There are signs of a growing divide between business leaders and workers on the issue of hybrid and remote work, according to a new study commissioned by Microsoft \u2014 and the onus could fall on CIOs to help deliver communication tools that give remote workers an in-office experience, and a digital workplace that makes the commute worth it.\n\n\u201cEmployees all around the world are redefining what we\u2019re calling their \u2018worth it\u2019 equation; that is, what they want from work and what they\u2019re willing to give up in return,\u201d said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for modern work at Microsoft, presenting the study, the 2022 Work Trend Index.\n\nAmong the study\u2019s findings, there\u2019s a difference in perception about the consequences of remote work for the enterprise: 81% of workers said they are as productive or more so compared to a year ago, which is a real possibility given how remote workers can avoid many workplace distractions; however, 54% of business leaders surveyed feared productivity had been negatively impacted since the shift to remote or hybrid work.\n\nAnother finding was that over half of remote and hybrid workers feel lonelier and have fewer workplace relationships since leaving the office \u2014 and other research has shown that loneliness at work reduces productivity. While videoconferencing platform developers are seeking to make the online environment more entertaining and interactive, 66% of survey respondents said informal online chats feel like \u201cmore of a chore\u201d than in-person gatherings.\n\nTime to connect\n\nThe challenge for CIOs, then, is not just deploying the latest in conferencing tools, but also in developing a team culture that enables employees to communicate at a deeper level and making time for employees to connect with one another and build online relationships.\n\nOr they could insist everyone come back to the office full time. That\u2019s the solution that 50% of the business leaders surveyed said their company plans to adopt within the next year. But with 52% of workers considering switching to remote or hybrid work in the year ahead, that may mean some reshuffling to come. Tensions are likely to be greatest in India (where two-thirds of companies plan a full-time return to the office, yet two-thirds of employees favor remote or hybrid working) while Europe has the most room for compromise.\n\nIn fact, that reshuffle is already happening: 18% of workers said they left their jobs in the past year (41% in India), and 43% said they are somewhat or extremely likely to consider moving in 2022, up from 41% in 2021 (65% in India, up from 62%).\n\nDeclining returns\n\nTensions over a return to the office are already showing up in news reports. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has repeatedly said that remote work is an aberration the bank would correct as soon as possible, but on Feb. 1, 2022, when the company reopened its New York headquarters after a one-month shutdown during the Omicron wave of the COVID pandemic, only around half of its staff went into the office. By early March, the proportion had risen to 60-70%, the company told Fortune, but it\u2019s still below the 80% last Fall \u2014 and presumably much lower than before the \u201caberration\u201d in working conditions began.\n\nGoogle too will soon face a key test: From April 4, it will require employees to return to the office at least three days a week \u2014 but formerly office-based staff who prefer to work from home permanently may see their compensation slashed by up to 25%, according to an August 2021 report from Reuters.\n\nNaturally, that\u2019s not going down well with staff: Google\u2019s annual employee attitude survey, GoogleGeist, conducted in January 2022, uncovered growing unhappiness about compensation levels. Reports vary as to the exact level of dissatisfaction with total compensation: The proportion of Google employees who found it competitive fell 12 points to 46% according to CNBC, while Business Insider said 53% found it competitive, down from 63% a year earlier.\n\nNot worth it\n\nThese examples show that employees are reconsidering the value they and their employers place on their work \u2014 or, as Spataro put it, their \u201cworth it\u201d equation has changed.\n\nThe study found that 53% of workers are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic. That figure is lower in Europe (44%), New Zealand (44%), and Japan (37%), while the shift toward prioritizing health and wellbeing was greatest in South America (70%), India (67%), and China (58%).\n\nOne of the arguments for returning to the office \u2014 even part time \u2014 is that it enables teams to meet face to face, but only 28% of business leaders have created team agreements defining when and why hybrid workers should head to the office. No surprise, then, that 38% of hybrid workers say their biggest challenge is knowing when to work in the office, and when remotely. There\u2019s no point heading into the office on a Tuesday if half the team prefer meeting on Thursdays.\n\nProductivity signals\n\nIn addition to the answers of the 31,000 people in 31 countries interviewed for the Work Trend Index, Microsoft has access to trillions of \u201cproductivity signals\u201d derived from usage of Microsoft 365, its cloud-based email, conferencing, and document editing suite. (The suite is used by over 1 million companies, Statista estimates.)\n\nBy analyzing those signals, Microsoft can see that employees are using Teams to hold more short, unscheduled meetings. \u201c15-minute ad-hoc meetings now make up about 60% of all Teams meetings,\u201d said Spataro. The data can\u2019t say whether Teams is merely replacing telephone calls, or whether workers are looking for the kind of interaction they used to get at the water cooler.\n\nIn addition, said Spataro, \u201cMeetings are starting later on Monday and wrapping up earlier on Friday, so we could see people with those tail ends, the edges of the week, starting to use their workday in ways that are good for them.\u201d\n\nAnother change he noted is that people are scheduling more time off. \u201cThere\u2019s a 10% increase in the amount of what we call out of office blocks on calendars,\u201d he said. The data don\u2019t say, though, whether this represents a real increase in time off, or whether it\u2019s a sign of increasing familiarity with a tool that has gained in importance through the pandemic.\n\nNext actions\n\nCIOs, like their peers in the C-suite, need to set examples and expectations.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s important for employees and employers to take a step back and set up the norms that they\u2019ll need to ensure that they\u2019re not always on,\u201d Spataro said.\n\nThose norms include agreeing what days workers will spend together in the office, where there is flexibility, and on how flexible working hours should be limited. (The workday span and after-hours and weekend work are all still on the rise, Microsoft 365 usage indicates.)\n\n\u201cMaking [this] work will require shifting expectations that will require new approaches to culture and even operating procedures,\u201d said Spataro.\n\nOne area the need for a new culture is most keenly felt will be in onboarding and training new staff. Those who work remotely from the moment they join the company miss out on the opportunity to learn through observing or following their peers \u2014 an \u201capprenticeship\u201d model that is one of the reasons Goldman Sachs\u2019 Solomon is so keen to get staff back in the office.\n\nIn fact, 62% of the business leaders surveyed for the Work Trend Index were concerned that new employees weren\u2019t getting enough support to be successful during hybrid or remote work.\n\nThis lack of support could also explain why 56% of pandemic hires (compared to 43% of all employees) are considering changing employers in the next year.