Hybrid work is here to stay, which means that setting minds to achieve flexibility will make hybrid work work. By adapting to new employees’ expectations now through technological, process and cultural shifts, businesses can future-proof themselves and fully benefit from hybrid work. Juanita Peter, an HR Lead for 25 countries at Microsoft spoke about her international experience in this area and shared her views on changes and challenges in the labor market.
Can you describe your international career path in the HR sector?
I started my HR career with EY South Africa, where I worked with HR Leaders on standards framework for Performance Management, tailored retention strategies, and launched a Data Analytics Academy at scale. I then joined Microsoft South Africa and worked on projects for the Middle East & Africa region, where I could demonstrate my passion for leadership development, diversity, and inclusion. A new growth opportunity arose in Singapore for the Business Manager position for the Asia Pacific HR Leadership team. There, I learned about cultural intelligence, working across boundaries, how to navigate local language nuances and customs, and how to form strategic business relationships. When I relocated to Ireland in 2016, it was my first stint as an HR for an engineering organization. In my current role as HR Lead for CEE Multi-country, I can leverage my skills and experiences to create value for the business and empower our employees to pursue their passions and make a difference.
What advice would you give to younger colleagues on how to achieve success in the HR sector?
You can achieve anything if you put your heart and mind into it. It’s essential to allow yourself to learn and grow, take risks, and invest time in building long-lasting relationships. You will face many setbacks but have the patience to handle the adversity when it comes your way. Nothing is impossible! That’s the best advice I have given myself.
Your position sounds fascinating. How did you work in HR positions in different parts of the world, and how difficult was it to adapt local business traditions to the global Microsoft strategy?
It is vital for HR to contribute to an organization’s strategy and to understand how local market trends and nuances can affect the local execution of a global strategy. Recently, with the challenges caused due to the pandemic, I have spent a lot of time with employees and various communities listening, learning, drawing on different ideas and perspectives, trying to understand their needs, and increase my cultural awareness. My team’s knowledge and insights of the various geographies, cultures, changes in local legislation, etc., are continuously shared and leveraged by our global stakeholders.
How would you rate the global labor market now?
The pandemic was hugely disruptive to the labor market and the needs of the workforce have changed globally. Although the Work Trend Index 2022 revealed that all workers want more flexibility, it showed that Millennials and Gen Z, aged between 18 and 41, favor the change the most. In fact, nearly half of them in Europe (49%) are likely to consider a new employer this year compared to the EMEA region average of 36%. A further 31% of Gen Z employees are likely to relocate and find a job that allows them to work remotely. Work habits and priorities have changed globally, so business leaders and HR should adapt to these new needs and re-format the workplace to make it more appealing for the workforce worldwide.
According to the Microsoft research Work trend Index 2022, 53% of people will put their health and well-being before additional duties at work. How do you comment on that and what would you advise employers to do about it?
Yes, the experience of the past two years has left a lasting imprint on the way people want to work. The latest Microsoft research has shown that employees started For example, Microsoft developed the first employee experience platform built for the digital era – Microsoft Viva. It brings together communication, communities, knowledge, learning, goals, and insights in the flow of Teams to address key challenges of hybrid work. Unilever, for example, adopted Microsoft Viva to provide individuals and managers with data-driven, privacy-protected visibility into how work patterns affect employee well-being and productivity. Over the past year, these insights have helped the company improve the employee experience and promote greater work-life balance amongst its global employee base.
What is the policy of the Microsoft company on a global level regarding hybrid work, considering that it is hugely present in the IT industry?
Our hybrid model provides flexibility to support individual work styles, balance business needs, and ensure we live our corporate culture. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution given our variety of roles, work requirements, and business needs. We offer many flexible work options and have encouraged employees to work with their managers. For most roles, we view working from home part of the time (less than 50%) as standard. For more details: Embracing a flexible workplace
In your opinion, how to maintain team spirit when employees work remotely?
As we move to hybrid, we have to work closely with managers as employees look to their managers to see how they will behave and respond. Here are the steps we’re taking at Microsoft: we maintain a growth mindset that embraces every misstep as a learning opportunity; we ask all our managers at Microsoft to prioritize dedicated 1:1 conversations with employees about how they would like to work in our new hybrid model; we train managers to demonstrate flexibility, well-being, and self-care; we act like a coach, helping employees set priorities, removing roadblocks; and we care for employees’ unique needs in and outside of work, as well as their career aspirations and goals. We’ve asked each team at Microsoft to create a set of agreements to make clear the ways they’d like to work together in a hybrid world, like establishing meeting-free days, planning a weekly in-person team meeting or creating intentional hybrid meetings. At Microsoft, we continue to evolve Microsoft Teams to help put everyone on equal footing in meetings.
You are the ambassador of diversity and inclusion. What do you think is the level of awareness about this in the Balkans? In what way does Microsoft advocate this?
Employees in the Balkans are the members of Microsoft family that live and are guided by the same global values and principles. With our company values in mind, we want every employee to feel like they can be their authentic selves so they can do their best work. We treat everybody with respect, and all our daily interactions are guided by integrity and accountability. Respect means that we recognize that the thoughts, feelings, and backgrounds of others are as important as our own. Integrity means that we are honest, ethical, and trustworthy. Accountability means that we accept full responsibility for our decisions, actions, and results. Microsoft shares and encourages unique perspectives, shaping an inclusive workplace where we can be our whole, true selves.
The perception of work is changing. Ironically, it took a pandemic for organizations to embrace flexible working and break out of the 9-to-5 format. What do you think about that?
The latest Work Trend Index – Microsoft’s data-driven exploration into how our work habits are changing – revealed that the number of employees working after hours is growing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean people are working longer hours. Instead, many are embracing more flexible work schedules. So, as companies embrace hybrid work, being present in the office is no longer a viable metric for promotion or pay increases. This is undoubtedly something that employees demand. In fact, 69% of employees say it’s important that employers reward impact over the number of hours worked. Encouragingly, business leaders think the same. 56% of them say they’re rethinking how to measure productivity within the next year.
Microsoft is indisputably among the largest and most desirable employers in the world. Also, in our research for Top 100 Employer Brands Serbia, it won the first place. What is the secret to such success, in your opinion?
“Listen to your customers and your employees; they are the most important thing and define your business,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO. Our employer brand—our reputation as an employer—helps people fall in love with Microsoft through the voices and lived experiences of those who know us best: our employees. It attracts new talent, deepens employee pride, and builds brand love and customer trust. We provide the tools and the climate for people to grow on the job through training, mentorships, events, and other opportunities relevant to their roles and passions. Flexibility, well-being, growth, and community are essential to our health, happiness, and development—and to our company’s future.
What are the future challenges and trends in the global HR sector, specifically Employer Branding?
I would single out several challenges globally – they are: being able to respond to employee well-being needs with empathy, managing change during uncertain times, developing an effective Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Strategy, holding leaders accountable to deliver on D&I goals, recruiting and retaining the workforce that is inclusive and representative of the demographics of the communities that we serve, identifying the critical skills needed for the future with a focus on leadership soft skills, understanding and investing in the next generation of employees.