One thing is clear: the people who went home to work in early 2020 have undergone a massive transformation , and the collective experience of the past two years has fundamentally changed how they define the role of work in their lives. Managers will need to develop a new skill set to understand employees’ shifting expectations.
Microsoft 365 leader Jared Spataro returns to the WorkLab podcast to share key insights from the company’s second annual Work Trend Index . This special report is based on findings from a survey of 31,000 people across multiple industries in 31 countries, along with an analysis of trillions of anonymized productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labor trends on LinkedIn.
Spataro is the fourth guest for Season 2 of Microsoft’s WorkLab podcast, in which host Elise Hu has conversations with economists, technologists, and researchers who explore data and insights into why and how work is changing.
Three big takeaways from this conversation:
The Great Reshuffle is far from over. “Eighteen percent of respondents quit their job in 2021; that was up from 17 percent in 2020,” Spataro says. “Forty-three percent said that they were somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing employers over the next 12 months.”
A key finding of the Work Trend Index report is that 53 percent of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic. Spataro says he sees the benefits of increased flexibility that hybrid enables. “The sentiment that I detect in my own interactions with people is that they want hybrid work to really work for them,” he says. “They say, ’I’m having breakfast with my kids,’ or ’I’ve been able to prioritize things with my family I’ve never done before,’ or ’I’ve developed a new hobby that really is fulfilling for me.’”
Spataro says it’s too soon to write the epitaph of the company HQ. A place of business still has a crucial role to play for organizations in the hybrid era. “The data is very clear that the social fabric, and in particular the social capital of an organization that goes totally remote, is different,” Spataro says. “The office is going to be necessary to create and sustain and build up social capital that’s required to actually be innovative and creative.”
To go deeper into the theme of the transforming workforce, we also talk to Stephanie Nadi Olson, founder of We Are Rosie, which has assembled a workforce of thousands of marketing experts who can be connected with companies for short-term or long-term projects and commitments. She explains how embracing flexibility can help companies tap into a large and diverse talent pool that isn’t working full time right now.
WorkLab is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of the experts we interview are their own and do not reflect Microsoft’s own research or opinions.
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Here’s a transcript of the Episode 4 conversation.
ELISE HU: Welcome to WorkLab , the podcast for Microsoft. I’m your host, Elise Hu. On this show, we hear from leaders and scientists about the surprising research and data that’s transforming the way we work. Our topic today is employee expectations. As workers adjust to the hybrid era, many people are rethinking how we work, why we work, where we work, and what makes work worth it. How can leaders understand and address the shifting priorities of their teams? It’s the sort of question that drives Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s leader on the future of work.
JARED SPATARO: What I hear from a lot of customers when it’s not going well, is they say, ‘Wait a second, this whole flexible work thing, hybrid work thing, whatever label they’re using, I think it’s just a euphemism for saying I work 24/7.’ So when I think about, what does it look like, what is good, the sentiment that I detect in my own interviews and interactions with people is that they want hybrid work to really work for them.
ELISE HU: Jared is going to take us through new research that Microsoft has conducted. It’s the second annual Work Trend Index, and it surveys more than 30,000 workers around the world in a wide variety of industries. He tells us what the data says about where work is heading, and the new set of skills leaders must develop to empower people for hybrid work. Later in this episode, our correspondent Mary Melton talks to Stephanie Nadi Olson, founder of We Are Rosie, about how embracing flexibility can help companies tap into a large and diverse talent pool that isn’t working full time right now. But first, my conversation with Jared.
ELISE HU: Jared Spataro, welcome back.
JARED SPATARO: Oh, it’s great to be here with you. Thanks for having me back.
ELISE HU: I’m so excited to talk because a lot of things have changed since we spoke last September, on the very first WorkLab episode. Since then, leaders have been thrown a lot of curveballs. Supply chain issues have continued. We’ve had Delta, we’ve had Omicron. Companies have adopted plans to return to the office and then been forced to adjust those plans repeatedly. So my question is, What’s it been like for you leading teams during this period?
JARED SPATARO: Well, if I zoom out for a second, I think it’s a grand understatement to say that it has been a difficult time for everyone. I think it’s been particularly difficult for those who are meant to lead. When you’re asked to lead through uncertainty and through, in some ways, unprecedented times, it’s difficult. I think you want to lead and do what’s right and you don’t always know what to do or how to do it. So I think one of the things that has been characteristic for me of my experience over the last two years has been the feeling of being in the darkness, almost like finding your way forward without any lights. And that’s part of what inspired us to do this data-driven work. We felt like we needed some insight; I felt like I needed some insight. But that feeling has been a strong impetus within me to say, Gosh, what can I do to provide, not just my opinion—I don’t think my opinion is very helpful—but some insight that could be helpful.
