As organisations around the world make the definitive shift from remote to hybrid work, one thing is clear: the people who went home to work in 2020 are not the same people returning to the office in 2022.

There’s no erasing the experience of the last two years and employee expectations are higher than ever, writes Jared Spataro, corporate vice-president for modern work at Microsoft.

They want flexibility and face time, and are making career changes that prioritise personal goals and well-being.

And based on findings from our 2022 Work Trend Index, there’s no going back to the way it once was.

Understanding and keeping pace with new expectations is a challenge facing every leader today – and one that will be key to making hybrid work work.

Our second annual study outlines findings from a survey of 31 000 people in 31 countries, along with an analysis of trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labour trends on LinkedIn. From the front lines to the C-suite, we explored leadership’s plans for the year ahead and got feedback on what employees want from their employers – what motivates them to stay or go, what they want out of an in-office experience and the role technology plays in creating a worthwhile work experience.

Five key trends emerged from our research, which serves as a road map for leaders today as they chart their course into the uncharted territory of hybrid:

Employees have a new ‘worth it’ equation

The how, where and when of work is changing, and so is the why. What people want out of work and what they’re willing to sacrifice for a job has evolved.

Our survey found 53% of people are now more likely to prioritise their health and well-being over work.

These aren’t empty words — 18% of respondents quit their jobs last year. Looking ahead, 52% of Gen Z and millennials are likely to consider a new job in the next year.

It’s clear the Great Reshuffle is far from over.

Managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations

Keeping pace with these new employee expectations is no mean feat. And it won’t be possible without managers.

These individuals are closest to employees and have the greatest visibility into problems and solutions.

But all that insight doesn’t add up to much if managers aren’t able to act. For instance, despite the undeniable desire for flexibility we see in our research, 50% of leaders say they have plans for a full in-person return to the office this year.

This tension is falling on managers – 54% of managers feel leadership is out of touch with employee expectations and 74%% don’t feel they have the influence or resources they need to implement change for their team.

Getting out of the way and empowering managers to lead their teams will lead to better outcomes for everyone.

Leaders need to make the office worth the commute

Today, 38% of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office, yet only 28% of leaders have created new team agreements for hybrid work.

In addition, 43% of remote workers do not feel included in meetings, but only 27% of leaders say their company has developed hybrid meeting etiquette to ensure everyone is included and engaged.

It’s time to rethink the role of the office and adopt a degree of intentionality around the who, where and why of in-person gatherings.

These new cultural norms will ensure the office is additive to the employee experience – helping all employees feel connected, engaged and able to innovate and do their best work.

Flexible work doesn’t have to mean ‘always on’

Based on productivity trends in Microsoft 365, we see meetings and chats are on the rise, frequently spilling over the traditional 9-to-5 workday.

In fact, weekly time spent in meetings for the average Teams user is up 252% since March 2020, and after-hours and weekend work has grown at 28% and 14% respectively.

It’s great to see people reshaping the day to meet their needs – for instance people are taking fewer meetings at lunchtime. But for flexible work to be sustainable, managers will need to create new norms and set boundaries to guard against a 24/7 workday.

Rebuilding social capital looks different in a hybrid world

One of the most felt aspects of remote work is the impact it’s had on our relationships.

Last year’s Work Trend Index revealed that teams became more siloed, and this year’s study shows the trend one year later.

While a majority of hybrid workers have been able to maintain their team bonds (58%), only half of remote workers say they have a thriving relationship with their direct team and even fewer (42%) have a strong relationship with those outside their team.

In a hybrid world, it’s important to prioritise time to build relationships, and give additional support for remote and newly onboarded employees, who are most at risk of being left behind.

Hybrid work requires a deliberate, thoughtful approach. While so much relies on new cultural norms, the transition will benefit from technologies designed for this hybrid world – ones that bridge the digital and physical, ensuring every employee can engage and contribute, regardless of where, when or how they’re working.