BY OLA WILLIAMS
For most working professionals across the world, the past two years have been characterised by surprises at every turn – but for many, one of the most unexpected developments has been the decision by management to make a full-time return to the office.
Each year, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index provides a data-driven analysis of key changes within the working world. Combining insights from studies of thousands of people, trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labour trends on LinkedIn, the Index has become a benchmark for organisations looking to better understand their employees in this era of uncertainty.
And it would seem greater insight into what workers are thinking is exactly what is needed. Findings from the Index show Nigerian companies may be missing an opportunity where their employees are concerned. It didn’t take long after lockdown began easing for businesses across the country to return to the office. But this means many Nigerian professionals are missing out on the benefits of a more flexible work environment.
Many of their global counterparts who have had the opportunity to experience working from home over the past couple of years are showing a clear preference for hybrid work. What’s more, there is an added danger of a potential disconnect between business leaders and employees. This was a key trend highlighted in the 2022 Work Trend Index. In fact, there’s a growing consensus among managers that leaders have lost touch with staff.
Though the number of Nigerian executives who are prioritising culture as part of their business strategy has increased since COVID-19, the overall number of business leaders who say culture is a top business consideration is still less than half.
It’s easy to see how this current dynamic has come about – particularly around the issue of returning to the office.
Leaders have spent the past two years under crushing pressure, shepherding their people and organisations through uncertainty amid unprecedented economic challenges. And while there’s no question technology helped preserve productivity during the pandemic, the Work Trend Index shows fears about lost gains have factored into the pullback to in-person work. This is especially the case in a country like Nigeria where a lack of steady power supply poses significant challenges to remote work.
However, globally, employees feel they have benefitted hugely from remote work, particularly when it comes to prioritising their health and well-being. And in Nigeria this is translating into growing expectations around flexible work – especially among skilled employees. So much so that it has prompted a steady increase in remote work vacancies since 2020.
It means leaders now have a new and urgent challenge in an uncertain economy and labour market: exploring the potential for flexible work in a way that balances business outcomes with emerging employee expectations.
According to the Work Trend Index, a big part of the answer to this conundrum lies with line managers.
The past two years have taught us that culture will stand or fall with managers. As the people who embody the culture for every organisation, managers are a critical bridge between evolving employee expectations and leadership priorities.
But to make matters more complex, many managers feel stuck between leadership and growing employee expectations, and they feel powerless to drive change for their team.
From the very outset of the pandemic, Microsoft’s research has highlighted the challenges faced by managers navigating the hurdles that have arisen since COVID-19, perhaps the biggest of which is maintaining a strong company culture. Now, the Work Trend Index shows they also feel they are lacking the influence and resources to make changes on behalf of their team.
It’s clear that if organisations in Nigeria want to unlock the potential of flexible work, they should begin by equipping managers with the resources and training they need to manage the transition.
While policy is set at the top, leaders need to decentralise decision-making and empower managers to make change on behalf of their employees’ individual needs. Developing clear guidelines and agreements, like the ones in this template put together by Microsoft, can provide managers with the framework needed for hybrid work.
Ola Williams, a graduate of Computer Science with MBA from University of Liverpool, is country manager, Microsoft Nigeria, with over 21 years of Information Technology experience spanning through solution implementation, solution sales and channels management.