ELISE HU: So the Work Trend Index is a way to get a better sense of a broad survey of opinion and share those insights in the world. Talk to me a little bit about the latest Work Trend Index report and what you found.
JARED SPATARO: Well, it’s interesting because in my conversations with customers—and they hear that my job is to work on the future of work—I think they have all sorts of perceptions before we begin our first conversation. What’s this guy going to tell me? Is he going to sell me his technology, and that’s the future? And, of course, I’m really interested in both the technology and the sales aspect—that’s my job. But the thing that the report highlights more than anything this year is that, really, that workers’ expectations have changed, that workers themselves have changed. The way I often put it to business leaders I talk to is, the entire fabric of the labor market has changed. And if you try and go back in 2022 and operate the way you did in 2019, you’re going to miss, not because you’re dumb, but just because you don’t understand or realize what’s happened in those areas. So that’s really the big one. We talk about this idea of a “worth it” equation.
ELISE HU: What do you think makes a job “worth it” for people these days?
JARED SPATARO: Well, I think a job is—although we like to talk about, you know, Boy, you’re joining a family, you’re going to feel so great here—at the end of the day, a job is an economic transaction, it’s an exchange. My time, my talents, my skills, my thinking for your money—and other benefits, you know, other things that I think are going to help me. And so, I think that what has happened in this equation is that prior to the pandemic, there definitely—I mean, we see from the survey data—that there was a sense of, Hey, there’s a game, it’s called the game of work, and I’m going to go play it. But post-pandemic, we’re seeing people react differently. One data point that really struck me is 53 percent of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic. It’s just the sense that they’re expressing, Wow, hold on, time out. Maybe this game that I thought was the game that I should be playing, I should just rethink it. So, the “worth it” equation consists of—it does start fundamentally with an economic transaction. You build on top of that—my wellbeing, the environment that I work in. There’s a lot that goes into the mental calculus that people do, this almost economic calculus that they’ll do about, What am I willing to give up in exchange for the compensation I receive?
ELISE HU: And as people process this calculus in their minds, obviously some people are coming to the conclusion, some workers are coming to the conclusion, that they want to leave their jobs, feeding this Great Reshuffle, or as some call, the great resignation. What does the survey show when it comes to this Great Reshuffle that seems like it’s continuing?
JARED SPATARO: Yeah, well, first, it’s worth it to look at the breadth of the survey just to remind ourselves, I mean, this is input from over 30,000 interviewees across 31 countries. So I feel like we’ve got a nice longitudinal view. And then, I think, when it comes to changing jobs, that survey data from that broad of a pool tells us that the Great Reshuffle is far from over. Eighteen percent of respondents quit their job in 2021. That was up from 17 percent in 2020, and that already was up from previous years. So we’re continuing to see people actually take action. We asked people how they are feeling about their jobs and if they would consider a change. Forty-three percent said that they were somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing employers over the next 12 months. That was up two percentage points. So you’re starting to push into territory where first people are saying, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this,’ and then you have, you know, starting to get up to a fifth of the respondents telling us, ‘And I did, by the way.’ So that’s significant. It’s very significant, and it’s being reported on very broadly. But again, I think the thing for me that the data helps me connect is that you could just view those stats and wonder, I wonder what’s going on. And the data helps you understand, Oh, I can tell you what’s going on. People are doing new math. They’re thinking about things differently. They have literally changed their value systems, and that change is broadly based across the globe. That’s a moment for us to mark, as we think about the future of work, that’s what really catches my attention. You know, maybe we were headed this way, but maybe it would have taken 100 years to get there. And over the course of 24 months, we have just truly seen a transformation of how people think about their professional lives.
ELISE HU: The pandemic was a real accelerator of change in a lot of our relationships.
JARED SPATARO: Indeed.
ELISE HU: Like our relationships to work.
JARED SPATARO: That’s right.
ELISE HU: So for leaders, for managers, for companies that want to keep their employees feeling like their jobs are worth it, it seems intuitively like this is where learning and practicing empathy comes in. What is most effective in terms of what you have found?
