Apple CEO Tim Cook may be keen to return to the office, but a large-scale international survey shows that the majority of people want flexible remote working options once the pandemic is under control …

Microsoft surveyed more than 31,000 people across 31 countries, and says that the pandemic has permanently changed the way people think about work. In particular, it says, the majority don’t ever want to return to working 9 to 5 Monday to Friday in the office – but neither do they want to continue full-time remote working. Instead, they want a hybrid model.

Employees want the best of both worlds: 73% percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65% are craving more in-person time with their teams. To prepare, 66% of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments. The data is clear: extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that businesses need to meet this desire for flexibility.

Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work. Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly — inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.

Many have found remote working exhausting, especially the increased time spent in virtual meetings. Microsoft says it can see the reason for this when looking at aggregated data in Microsoft 365.

Fifty-four percent feel overworked. Thirty-nine percent feel exhausted. And trillions of productivity signals from Microsoft 365 quantify the precise digital exhaustion workers are feeling.

The digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially, with the average number of meetings and chats steadily increasing since last year. Specifically, when we compare collaboration trends in Microsoft 365 between February 2020 and February 2021:

  • Time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings has more than doubled (2.5X) globally and, aside from a holiday dip in December, continues to climb.

  • The average meeting is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35 to 45 minutes.

  • The average Teams user is sending 45 percent more chats per week and 42 percent more chats per person after hours, with chats per week still on the rise.

  • The number of emails delivered to commercial and education customers in February, when compared to the same month last year, is up by 40.6 billion.¹

  • And we’ve seen a 66 percent increase in the number of people working on documents.

Many feel that their companies have handled remote working badly, with more than 40% of employees considering leaving their current employer.

That could include Apple: Tim Cook said he expects most employees to return to the office, which appears to conflict with what most workers now want.

Though the company hasn’t announced a firm return-to-work date, Cook is looking forward to that day: “Largely, I think that we’re going to be back at work again, and I can’t wait until that happens.”

You can read the full Microsoft report here.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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