Are you tired of the phrase “it’s been an unprecedented year” at the beginning of every article and podcast?

Yup. That eye-roll feeling may be more than feeling jaded. You’re probably deeply fatigued by a year that has changed everything, even the way we think about what change is.

Despite your fatigue, you probably recognize that right now, we’re all kinda in the same boat: trying to figure out what those changes will be and how to navigate them. It could be an exhilarating time because no one knows what will work. But it may also feel terrifying because the risks as just as unpredictable.

I’ve been heartened by the recent establishment of WorkLab, a resource that publishes much of Microsoft’s research in helpfully pithy, attractive online summaries while making more detailed reports available for download if you need to dig a little deeper.

They launched in January 2021 mainly to help companies (and themselves) navigate the changes ahead. Obviously, it’s also a great advertisement for their Teams platform but it’s no just a glossy public relations stunt.

The most recent “2021 World Trend Index: Annual Report” is titled “The Next great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?” And their answer is a tentative “no” with some optimistic suggestions for getting ready.

Essentially, the problem is that our expectations of remote work have not panned out with most workers reporting a greater sense of alienation and exhaustion.

And while diversity and inclusion are particularly important to the corporate world suddenly, remote work has disproportionately hurt women, minorities and younger employees while the majority of senior management have enjoyed more benefits as a result of working remotely.

So while remote work is here to stay and leaders are blind to their employees who are exhausted, what’s the good news?

The report looks at a few countries that have begun to return to having some in-person work time and there is a noticeable improvement in pandemic diminished networks bouncing back relatively quickly. This bodes well for companies worried about innovation and their currently siloed workforce.

There’s also been an interesting benefit to remote work in that many workers have been experienced a deeper authenticity as a result of seeing into their colleague’s homes and sharing a global crisis together.

And then there’s the availability of talent which is now more global than ever and for groups that have faced discrimination at work, the possibility of working remotely looks more attractive.

Facing a workforce that is more fickle than ever before, the report makes some suggestions for how companies can prepare:

  • Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility

  • Invest in space and tech that bridges remote and proximate workspaces

  • Leaders are responsible for relieving their workers digital exhaustion

  • Rebuilding social capital is a business imperative

  • Rethink employee experience to compete for the best and most diverse talent

Plan, invest, lead and rebuild. Mmm, I might just be starting to feel better already…