After three years of flexible working arrangements, workplaces are entering a new phase known as structured flexible work.

New research by Microsoft has uncovered what it calls the hybrid paradox – people want flexibility to stay, but also crave connection to their team.

To help their own employees and customers find the balance between flexibility and human connection, Microsoft set out to explore when (according to data) it really matters to come together in person.

Researchers used both Microsoft survey data and external surveys and studies in their plight to understand the new way of working.

The research found that while flexible work looks different for every organisation, it’s here to stay.

The benefits include increased productivity, better employee satisfaction and a more inclusive workforce, the research found.

Microsoft said the research underlines the company’s belief that flexible work is here to stay, and that a flexible approach backed by moments that matter, rather than only number of days, is critical.

The study, published last week, found that in short, it’s not about the number of days that people are in the office, it’s about creating moments that matter.

Detailed in a blog post titled ‘In The Changing Role of the Office, it’s All About Moments That Matter’ Microsoft said that teams are more distributed than ever and for many companies, there’s no going back.

It highlights that number studies have shown that employees want the best of both worlds – flexible work and in-person connection.

The Work Trend Index called it the hybrid paradox back in 2021 – where 70 per cent of workers wanted flexible work to stay, and over 65 per cent crave more in-person time with their teams.

In 2019, 61 per cent of teams at Microsoft were all in the same location; today that number is 27 per cent.

And Microsoft is not alone – 70 per cent of managers at Fortune 100 companies have at least one remote team member.

Microsoft’s chief of staff Maryleen Emeric organised a recent team week at the company, which brought together far-flung colleagues who would otherwise rarely see each other.

“Those sorts of social connections are not something that you can create over a screen,” she said.

“Allowing people to get to know each other and find those common interests outside of work – I don’t think that can happen if you don’t bring people together once in a while.

“You have to think of your social capital like a battery. The longer you go without having an in-person interaction, the lower the charge gets on your battery.

“These moments that matter – like a team week – allow us to recharge the battery,” she said.

The research agreed.

People come into an office for each other – whether that’s once a week or once a year – and in the same engagement survey, employees made it clear they’re looking for time together connecting, not just co-working.

When asked what in-person activities Microsoft should offer to support teams’ success, 37 per cent of comments were about social and team building activities, the number one theme overall.

Microsoft employee data also found that it’s more critical for employees to meet their managers in-person in the first 90 days of their time with the company than it is for employees post-onboarding.

Compared to employees who didn’t meet their managers in-person within the first 90 days, employees who did were more likely to seek feedback, be asked for input by their team, build strong relationships with colleagues, feel supported when discussing tough issues with their manager, and get effective coaching and feedback.