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Everyone seems to be quitting their jobs. Employers need to be flexible to keep workers.

We at Microsoft are embracing what employees have made clear: Hybrid workplaces will be a permanent foundation of the future of work.
Office desk on beach.
Hybrid work is in demand. More than 70 percent of employees want flexible, remote work options to continue.Hans Neleman / Getty Images

On Thursday at Microsoft, we shared with our employees that the projected reopening of our headquarters would be delayed until further notice. In the face of this unpredictable pandemic, it is clear there will not be a universal reopening of workplaces across the board, and the ebb and flow from remote to office work is the new reality.

The great reshuffle, and the digitization of work as we know it, represents a change to the modern labor force that we haven’t witnessed since the end of World War II.

This hybrid workplace is part of a great reshuffling that the modern workforce is undergoing, which is giving rise to the largest transformation of the fabric of the economy in nearly a century. The digitization and automation of jobs are re-conceiving work as we know it. At the same time, employees are resigning in historic numbers and considering new roles that allow them to put their personal priorities and well-being first.

People have made it clear: Flexibility will become a permanent foundation of the future of work — and business leaders who stand against this tide not only risk losing their talent, but also their stake in the economy of the future.

Over the course of the pandemic, we at Microsoft have attempted to be students of this change, surveying more than 30,000 employees in 31 countries and analyzing trillions of labor and productivity signals across Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn. Since early on, the research has shown that hybrid work is in demand. We found that over 70 percent of employees wanted flexible, remote work options to continue.

New research we published Thursday further clarifies what employees value — but it shows contradictions and overlaps in people’s reasoning for supporting in-person versus remote work. Some Microsoft employees cited work-life balance, an ability to focus on work and in-person meetings as reasons to go into the office; others cited those exact things as reasons to stay home.

These responses prove that every employee is different, and that every employee will have unique expectations. They all, however, want to pull together the pieces of remote and in-person jobs to create a new, better world of work. Employers need to take notice and be adaptable — not just in terms of their workforce as a whole, but also in terms of the needs of each individual.

In a world of work gone remote, where jobs and industries start to become unbound to specific geographies or cities, new career possibilities seem virtually limitless. Since the beginning of the pandemic, permanent remote job postings on LinkedIn have shot up by five times. What’s more, a study we conducted in March showed that 41 percent of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the nextyear, with 46 percent planning to make a major pivot or career transition.

These numbers are no longer theoretical. People everywhere are seizing this opportunity for change. Job openings have surged to above 10 million for the first time. Women, who disproportionately support more remote work, are up and quitting in droves. And this is happening across industries, from sales to health care to hospitality. Taken together, these signals are a siren: People no longer want to be tethered to the in-office 9-to-5 work life of the past. People want agency over their time and their lives, and now with the record number of jobs that are being left unfilled, they have the leverage to demand it.

This sweeping change doesn’t have to be negative for employers and business leaders. Embracing a hybrid work model shouldn’t be an obligation; instead, harnessing the shifting talent landscape can be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for employers and employees alike.

We have already seen evidence of this from the past 18 months. The food industry has transformed itself to accommodate online shopping and home delivery. Retail workers are being equipped with new skills to serve customers online. Remote learning has opened up new educational opportunities for people in regions and countries across the globe. Many people in rural areas now have more access to higher-paying jobs.

As a business leader, you can access the best-quality talent from anywhere when geography doesn’t determine your hiring pool. Embracing a more flexible remote work policy can also help businesses achieve higher rates of inclusion and diversity among their teams and create a more accessible work space for those who had been left out far too often pre-pandemic. What's more, providing the employee experience people want and are now demanding will put you at a strategic advantage over the competition in attracting talent.

Whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise, there are several imperatives that can help you get started. First, ask questions focusing on the needs of your employees. As a business leader, you have to avoid assuming that every person’s work style is the same as yours, and instead create a new working model that gives space to individual styles.

Second, position your business for the future economy. From finance to sales to human resources to information technology, you have the opportunity to reform and position the entire operating model of your business to ride this wave of growth in the era ahead. This could mean asking yourself, “With everything we've learned over the last 18 months, is there a way to use technology to do this in new and even better ways?” From visits to the doctor to designing wind turbines, just about everything we did prior to the pandemic can benefit from the combination of new technology and some imagination.

The great reshuffle, and the digitization of work as we know it, represents a change to the modern labor force that we haven’t witnessed since the end of World War II. The post-war period led to the creation of technologies and advancements that helped create an era of unprecedented economic growth and productivity. One hundred years from now, we could view this moment in much the same way: as a historical flashpoint when businesses everywhere listened to the demands of their employees and created a new world of work that was more flexible, productive and healthy for everyone.

As business leaders, this is something we should all strive for. Now is the time to embrace this change, and turn this vision into a reality.