placing employee wellbeing at the heart of a hybrid work strategy will also be critical; not as something that sits alongside performance, but rather something that is integral to it. As Satya says: “Care is the new currency.”
In a hybrid workplace, employees should still feel like they have access to development opportunities; that they can learn ’on demand’ and feel empowered to regularly enhance their skills during their working time, not after work. To enable that mindset, it’s critical to create an always-on culture of learning – one which builds on people’s passions and visions for growth, to achieve a shared goal. Leaders must prioritize individual wellbeing and development opportunities to help people focus and be their best.
How have you adjusted your physical workplace environment (offices) to the hybrid model? Is there anything companies should improve in this area?
While they were once a location that defined where work took place, the role of offices is being redefined – to hubs for social contact and collaboration; as well as venues for client meetings and focused work. Offices will not disappear in this new world of work, but their role will be redefined. They will become places that will serve for interaction, creative cooperation and building relationships; as well as, to a lesser degree, for focused individual working.
Here’s an example of what we use at Microsoft:
- Shared spaces and working tables among all the workers.
- Enough meeting rooms with technology (mentioned above)
- Spaces for calling and silent focused work.
Offices will not disappear in this new world of work, but their role will be redefined. They will become places that will serve for interaction, creative cooperation and building relationships.
And lastly, how do you personally view the efforts of Czech companies to switch to hybrid working? What improvements would you like to see in the future?
One of great examples is one of the major Czech banks – the commercial bank. During this summer they launched a brand-new client service style – of course a hybrid one – also using hybrid way of the introduction event and workshops. Other major brands that offer hybrid work options where possible are big financial, IT, technology, or at least tech-related companies like T-Mobile, Česká spořitelna or Seznam.cz. And of course, among startups hybrid work is usually the basic standard.
And on the other hand, there are many more companies that are creating tools to implement hybrid work, such as Czech startup Mews. Mews is a cloud-based system for complete management of reservations, check-ins and guest requests. Its founders found a great blind spot on the market and so now Mews, a company that already employs more than 250 people, has the potential to revolutionize the “backend” of the traditional accommodation model.
Tips from Microsoft
Some of the practicalities of leading a hybrid team include:
- creating and keeping clarity on common goals (motivating employees to be responsible for getting things done in their own way),
- setting the rhythm of connections – to lead and mentor teams/ employees, rather than directively assigning tasks.
- recognizing and rewarding contributions – evaluating not only individual achievements, but also on how employees help others to succeed and how they build on the work of others;
- Creating a culture of open calendars to encourage transparency and collaboration
- Giving clarity on digital workspace, what tools are used for what purpose etc.
How can managers ensure that their hybrid working model is inclusive for everyone, for example in meetings?
Some examples include:
- Open/shared calendars that simplify and streamline meeting scheduling
- Adding Teams links to every meeting invitation so people can choose whether they want to join virtually or in-person
- Recording calls so information can be shared with those who weren’t there at the time
- Working on shared documents in the cloud so everyone has access to the same information – and version control doesn’t get out of hand!
- Working asynchronously so everyone can contribute in a time frame that works for them
- Using virtual whiteboards so everyone can contribute during a brainstorm
- MS Teams new functions to prioritize online participating coworkers.
- New setups of meeting rooms – larger screens to really include all those participating online. Rooms with front-view cameras to include everyone in the room, zooming on the speaking one etc.
Are there ways to ensure that employees working hybridly retain enough informal social contact with coworkers and are able to network?
Yes, I would recommend the following:
- Informal online meetings
- Space for informal discussions during regular meetings
- 1-1 contact
- Setting a common office day to meet all the coworkers once a week / two weeks / month – depends on the company.