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Hybrid working helps businesses retain staff – Expert Reaction

A hybrid working schedule may improve staff retention without dampening performance or the chance of getting promoted, according to a randomised trial at a Chinese company.

More than 1600 employees were randomly assigned to work either three or five days in the office per week over the course of six months. Quit rates lowered by a third and work satisfaction scores increased in the hybrid work group. The US-Chinese research team found no difference between the groups when it came to getting promoted.

The SMC asked experts to comment.

Dr Paula O’Kane, Otago Business School, University of Otago comments:

“The study by Bloom et al., provides an interesting and objective insight into productivity in hybrid working, and their use of a randomised control study is considered a strong research design. The use of an objective productivity measure (i.e. coding completed), as well as the more subjective measures used in other studies (such as self-reported productivity, used in the Aotearoa Remote Working Survey, 2020) reinforces those findings, which suggest productivity remains the same or increases in hybrid environments.

“Of course this is a generalisation, and every role, organisation, and sector is different, but in a time when many Aotearoa New Zealand organisations are pulling back on hybrid, remote and home working, quoting productivity, this gives us a much stronger basis from which to advocate for increased access to alternative work arrangements.

“Often it is more a lack of trust, or leadership skills to manage remote employees that creates the potential illusion of reduced productivity. Given the right tools, support and communication we can harness the value of alternative work arrangements for both employees and organisations.

“As the study also reveals, there were increases in employee job satisfaction, employee retention (particularly for those with a longer commute, found in many areas of Aotearoa New Zealand) and a more positive attitude towards hybrid work from managers post-implementation, all important organisational health and performance indicators. Hybrid work also particularly reduced turnover in female staff, and didn’t impact promotions, which is a potential concern reported in many studies.

“We would encourage organisations to seek good productivity measures to really understand the outcomes of working from home in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as measuring employee wellbeing and the impact on sustainability, before encouraging people ‘back to the office.’”

No conflicts of interest.

Dr Amanda Wallis, Research, Development & Innovation Lead, Umbrella Wellbeing, comments:

“Hybrid working has been the topic of lively debate for years now, with some employers believing that employees cannot be trusted to work effectively from home. Others have embraced the hybrid working model wholeheartedly, down-sizing office spaces and even offering remote-first roles.

“This new study puts forward compelling evidence to show that hybrid working is not only compatible with performance (in other words, employees can achieve just as much while working from home two days a week) but may generate considerable revenue savings through lower turnover in the long run. This is in line with other observational research over the past few years, highlighting that employees who are hybrid (compared with fully remote or fully office-based) experience the greatest outcomes.

“Of note, women in the study benefitted most from hybrid working when it came to staying in their jobs. This is evidence that work flexibility may help to tip the scales towards gender equality, keeping women in paid employment, and enabling men to take on a greater domestic role in the household by freeing up commute time for household tasks.

“Even with these benefits, other research shows that hybrid workers still need support to work effectively from home. Being set-up with the right tools and technology, establishing team norms about hybrid working hours and availability, and ensuring access to equal opportunities for mentorship and professional development all help to make hybrid work successful. It’s also crucial for managers to enable team rhythms that are fit-for-purpose (e.g., collaborating on in-office days, and doing focused work while at home).”

Conflict of interest statement: “Amanda is employed by Umbrella Wellbeing, a workplace wellbeing services provider.”