JARED SPATARO: I think that it’s empathy combined with a growth mindset. You know, anybody who tells you they know how this is all going to go is just selling you something. I really try to make sure I start my conversations with customers, analysts, you know, whoever’s willing to talk by saying, ‘Well, we don’t know for sure. Here are some of the trends, and here’s what the data is showing us. I’d like to hear your thoughts.’ So I think it’s not only empathy for the difficulties and for the challenges, but it’s also like, let’s be students of this moment. Let’s try and figure out what’s going on together, and let’s make it good. Let’s actually go out and create in our mind’s eye first what this experience could be like and then work together to make it so. And that is the place I would say that I have the most energy, is when you have a moment of uncertainty. You know, true leaders I really think recognize that. And they don’t say, ‘Oh, I’ve got the answer,’ but they say, ‘Together, we can paint a picture in our mind’s eye of how good it could be.’ And then as we get that to be a shared reality, not yet in the facts on the ground but in a hope that is burning bright within us, we can go work in that direction. And everything about that, that small process I just described, is so powerful because it harnesses hope, it harnesses positive energy. I really do think we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity here to really make work better than it’s ever been before. You can end up with some magic if you do it right.
ELISE HU: What does making it good or working together to make it good look like practically? For example, what do you think you all have done well on your team, or at Microsoft, to help chart a more expansive future?
JARED SPATARO: Well, I can tell you what it doesn’t look like first, you know, what bad looks like, and then I can tell you some of the things I’m seeing across the world. What I hear from a lot of customers when it’s not going well is they say, ‘Wait a second. This whole flexible work thing, hybrid work thing, whatever label they’re using, I think it’s just a euphemism for saying I work 24/7.’ If you work those hours and I work these hours and Jane works those hours, pretty soon I feel like I can never rest. And that definitely, I think, is a risk. Just a very real risk right in front of us. So when I think about, what does it look like, what is good, I think the sentiment that you see popping from the survey itself—and I would add the sentiment that I detect in my own interviews and interactions with people—is that they want hybrid work to really work for them. I love when I hear people say things like, ‘You know what, I’m having breakfast with my kids,’ or ‘I’ve been able to prioritize things with my family I’ve never done before,’ or ‘I’ve developed a new hobby that really is fulfilling for me.’ They’re able to tell me it’s not like I got any more time in a day, that didn’t change during the pandemic, but the flexibility that I have to work around my schedule—that’s tremendous. It allows me to do things I couldn’t do before and still contribute in very significant ways to the place that I call my place of employment. That’s what good looks like. I think if you can have a fulfilling personal life and you can have a fulfilling professional life, that’s rare, but it’s really valuable because it allows people to do things that are important for the world. Those have lasting, durable effects.
ELISE HU: And how do you think about that personally, for your individual self and your team?
JARED SPATARO: Well, I definitely feel like I’ve learned some things over the course of the last two years. One of the biggest new things that I do is what I call time blocking. I don’t even know if it’s a thing, but it’s a thing for me, and this is really limiting the amount of time I give work, which sounds counterintuitive, but I feel like it’s helped me to be more productive. So I’ve limited my working time from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and not outside those boundaries at all. That’s in contrast to lots of people. We even see in the data [that people] post some time in the evening, will go back and do email or work on projects. And I certainly used to be in that camp.
ELISE HU: Guilty.
JARED SPATARO: Exactly. I think we all are, right, but I’d really try to take a hard line of, Hey, I just do that. It has made a tremendous difference for me. I mean, it just allows me to feel like I have a break. My direct reports and the members of my team tell me, ‘Wow, it’s just nice not to get email from you during that time,’ because it creates this impression that they should be doing something, too. And so even when I do get messages from them, I don’t answer them, which I think is creating a different feeling on the team. And then because of that, we’ve created this little email truce, where, look, don’t email each other on weekends. We have really made liberal use of the delayed send feature of Outlook, which makes a huge difference. You can process your email on weekends, just delay send for Monday morning. And I know when I get about three emails from a couple of my directs on Monday morning, I’m like, Well done. And then no nighttime. We’ve said after 6:00, we don’t want to email or contact each other unless it’s really an emergency. So those are small things, but they’ve made a really tremendous difference. And of course you have some exceptions when you really have to go after it and there’s a pretty intense time. But I think making those the exceptions rather than the rule has changed culture. It’s definitely had an impact on my life.
ELISE HU: So does offering that flexibility you speak of come at the individual leader level, you know, a manager to their small team? Or is it more effective, more systemically or structurally, at the corporate level?
