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Flexibility Now More Important Than Pay for Many Employees, New Microsoft Survey Finds

Microsoft also announces new tools to help offices be more flexible, including the Smart Camera for Surface Hub and Outlook RSVPs indicating remote or in person.

Working from home can be isolating, even if we're all still talking.
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After more than two years, the coronavirus pandemic appears to be slowing its spread, allowing many offices to reopen and people to return to their pre-COVID routines. But a new survey from Microsoft found that many of us don't want to turn back the clocks, and we're even willing to give up some of our pay in exchange.

Microsoft's second annual Worker Trend Index, released Wednesday, surveyed 31,000 people in 31 countries and found that many employees are increasingly considering whether their job is "worth it" in new ways. Microsoft said 53% of respondents indicated they're more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work. And if they're unhappy, more than half of Gen Z and millennial respondents said they're seriously considering switching employers over the next year. 

The survey found that 18% of respondents had already quit their jobs in the past year, citing work-life balance, well-being and flexibility as reasons. Pay, Microsoft said, was near the bottom of the list of reasons people were leaving


A tale of two work approaches: More than half of employees are considering going hybrid in the next year, while half of leaders say their companies plan to require full-time in-person work.


"People's expectations have changed," Jared Spataro, Microsoft's corporate vice president for modern work, said while discussing the survey findings on a conference call with journalists. Meanwhile, he added, many companies are pushing to return to pre-COVID work commutes and office time. "There's no erasing the experience this collective experience that we've had together and it has really reset expectations that's so important to recognize."

Microsoft's survey data reflects a dramatic shift in the job market, with record numbers of people quitting their jobs, often in search of more flexible work arrangements that allow for both remote work and tending to their families. This great resignation, as some economists have called it, has upended decades of job market trends, forcing employers to fight harder to attract potential employees, as well as to keep existing ones. "We just aren't the same people who went home to work two years ago," Spataro added.

Blink and you'll miss it: The little camera, center, at the top of the screen, is part of Microsoft's new answer to hybrid work.


The survey data, Microsoft said, underscores why it's been building new features into its Office and Teams productivity software, planned for later this year. Among the new features it unveiled Wednesday were the ability to indicate if you plan to attend a meeting remotely or in person, when sending an RSVP via the Outlook email and calendar app. Microsoft is also building new tools to help people hold meetings remotely, including new recording functions for its PowerPoint presentations app. And it's built an artificial intelligence-powered tool in its Teams software that will help you keep on pace during a presentation and warn you if you're talking over someone.

Microsoft also announced a new camera, available for order Wednesday for its 50-inch Surface Hub touchscreen device for meetings. The camera is designed to intelligently zoom in on people speaking, to help focus attention during a video chat in a crowded conference room. Many of those features mirror other efforts by other tech giants including Apple, GoogleFacebook and Amazon to design video chat tools that, among other things, attempt to intelligently frame people by automatically zooming the camera in and out, rather than merely presenting a static image.

Whether companies adopt these and other tools to help remote work are unclear. But already, Spataro said, data from Microsoft's own users indicate things are changing. The company noted that meetings are starting later on Mondays and ending earlier on Fridays. He also noted that more than 60% of meetings in Teams are now ad hoc, 15-minute chats. And people are increasingly using the company's meeting recording features for "asynchronous" meetings. 

"It's heartening to see that employees are starting to learn how to use hybrid work and the tools to their benefit," Spataro said. Now the question is how much employers will change their approaches as a result.