HR Strategy

Microsoft finds that in-person settings should be reserved for ‘moments that matter’

Its people analytics team used data to drive the company’s RTO strategy.
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· 4 min read

Conventional wisdom says you can’t wear white after Labor Day, but many employees across corporate America can also no longer wear pajama bottoms to meetings, as companies position the end of summer as the RTO reset.

At Microsoft, the HR team wants working in the office to be purposeful. It recently released people-analytics informed guidance to managers and leaders suggesting employees show up for “moments that matter.”

“We started this research many months ago…to really understand when in-person matters,” said Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft’s VP of HR business insights. “When is it important for us to come together in-person to build the relationships that we need, and when is it important for us to be working together in the same location?”

Klinghoffer’s people analytics team found that there were specific scenarios where in-person meetings can have an impact on the work itself.

The strategy clarifies Microsoft’s RTO guidance wherein employees can work from home up to 50% of the time without manager approval. Rather than require attendance for specific days, it’s up to employees and managers to decide when it makes sense for an in-person appearance for “moments that matter.”

“Our structured flexible work model empowers individuals, teams, and leaders to intentionally decide what works for them within the company and team guidelines,” Klinghoffer said.

What matters? Klinghoffer suggested employees be in-person for onboarding, team-building, and the launch of new projects or initiatives.

“While every company’s return to the office strategy is different, it’s clear that flexible work is here to stay,” Klinghoffer said. “Making hybrid work with structured flexibility for our employees, and leading with data and not dogma, is what’s going to make our employees and Microsoft most successful.”

Klinghoffer’s team came to this conclusion by first asking, “Does in-person matter?” They quickly learned that it did, so the people analytics team shifted to, “When does in-person matter?”

“It’s not that in our surveys, everyone said we need to work remotely,” she said. “They desired in-person time, and it was really up to us to figure out…through the data and research, what are those in person times that are most impactful.”

Microsoft conducted an external research review and gathered internal employee data in order to assess when it was important to be working in-person with colleagues.

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“Part of the guidance that we provide our employees and managers is to have conversations with one another,” she said. “We call them team agreements.”

Onboarding. Whether a new hire is joining the company or an employee is starting a new role, onboarding is an apt time to meet in-person, the research found.

“It’s a critical time for establishing psychological safety and creating a shared understanding which forms the foundation of the new hires relationship with both the team and the company,” she said.

Employees who meet their supervisors in person within the first 90 days often will seek out more feedback, be asked for input by their team, build stronger relationships with colleagues, and feel supported when discussing tough issues with their manager, they found.

“Our data show that early and career employees felt slightly more energized when working regularly in the same building with their team members,” Klinghoffer said. “But once you’ve onboarded in person, one-on-one meetings aren’t necessarily critical.”

Team cohesion. Following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many teams no longer co-located, and meaningful connections between peers became harder to nurture.

At Microsoft, 29% of internal respondents found remote work made it difficult to create those connections.

“We also did a lot of external research on this topic as well, and we surveyed 30,000 workers…worldwide in different industries, and 85% of those people were motivated to go into the office for socializing with coworkers, just as many of them also said they’d be motivated by a desire to rebuild team bonds,” she said.

Project kickoff. In-person time is useful at the start of a project or new initiative helps establish expectations and align goals. Klinghoffer pointed to Microsoft’s launch of its new 365 Copilot, released in March.

“Not everyone that was working on Copilot was located in the same city, and so when they kicked it off, they did bring people together, build that social capital, really have those important conversations,” she said. “And then when they dispersed back to the locations that they live with, they had built that social capital, so it was easier to have difficult conversations and to do things in a virtual manner.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.