JARED SPATARO: You have to set the culture for that at the corporate level. You have to have the senior-most leaders paint that picture and help people understand, not only is this okay, this is what we want. You know, one great example is in my work with Satya Nadella, who is the CEO of Microsoft. He always is asking us, the senior leaders, ‘Hey, what do you want out of this job?’ He tells us, ‘What is it going to do for you? If you find that answer and understand it, well, I think you’re going to be a better employee here.’ And I’ve never heard a business leader talk to me like that. The first couple of times I heard it I thought, I wonder if this is part of his speechwriter’s talk track for us, you know? And then I realized, No, he’s serious. In interactions, he’s serious. So I think you set the tone at the corporate level. If you don’t set that tone, everybody kind of wonders when the crackdown is coming, when the reality is going to hit. But then I would say that the rubber hits the road at the individual manager level. That’s where the moment comes for us to live the culture. And so it’s this really important give and take between that corporate and then that individual frontline manager. That’s where I think we can see a big change, but that’s a cultural shift for lots of organizations. They may not have operated that way previously. But I do think that you need to do it like that. If you don’t, you end up with all sorts of variations on that that get wobbly. And so you need to have that alignment and also that empowerment down to the frontline manager.
ELISE HU: I love that. Okay, another practical question that could have real estate impacts. Where do you come down on whether companies even need offices anymore?
JARED SPATARO: Boy, what a great question. I have a really definitive perspective.
ELISE HU: Okay…
JARED SPATARO: I think offices are going to continue to be crucial for the success of business going forward. However, they will play a different role than they did pre-pandemic. And so what we would say to people when I see people saying, ‘We’re going totally remote,’ I think, Oh boy, watch out. I don’t think you quite know what you’re getting into there. Because the data is very clear, as an example, that the social fabric, and in particular the social capital of an organization that goes totally remote, is different, and I think less strong in most cases than those that actually do have face time with each other periodically. And I think that the office is going to be necessary to create and sustain and build up social capital, and create that social capital that’s required to actually be innovative and creative and problem solving. So I think that the office becomes a place to gather. It’s a place to build relationships. It’s a place to really get into problem-solving mode when you need all of the signals. I need to be able to see if you raised your eyebrow at my idea, I need to be able to detect the spark of energy that you have. I love our technology. It’s just not good enough to capture that yet, and that’s okay. That’s not a forward-speaking statement; that’s a here and now. So, at Microsoft, as an example, our policy is that anyone can work from home or remotely up to 50 percent of the time. But the other 50 percent, we’d like you to have face time with your colleagues because we think it’s so important, and we’re trying to signal that with the policy. So I think offices are going to be incredibly important. I just think that they’ll be used differently as we are headed back to work. Right here, right now at Microsoft, we’re already starting to see that play out.
ELISE HU: Okay. Before we let you go, Jared, we all know you’re a leader at Microsoft, but I hear you’re a leader in your church, too. So, I’m curious, how has one leadership job informed the other?
JARED SPATARO: Well, for context, I am a church leader here in the community, in the Seattle area, and those two jobs are incredibly complementary. Just as a church leader, as an example, I perform marriages, I help families welcome new babies into their lives. I also get to spend time like I did this past Sunday with a member of one of my congregations who’s been a widow for over 50 years, and sit down and hear her tell me about her life and her experience. I help families work through terrible addictions that kind of rip through a family and present real challenges. And so from the church side, I have developed a deep love for the people around me. Having understood the lives that we often don’t get to see, the ones that are hidden behind the faces that we bring to work. Sometimes I talk about a game face that we put on at work. I realize there is not a person out there, not a family out there that doesn’t have its challenges right now, and that makes me very different at Microsoft. At the same time, the experience I have from Microsoft in terms of how to think about outcomes and scaling those outcomes and really working together, pulling together to be effective and to drive change in the world, man, that’s incredibly powerful in the church setting. I think the big thing that has happened over the last two years is getting that insight into what’s really happening at a scale like that across the community—[that] has just really left me with this feeling of like, I just don’t ever want anybody to have to suffer alone. I can’t take the pain away from people. I don’t bring somebody back to life. I don’t put families back together piece by piece. But whether it’s at work or at church, I don’t want people to have to work through challenges on their own. I might not even have the right words to say, but I can be there. And that’s one of the big takeaways as they think about how those two jobs overlap in my life.
ELISE HU: Yeah, that’s lovely. And if you think about the pandemic, too, I feel like it’s really helped us reevaluate a lot of things. But one of the big things is just how important connection is, and that humans are wired for belonging.
JARED SPATARO: That is so true. So true.
ELISE HU: Beautiful sentiment. Jared Spataro, thank you so much.
JARED SPATARO: Great to be here with you. Thanks again for having me.
ELISE HU: We heard from Jared about how workers are shifting their perspective on work-life balance and how leaders can help their teams and their organizations adjust. Next up, we’ll hear from our correspondent Mary Melton about what she learned from her chat with Stephanie Nadi Olson. Stephanie is the founder of We Are Rosie. It helps companies with what’s called “agile teaming.” Stephanie shares insights on the growing group of people who seek more flexibility in their work.
