Hybrid New Normal of Work in Asia-Pacific forecasted by Microsoft

Year 2020, an uneventful year marked by the global pandemic COVID-19, causing massive economic impacts and disruptions to our world economy, work and daily living. As the world is battling against Covid-19 and while we are still waiting for a vaccine, our daily lives and workflow has changed and evolved into a new normal, defining a hybrid new normal of work in Asia-Pacific forecasted by Microsoft with research from TechRepublic Premium.

Through their qualitative research study, they have a white paper titled, “Transitioning Asia-Pacific to a New Normal of Work”. Business and thought leaders across various industries, from banking, healthcare, education, telecommunications, research, and professional consultancies, share their insights and views on how organisation cultures in Asia-Pacific are changing and evolving a new paradigm of work, arising from this global pandemic situation.

“As different parts of the world were hit by COVID-19, life and work were changed overnight for everyone,” said Kady Dundas, Head of Marketing, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Corp. “All of a sudden we’ve gone from working in conference rooms to working in living rooms, and when you do that you have a high dependence on video. We know that we have about 200 million meeting participants each day, which equates to 4.1 billion minutes of meetings[1]. Those data points show the tremendous movement to remote work.”

Technology: The Enabler

Technology overall, while it has been growing and expanding in terms of growth and development over the past decade, this global pandemic probably gave an exponential push further out to people, enabling them to change, adapt and adopt technology even faster.

Microsoft found that while organisations have prioritised technology adoption to enable remote working environments and overall business transformation, the change was not driven through technology alone.

“The technology side has been relatively straightforward,” said Dr Joseph Sweeney, IBRS Advisor and Future of Work Expert. “When COVID-19 came and everyone had to start working from home, Microsoft Teams was an obvious and natural tool to push out. It was already there, and the environment is familiar to anyone using Microsoft Office 365. It skyrocketed.”

There was also a need to force a mindset change among the individuals inside the organisations, encouraging them to reflect and rethink of their current way of working, how individuals, teams and management interact with one another and the changes needed to adjust to the new normal of work during this global pandemic situation and beyond, as well as focusing on the emotional impact of such changes.

“Often the reluctance to allow remote work has to do with a quite outdated concept of how managers need to manage – for instance, you need to be able to ‘see’ people to police that they are doing what they are meant to,” said Sarah Kaine, Associate Professor, Management Discipline Group and Core Member, CBSI – Centre for Business and Social Innovation, University of Technology, Sydney.

Emerging Trends in the New Normal of Work

While organisations are planning, changing, adopting and adapting to the hybrid new normal of work, they need to be aware of some of the emerging trends:

  1. The risk of burnout – Organizations need to be mindful of the new perception of availability. According to IBRS Advisor and Future of Work Expert, Joe Sweeney, one common response amongst people in their jobs is to “work harder and not switch off.” Those who have started working from home are fielding calls from their bosses late into the evening, underlining the need to re-draw boundaries for out-of-hours contact.
  2. Career progression concerns – Organizations will need to reassess how performance is measured. Collaboration tools can measure activity but not the value that an individual has brought to the organization. Organizations are now finding that it is the “introverts” that are delivering while working from home, while the “star player” extroverts are no longer the center of attention.
  3. The need for flexibility and empathy – Research finds that nearly half (47 per cent) of people working from home reported managing at-home distractions as a challenge (2). Organizations as well as managers and teammates should do their part to not only help employees create a distraction-free environment but also be more flexible in the delivery of work and empathize with people’s challenges of working from home. 1 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/Investor/earnings/FY-2020-Q3/press-release-webcast
  4. Tech training and preparedness – As technology becomes a growing staple for employees, training will need to go hand-in-hand to unlock the full potential of hardware and software. “There have been  people who were resistant to change – it was usually the seniors, because they never needed to learn how to use technology. They always had IT support in the room when they needed it,” said Dr. Nitin Paranjape, CEO and Founder, MacOffice Services Private Limited based in India.
  5. Incorporating a social element – Organizations need to intentionally focus on policy and company culture rather than raw technology. The Microsoft Work Trend Index (3) released in April 2020 reflected this ongoing quest for human interaction – the number of people turning on video in Microsoft Teams meetings had doubled from before working from home became mainstream. Beyond enabling video conferencing, organizations need to find ways to encourage innovation, creative flow of ideas, and camaraderie that makes an employee feel that they are a valued part of an organization.

The Future of Work is Now and Hybrid

At Microsoft’s FY20 Q4 Earnings call (4) which reported a 6 percent revenue increase in Productivity and Business Processes this fiscal year, Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft shared, “The last five months have made it clear that tech intensity is the key to business resilience. Organizations that build their own digital capability will recover faster and emerge from this crisis stronger.”

Thanks to (and No Thanks as well) this global pandemic Covid-19, it had accelerated the transition to new ways of working and honed the focus on innovation across the region. However, social and cultural environments also have a considerable impact on how organisations approach the new normal of work.

The hybrid approach in the future of work reflects how the lines of work and personal life are blurring. Microsoft’s second Work Trend Index (5) found that beyond the typical 9am-5pm work day, Microsoft Teams chats outside of the typical workday (from 8-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.) have increased more than any other time during the day, between 15% and 23%. Weekend work is spiking as well – Teams chats on and Saturday and Sunday have increased over 200%.

To cultivate the future workplace, organizations would need to accelerate the process of developing policies enabling individuals to break away from the standard 9 to 5 hours, setting reasonable expectations around availability and relooking performance indicators.

Business leaders must refresh their focus on policies that enable the upkeep of robust security strategies and effective collaboration. As lockdowns continue to ease across the region, the next step will be a renewed focus on policy during this hybrid new normal of work.

What does the new normal of work looks like for you in the very near future?

With thanks and no thanks to this global pandemic Covid-19, how we work is going to change (and started changing when the global pandemic strikes us), we are not going back to pre Covid-19 working style and days.

While the debate is still ongoing on how the future of work is going to turn out, it’s not rosy and clear cut for working professionals. Some find WFH easier and better, some struggle with it. I agree with the findings, a hybrid new normal of work is upon us, a mix of office and WFH, what could be the percentage breakdown? That would be something worth exploring, how different industries adapt, change and adopt in a new post Covid-19 working environment.

How has your industry, your company or your business changed during this global pandemic situation? How’s your current WFH situation and what would be your new normal of work be like?

How would my hybrid new normal of work looks like?

As a small sole proprietorship business owner myself, my messy WFH table (in the photo that you saw earlier) is going to be my hybrid new normal of work, probably adding more gadgets and devices to my messy work desk.

While my experiences may not be the same as compared to others, I am definitely able to relate with this hybrid new normal of work because I am working, communicating and liaising with clients, agencies, partners, associates etc … who are most likely WFH in their hybrid new normal work routine.

For more information on Microsoft forecasts a hybrid new normal of work in Asia Pacific, here is the article link: https://news.microsoft.com/apac/2020/07/29/microsoft-forecasts-a-hybrid-new-normal-of-work-in-asia-pacific/

* Information courtesy of Microsoft Singapore and Edelman *

Notes:

  1.  https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/Investor/earnings/FY-2020-Q3/press-release-webcast
  2. CBS E-book: 250+ tips for telecommuting and managing remote workers
  3. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2020/04/09/remote-work-trend-report-meetings/  
  4. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/Investor/earnings/FY-2020-Q4/press-release-webcast
  5. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2020/07/08/future-work-good-challenging-unknown/

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