Hybrid work is a “win-win” for both companies and workers

In the workplace, one of the most heated discussions revolves around the impact of allowing employees to work from home a few days a week

In today's workplace, one of the most heated discussions revolves around the impact of allowing employees to work from home a few days a week. Can such hybrid schedules enhance productivity, career growth, and job satisfaction?

Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist and a leading expert on work-from-home policies, provides compelling evidence supporting hybrid work arrangements. His recent study, published in the journal Nature, focuses on over 1,600 employees at Trip.com, one of the world's largest online travel agencies based in China. This study suggests that working from home for part of the week can be highly beneficial for both employees and employers.

Bloom's research revealed that employees who work remotely for two days a week perform just as well as their fully office-based colleagues in terms of productivity and career advancement. Additionally, hybrid work significantly reduces employee turnover.

The study noted a 33% drop in resignations among those who switched from full-time office work to a hybrid schedule. This reduction in turnover was particularly notable among women, non-managers, and those with long commutes. By allowing these employees to work from home part-time, Trip.com saved millions of dollars through decreased attrition.

“The results are clear: Hybrid work is a win-win-win for employee productivity, performance, and retention,” says Bloom, who holds the title of William D. Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford. He also serves as a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).

Bloom’s findings are particularly relevant as approximately 100 million workers globally now follow a hybrid work model, a shift that became more common after the COVID-19 pandemic. These hybrid workers typically include professionals such as lawyers, accountants, marketers, and software engineers, most of whom hold college degrees or higher.

Despite the growing acceptance of hybrid work, some prominent business leaders remain skeptical. Figures like Elon Musk of Tesla and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase argue that the drawbacks of remote work outweigh its benefits. They claim that employee training, innovation, and company culture suffer when workers are not present in the office full-time.

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Bloom acknowledges these concerns but argues that critics often conflate hybrid work with fully remote work. Most existing research has focused on fully remote jobs, often in fields like customer support or data entry, where the results tend to be mixed and sometimes negative. Bloom suggests that issues with fully remote work stem from poor management rather than the concept itself.

Bloom's study is among the few randomized controlled trials that examine hybrid work, where employees split their time between home and the office. His findings provide valuable lessons for other multinational companies that share similarities with Trip.com. “This study offers powerful evidence for why 80 percent of U.S. companies now offer some form of remote work,” Bloom says, “and for why the remaining 20 percent of firms that don’t are likely paying a price.”

The Experiment at Trip.com

Before embarking on the study in 2021, Trip.com did not have a hybrid work policy. For the six-month experiment, 395 managers and 1,217 non-managers from the company's Shanghai office participated. These employees, who worked in areas like engineering, marketing, accounting, and finance, were split into two groups based on their birthdays. Those with even-numbered birthdays worked in the office five days a week, while those with odd-numbered birthdays worked from home two days a week.

The study's participants had diverse educational backgrounds; 32% held postgraduate degrees in fields like computer science, accounting, or finance. Most were in their mid-30s, and 65% were male.

To measure the impact of hybrid work, the researchers analyzed various performance metrics, including performance reviews and promotion rates over two years. They also compared the quality and quantity of computer code produced by Trip.com's software engineers working under hybrid and full-time office conditions.

The study concluded that hybrid work did not negatively affect productivity or career advancement while significantly boosting employee retention. However, the drop in resignations was primarily among non-managers, who were more likely to stay with the company under a hybrid model. Managers' turnover rates remained unchanged regardless of their work schedule.

Bloom and his co-authors highlighted some misconceptions held by both employees and managers. Initially, many workers, especially women, were hesitant to participate in the hybrid trial, fearing they might be judged for not being in the office full-time. Managers also anticipated a decline in productivity from remote work, but their views changed positively by the experiment's end.

For business leaders, Bloom’s study suggests that the perceived drawbacks of hybrid work may be exaggerated.

“If managed right, letting employees work from home two or three days a week still gets you the level of mentoring, culture-building, and innovation that you want,” Bloom says. “From an economic policymaking standpoint, hybrid work is one of the few instances where there aren’t major trade-offs with clear winners and clear losers. There are almost only winners.”

Given these findings, it's no surprise that Trip.com has embraced hybrid work across the company. This shift demonstrates the growing recognition that hybrid work can provide substantial benefits without sacrificing essential aspects of work life, such as innovation and collaboration.

Bloom's study offers a clear message: with proper management, hybrid work can enhance productivity, improve employee satisfaction, and reduce turnover, creating a win-win situation for all involved. As the workplace evolves, embracing flexibility might be the key to sustaining a happy and effective workforce.

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Rebecca Shavit is the Good News, Psychology, Behavioral Science, and Celebrity Good News reporter for the Brighter Side of News.