MARY MELTON: Stephanie founded her company in 2018 and has witnessed a transformation in worker expectations. We Are Rosie has grown into a workforce of thousands of marketing experts who can be connected with companies for short-term or long-term projects and commitments. Her company is built around the idea that there is this big, diverse, and talented pool of people who are eager to do great work, but who aren’t interested in being full-time employees, or FTEs, at a single company. I asked her just how many people are there seeking more flexible work opportunities?
STEPHANIE NADI OLSON: There was a survey done recently that said that 76 percent of skilled, full-time freelancers said that if they had a choice, they would choose freelancing every time, they would never leave. I think we have about 70 million independent workers in the US right now. I mean, it represents like one and a half trillion dollars in US GDP—and growing. Current estimates are that over 50 percent of the US workforce will be independent in the next five to seven years. So it’s growing because people are trying it. Some of them have been forced to try it. Some of them have been given the incredible opportunity to question everything about their lives and try it as the pandemic has kind of shaken us all out of our zombie mode in a lot of ways. If they have a steady stream of work, and they have consistent pay and benefits—everybody wants to work in this way at some point in their career.
MARY MELTON: A growing percentage of the workforce is asking for more flexibility, but that also means that there’s a growing opportunity for companies to leverage these folks. Why do leaders need to pay attention to this phenomenon? Stephanie explains how harnessing this talent pool can improve your organization’s bottom line.
STEPHANIE NADI OLSON: This is a must-have. Companies that figure this out now are going to be at a massive competitive advantage in terms of attracting and retaining talent, and also having innovation and agility within their organization, which we all know is so important. And diversity, which we haven’t even talked about. So I think that really you cannot have a world-class inclusive organization without including this talent in your org design and your team design. This is not people that can’t get a “real job.” These are people that are taking control of their lives. These are entrepreneurs. These are people who are creators and are ambitious and are brave. And these are the people that you need to have as part of your layered org design. And I think that’s really the light bulb—you can no longer think about your organization as just a single layer of FTEs. You have to think about layered or design for inclusion and agility and innovation. And it’s your FTEs, it’s your external vendors, it’s your flex talent, it’s your part-time employees, and you have to start designing your projects for all of these different talent marketplaces that you have.
MARY MELTON: We’ve talked a lot on this podcast about the Great Reshuffle and rethinking the meaning of what we do and why we do it. I asked Stephanie, who went through her own Great Reshuffle when she founded the company, if she had any words of encouragement for people thinking about making a big shift in their own careers and possibly seeking something more meaningful.
STEPHANIE NADI OLSON: I actually quit my job three months before I started We Are Rosie, and I was feeling really burned out. And it was a gift to be able to take that time without an idea of what was coming next. But I did use it to really listen to myself, and I literally sat down and made my own list of passion and potential. What are the times in my life that made me feel the most lit up, that I would gladly do all day and that left me feeling energized instead of energy drained. I made this really kind of nerdy list of, when did I feel the most alive? And after I made that list, I realized, man, I feel the best, I feel the most whole when I’m doing work to support marginalized and overlooked and underestimated people. I had done some work with refugees here in Atlanta, I had done some work with mothers postpartum experiencing postpartum depression, which is something I went through, and that’s when I felt the most alive. And it wasn’t about the thing I was doing. It was about the people that I got to connect with, and that led me to my light bulb of there are so many underestimated, overlooked people in the marketing industry. How can I create access and opportunity and wealth for them? That light bulb would not have come if I had not just sat down and given myself the space to really reflect and evaluate what made me the most happy in my life, and then start to think about, How can I create scenarios in my work or in my life where I can just do more of those things, where I can just inch more towards my zone of genius?
ELISE HU: That was Stephanie Nadi Olson, founder of We Are Rosie. That’s it for this episode of the WorkLab podcast from Microsoft. Check out the WorkLab digital publication, too, where you can find, among many other things, a transcript of this very episode. That is all at Microsoft.com/WorkLab. And for this podcast, please rate us, review, and follow us wherever you listen. Those ratings make a big difference. The WorkLab podcast is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of our guests are their own, and they may not necessarily reflect Microsoft’s own research or positions. WorkLab is produced by Microsoft with Godfrey Dadich Partners and Reasonable Volume. I’m your host, Elise Hu. Our correspondents are Mary Melton and Desmond Dickerson. Sharon Kallander and Matthew Duncan produced this podcast. Jessica Voelker is the WorkLab editor. Thanks for listening.