2023 work trends business leaders cannot ignore


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The last few years have no doubt been tough on businesses. Inflation, labour shortages, pandemic recovery, supply chain issues and rising living costs are some of the biggest issues facing local and global businesses today.

Meanwhile, employees are also feeling the pressure. LinkedIn’s Employee Well-Being report shows employee satisfaction has steadily declined since flexible work kicked off in 2020. In Microsoft’s latest Work Trends Index Report, Australians are among the most burnt out in the world.

So, with this employee-employer disconnect, where do we go from here?

Exploring this question will go a long way towards making or breaking employee happiness, company culture, hiring and retention, and ultimately a businesses’ bottom line. 

In my role as Modern Work Business Lead at Microsoft ANZ, I work with Australian organisations to examine the next phase of the employee experience and what the future of work looks like for their staff, their leadership and Australian working culture as a whole.  

We are at an inflection point regarding technology-enabled employee experience to support today’s hybrid workforce, and some key trends must not be ignored by business leaders this year.  

Boundaries of time and place will become ever more blurred 

The separation between home and work has become increasingly blurred, which is only set to continue. While employees have welcomed the increased freedom and flexibility, advancements in technology and the changing nature of work have caused an ‘availability creep’, leading to increased unpaid hours and higher burnout rates.

A study from The Centre for Future Work in November 2022 revealed 70% of Australian workers reported an extra 4.3 hours per week of unpaid overtime, equating to an average of $8,000 per year of unpaid work. 

In Australia, this is leading to the increased conversation around ‘right to disconnect’ legislation, empowering employees to disconnect outside their contracted work hours. It will certainly be an interesting year for Australian workplace relations law.  

Employers will need to carefully manage this and keep lines of communication open with employees to avoid burnout and support well-being.

But wellbeing is both an individual and a team sport. We all need to define our own boundaries (leaders and employees alike) around what hybrid work means for us and draw those boundaries. Technology can be your friend here. For example, prompts to send in recipient working hours or automatically blocking out focus time. For managers, insights into our team’s well-being markers can also guide conversations, particularly if you’re having less face time.

Enabling a secure environment will become a priority 

Barriers to remote working were torn down during the pandemic, and the trend is here to stay. Many companies introduced remote working for the first time, while others rapidly expanded their existing capabilities.

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Organisations now need to focus on improving their employees’ hybrid experience with the long term in mind, so workers can easily – and securely – switch between working at the office and at home.

With workers increasingly using their own devices for personal and professional activities, digital security is non-negotiable. We’ve seen recently that no business is immune. And what might be surprising to some is that our small and medium-sized enterprises are among our most vulnerable, with our research showing 65 per cent of Australian SMBs suffered a cyber security incident in 2021.

Technological transformation will also take place in other ways, such as introducing cloud-centric architecture and identity solutions that allow secure remote access to corporate resources in previously impossible ways.

AI will be the next frontier, but human intelligence will be the most valuable asset when it comes to skills 

Artificial intelligence will play a significant role over the next decade, and this year, in particular, we will see huge changes in how AI impacts our lives and work. The potential for AI to remove administrative tasks and free up time to focus on the work that makes a difference will advance dramatically this year – but employers will need to find the right balance.

One example is reducing the burden on a meeting organiser, who often needs to create an agenda, take notes, send a recap and follow up on action items. People involved in the meeting can use the chat function to flag action items, and then AI could aggregate those highlighted items into a recap.

Simple use cases like this could take productivity to a new level. We can all work smarter and spend more time on the work that drives the greatest impact, benefiting the bottom line and the sense of purpose among employees.

But first, focus on resetting the employee-employer relationship

I am often asked, “but how do you know that your team are working when you can’t see them?”. It’s simple, I trust them. They make an impact on the success of the team and the business. And that’s all I need to know. Presenteeism is no longer a gauge of impact at work.

Businesses will increasingly need to be intentional about how and when interactions occur and embrace that 77% of Australian employees say they need a better reason to go into the office than just company expectations.

All hybrid and flexible work models require norms set by our leaders and modelled from the top. I’ve seen it through Microsoft’s leaders, and I can model it to my team. And that means taking wellness days when I need them and making sure my team do as well.

We face massive change and uncertainty as we enter 2023 and the increased pressure to do more with less. But now is the time to take a step back and reset the employee-employer relationship and model the norms at the leadership level. Use the uncertainty as an opportunity for realignment on the human needs of your workforce, and empower your team to own their hybrid work boundaries, and it will go a long way to set us up for 2023 and beyond.

Jane Mackarell is Modern Work Business Lead, Microsoft ANZ