By Rosalind Quek, General Manager, Modern Work, Microsoft Asia.
When countries across Asia Pacific went into lockdown over the pandemic back in early 2020 it was clear that the future of work had arrived much sooner than any of us expected. Overnight, we swapped conference rooms for living rooms, cubicles for coffee tables, and water-cooler chats for messaging apps. Once we settled into our new normal, however, deeper questions arose. Do I need to change how I showcase my value? How is my performance being measured? What does my path for growth now look like? These questions underscore how, just as we swiftly transformed to ensure business continuity, we must also transform our approach to career development so that our people can also continue to grow and thrive.
It is tempting to put aside thoughts of career progression as a luxury to revisit when we go back to normal. But increasingly, it looks like many of these workplace changes are here to stay. So rethinking career development and team performance in a hybrid work environment needs to be top-of-mind for all managers and employees. Technology is great at measuring activity but not necessarily the value that someone brings to the organization. We need new tools, policies, and behaviors for people development that take our new reality into account.
Changing expectations amid the blending of work and life
Let’s start with the basics. Managers and employees need to schedule frequent virtual check-ins. Email and chat messages will not cut it – face-to-face interaction is a must. Video chats are getting richer, livelier, and more inclusive almost by the day. In fact, Microsoft reported that total video calls in Microsoft Teams grew by over 1,000 percent in the month of March alone. This has spurred a host of new features for Teams such as Together mode, most recently, that shows participants in a common virtual space.
Rapid digital transformation also offers new ways to measure productivity and health. Workplace analytics, performed according to principles of privacy and trust, will yield important insights into work habits and trends. For instance, a manager could see how much time she is spending with her direct reports and if there are any gaps that need attention. The level and intensity of online interactions between employees could also offer a measure of team health. As Jared Spataro, the CVP of Microsoft 365, put it recently: “We see this blending of work and life as a durable workplace trend with potential for technology to help ease some of the challenges that come with it. You’ll see us continuing to innovate in the areas of organizational analytics and employee wellbeing in the near future.”
New measures of success for a new normal
In acknowledging the changing workplace dynamics, organizations also need to reassess how performance is measured. Work cultures that traditionally placed a premium on being physically present in an office – something common across Asia – have had to adjust expectations. Extroverts who thrive on personal contact and frequent communication may struggle while introverts who value quiet time may find they can contribute more. In addition, the traditional 9-5 boundaries on the workday have crumbled. Based on Microsoft Teams usage patterns, the last six months have seen a doubling of users active on chats after hours.
On the positive side, remote work can also feel more inclusive. Over half of people say they feel more valued in remote meetings because everyone shares the same virtual room. Moreover, two-thirds of workers say they are more productive working from home, and 77% say they want flexibility in how and where they work in the future.
These changes point to the need to revisit how to evaluate employees and recognize them for their work. Managers can start by reviewing existing measurements of success and key performance indicators (KPIs). For instance, in the past, a marketer may have had a target of visiting a certain number of clients in-person every month. Today, it might make more sense for them to host a certain number of in-depth video calls focused on particular topics. Landing on the best way to measure performance may take some time and can only happen through those frequent manager-employee conversations.
Embrace continual learning
Finally, organizations need to help employees stay relevant amid a world that is still changing rapidly. Continual learning and upskilling are necessary for employees to future-proof themselves and stay economically relevant. More than two thirds (69%) of employees say that ongoing support and training in digital and remote-working skills will be important beyond the pandemic. Resources like LinkedIn can show workers what skills are needed in their industries and provide related learning content. With Teams, employees interested in a new topic can look across an entire organization to identify internal experts and existing content.
Sometimes it feels like the pandemic has forced us to hit pause on our lives. But it is vital to keep career discussions at the forefront. Managers and employees need to have frequent and open conversations and set clear expectations. Get rid of outdated goals and performance metrics and be creative in setting new ones. Use technology to glean insights and embrace learning opportunities. Most of all, remember that a career is just another one of life’s many journeys, so let’s have empathy for each other as we navigate these uncharted waters.