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Preventing ‘Always on’ Culture from Becoming the Norm in the Workplace


By: Mohamed Mikou, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Marketing Officer: Microsoft Middle East & Africa

Not too long ago, we would leave our offices at the end of a day and in most cases, it was difficult to bring work home with you. In recent years, however, it’s become easy to pick up our workday and pop it into a laptop bag before heading home. Pair this with emails and instant messaging apps, and it’s never been easier to reach someone after business hours.

Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index, which surveyed 31,000 people around the world and analyzed trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365, found that the average Teams user’s day has increased by more than 13% (46 minutes). After-hours work is up 28% and weekend work has increased by 14%. Meetings still consume the lion’s share of our time, with the average Teams user seeing a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time since February 2020.

We might think that this has only been the case over the last two years, but the signs were there long before the pandemic. In fact, one study of working patterns of GitHub users found that before the pandemic, it was not uncommon for weekend work to account for 20% of users’ working hours.

It’s clear that making flexible work sustainable in the long-term will require new team norms to guard against being “always on.” But for business leaders, it’s vital to note that this should not be a solo effort. Rather, a team-led movement to establish more sustainable hybrid practices.

Defining the role of the office

Before March 2020, work was centered around the office space. Very few companies were pioneering flexible work strategies and many of us were accustomed to commuting to the office five days a week. Fast forward to 2022, and we are dealing with questions around the purpose of the office in today’s modern workplace.

This need to define purpose and intentionality is becoming one of the most important challenges for organizations to address in their hybrid work strategies. In fact, Microsoft’s research found that 38% of hybrid employees are still unsure about why and when they need to come into the office.

This confusion becomes more apparent when less than a third (28%) of respondents say their leaders have a clearly defined team agreement for in-person office visits. With the majority of employees in the Middle East and Africa embracing hybrid work, business leaders need to make the office worth the commute. To do this, organizations need to take a considered approach that prioritizes culture.

Making hybrid work, work

Data suggests companies are making progress on investments in space and technology, but there’s more work to do on culture. According to the Work Trend Index, more than half (54%) of leaders are redesigning meeting spaces for hybrid work, or plan to in the year ahead. Meanwhile, 43% of remote employees and 44% of hybrid employees say they do not feel included in meetings.

The right cultural norms in an organization will help to create an engaged and connected workforce. This, however, is not a one-size-fits-all type of solution. Organizations and their teams will need to experiment with what works for them and formulate their new norms and team agreements. A good place to start is by determining the purpose of the in-person meet. Is it for a formal meeting? Brainstorm? Collaboration? With this clear purpose in mind, teams can determine how often and when they need to meet in-person.

This intentionality also extends to hybrid meetings. To make hybrid meetings a great experience for everyone and create a canvas for collaboration, start by using existing hardware and augment it with AI-powered cameras designed for the people not in the room. Using Microsoft Teams for example, you can have everyone join the virtual meeting – even those already in the room – and create a shared experience.

Indeed, adopting a hybrid work strategy requires business leaders to reimagine the entire culture of the organization – from employee time management to creating clarity around why, when, and how often teams should gather in person. Clearly defining these new cultural norms have been early on will go a long way in ensuring employees feel connected, engaged and able to innovate and do their best work.

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