According to a new global work trend report by Microsoft Corp., the shift to remote working brought on by the coronavirus pandemic may just have been the precursor to an even greater shift to another workplace disruptor — the hybrid work model.

Employees the world over are embracing the evolution of the modern workplace to the work-from-home setting and the flexibility that comes with it. Indeed, Microsoft’s report found 73 per cent of global workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue. But as feelings of isolation and a disconnect from colleagues become more prevalent among remote workers, many are also anxious to return to the traditional office — at least part of the time — with 67 per cent of the respondents craving more in-person time with their teams.

Read: 52% of U.S. employees want a hybrid work model post-pandemic: survey

Yet, work teams have also become more siloed, noted the report. Employees’ interactions with close networks have increased, while interactions with distant work networks diminished: between April 2020 and February 2021, the number of people sending chats posted in a Microsoft Teams channel — designed to include the whole team — decreased by five per cent; whereas, the number of people sending small group or one-on-one chats increased by 87 per cent.

“Bumping into people in the office and grabbing lunch together may seem unrelated to the success of the organization, but they’re actually important moments where people get to know one another and build social capital,” said Dr. Nancy Baym, Microsoft’s senior principal researcher, in the report. “They build trust, they discover common interests they didn’t know they had and they spark ideas and conversations.”

Read: One year later: Why employers should create ‘water-cooler’ moments for employees amid the pandemic

Generation Z is having a particularly difficult time adjusting to the remote-working setting, as 60 per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 said they’re merely surviving or flat-out struggling. They also reported being more likely to struggle to find work-life balance (positive eight percentage points) and feel exhausted after a typical day of work (positive eight percentage points) compared to older employees. Respondents from gen Z also reported having more difficulty feeling engaged or excited about work, getting a word in during meetings and bringing new ideas to the table when compared to other generations.

In addition, many of the survey respondents said they feel unsupported, as 42 per cent said they lack office essentials, and one in 10 said they don’t have an adequate internet connection to do their job. Notably, only 46 per cent of workers say their employer helps them with remote work expenses. And 37 per cent of respondents said their companies are asking too much of them at a time like this. Nearly one in five said their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance, 54 per cent said they feel overworked and 39 per cent feel exhausted.

Read: How employers are supporting the big shift to remote work

Despite these challenges, productivity has remained the same or higher for many employees over the past year, though it also resulted in increased digital overload, according to the report. Microsoft’s research showed time spent in its Teams meeting platform more than doubled globally between February 2020 and February 2021, and, aside from a dip in December, it continues to climb.

As well, the average Teams meeting is 10 minutes longer, up from 35 to 45 minutes year-over-year, and the average Teams user is sending 45 per cent more chats per week and 42 per cent more chats per person after hours. And 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.

As the dust settles in the aftermath of the chaotic shift to remote working due to the pandemic, the benefits of employing a hybrid working model is becoming ever clearer to employers, noted the report. And in preparation for the post-pandemic workplace, 66 per cent of business decision-makers surveyed are considering re-designing physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments.

Read: City of Toronto pivoting to permanent hybrid work model