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The future of hybrid work requires companies to reimagine the employee experience

Many experts and business leaders have come forward with strong opinions on how, when and where people should work in a hybrid world. Studies have made it clear hybrid work in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) is here to stay. But leaders are battling to decide what hybrid work should look like.

Ongoing research shows employees crave more in-person time with their team but wish to keep the flexibility of remote work. And every person is different – 58 percent of employees who plan to spend the most and least time in-office are doing it for the same reason: more focused work. This complexity is what Microsoft calls the Hybrid Work Paradox.

To drill down into some of these complexities, we recently held our Microsoft 365 Summit: The Future of Hybrid Work where top minds from across the region came together to discuss the big question on everyone’s mind: How do we adopt hybrid work, with a view to enhancing work culture, productivity and well-being?

Thought leaders at the Summit agreed success begins by placing people at the center. In fact, according to PwC, while COVID-19 triggered the ‘virtual age’ of the working world, we are now entering the ‘personalized age’. This new phase of work is essentially all about maximizing convenience and performance, well-being and productivity.

Putting employees front and center

Reimagining the employee experience is critical for companies looking to attract and retain top skills. A global employee survey conducted by EY made it clear that employees who don’t receive the level of flexibility they need will quit. Likewise, research from PwC across the Gulf Cooperation Council shows that 68 percent of employees would prefer a hybrid workplace. This is a critical insight in a region like MEA where the war for talent is at an all-time high. Around 70 percent of CEOs in the Middle East and 96 percent of those in Africa say the availability of key digital skills is a business threat.

Providing an equitable work experience for employees is another challenge for many parts of the region. According to EY, resources that support flexible work are not always equally distributed. A good example of this, particularly in MEA, is connectivity.

Yet technology will play a fundamental role in the ability of employers to deliver on the requirements of the ‘personalized age’. Whether employees are in the office or working remotely, the digital employee experience is the new employee experience.

Reimagining the digital experience

Middle Eastern woman working from home on her laptop

According to research from the IDC, organizations across the MEA region have upped their investments in key tech areas over the past year to digitally enable work. At the top of the list is security followed by automation, workflow and collaboration.

Their research also showed tech spend by industry. The retail sector, which is undoubtedly evolving more rapidly than any other environment, reports the highest spend. But key for businesses in this sector that are adopting new technology is to ensure they place equal emphasis on culture change. Employees must be upskilled, particularly when it comes to frontline workers who are critical to the success of new tech ventures.

Public sector spending on technology wasn’t far behind retail, with the IDC explaining that though most government employees across the region are now returning to work, public sector entities are still investing in technology like automation and enhancing their employees’ ability to work remotely.

Other industries, such as the financial services sector, will continue to invest in technology that allows them to support hybrid work models and benefit from a workforce distributed across different geographic locations.

Across sectors, businesses will need to invest in technology while considering their broader workforce strategy.

Empowering managers with the right tools

A critical part of this strategy is the empowerment of managers to lead the shift to hybrid work. For many team leads, this year marked the first time they were responsible for managing people who were working remotely. As a result, the majority of managers across the region are battling to maintain a sense of team culture.

Companies can draw on technology to help managers navigate this challenge. Tools like Microsoft Viva Insights can help leaders foster healthy, successful teams, enabling them to spot signs of burnout and making it possible to prioritize focus time.

Creating more intelligent spaces and places

According to the IDC, another defining element of the future workplace is the emergence of intelligent digital workspaces. Supported by AI and machine learning, these workspaces should enable more efficient flow of work. They should augment process execution, providing access to the data, digital and physical and social resources that are required to complete work anywhere.

A key consideration towards a hybrid future is that spaces and places are even more important than they were before. Hybrid meetings, for example, are an entirely new kind of meeting that require rethinking our approach to ensure we’re putting every attendee on equal footing, whether they are in the room or not.

Recent innovations in Microsoft Teams Rooms are helping companies have impactful, engaging hybrid meetings where everyone feels included. These include features such as AI-powered active speaker tracking, enabling in-room cameras to use audio, facial movements and gestures to detect who in the room is speaking. Multiple video streams also allow in-room participants to be placed in their own video pane.

These are just a few of the exciting ways technology is being used to reinvent the employee experience.

Meeting employee expectations, not just to attract and to retain talent, but to enable personal well-being, will be a challenge for every leader and every organization across MEA. But if we listen to our employees and customers and incorporate flexibility into everything we do, we believe we can create a better future of work.