Here's why more companies want their staff back at the office

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Microsoft says productivity signals across Microsoft 365 continue to climb. Yet most leaders don't trust their employees are fully productive.
Microsoft says productivity signals across Microsoft 365 continue to climb. Yet most leaders don't trust their employees are fully productive.
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  • Microsoft's latest Work Trend Index report shows 85% of leaders finding it challenging to trust that their employees are being productive in a hybrid work environment.
  • Only 12% said they have complete confidence that their teams are productive.
  • Yet Microsoft's data, which looked at multiple areas, found that productivity signals continued to climb as anxious employees try to "prove" they are working.
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Almost nine in 10 company leaders interviewed by Microsoft recently say the shift to hybrid work has given them less confidence that employees are productive during office hours. Only 12% of business leaders surveyed by Microsoft said they have full confidence that their teams are productive.

The technology giant surveyed 20 000 people in 11 countries and analysed trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals. It also looked at LinkedIn labour trends and findings of the Glint People Science for its latest Work Trend Index report.

When surveying employees, Microsoft said 87% said they were productive. The company also looked at its Microsoft 365 data and found that productivity signals across Microsoft 365 continue to climb. It found that the number of meetings per week had increased by 153% globally for the average Microsoft Teams user since the start of the pandemic. And there is still no indication that this trend has reversed even as people are returning to the office.

On top of that high meeting load, overlapping meetings increased by 46% per person in the past year.  And users are flooded with many other meetings invites they can't manage to squeeze into their overwhelmed schedules. For instance, declines and tentative RSVPs have soared in the past two years by 84% and 216%, respectively. And there are also emails and "pings" they answer during and between those meetings.

"The strain is clear," wrote Microsoft in the report.  

"At the same time, 85% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive. And as some organisations use technology to track activity rather than impact," Microsoft continued.

READ | Nick Hedley | The end of the 5-day work week is coming. Good riddance

The company calls this "productivity paranoia". Leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working. Yet the number of hours worked, meetings attended, and other activity metrics are rising.

Microsoft's conclusion from this paradox was that many leaders and managers must be missing the old visual cues of what it means to be productive. If they can't "see" who is hard at work, they can't trust what team members say. Microsoft noted that managers in a hybrid work environment are more likely to struggle to trust their employees to do their best work (49%). It gets better when they see staff "in-person", with only 36% of managers saying they struggle to trust their employees to do their best work.

"As employees feel the pressure to "prove" they're working, digital overwhelm is soaring. Productivity paranoia risks making hybrid work unsustainable," read the report.

Because of this, 48% of employees and 53% of managers reported that they were already burned out.

On the issue of returning to the office, Microsoft noted that the uncertain job market might motivate some employees to spend more time in the office. But in many cases, many employees want to "come for each other". They want to socialise with their close co-workers and rebuild team bonds – and not so much to see their company leaders and managers. But that desire to go to the office to build their "social capital" dissipates the older the employee is.

It's mostly the younger people that are especially keen to use the office to establish themselves as part of their company's workplace community and feel more connected to their co-workers and senior leadership.

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