Hands-on trial reveals that the hybrid model can reduce attrition rates by one-third, with no negative impact on performance reviews or promotions overall
Over two-and-a-half years have elapsed since the COVID-19 pandemic had brought life to a standstill and forced businesses to shift to the work-from-home (WFH) mode. Although things look like normalizing gradually as vaccines are gaining hold and the virus might be losing its bite, businesses are yet undecided on discarding WFH altogether. Debate is still raging across industries with a flexible hybrid model being projected as the preferred model of work for the future. Major companies worldwide are currently following the hybrid model. While both the employees and the recruiters begin to realize that the emerging hybrid model requires striking a new balance, findings from a significant study in the US reveal that hybrid work has reduced attrition rates by up to 35% and improved work satisfaction scores, with no negative impact on performance reviews or promotions overall or for any individual subgroup.
A live study
Co-authored by Nicholas Bloom and Ruobing Han (both from Stanford University), and James Liang, the research paper is the outcome of a live study conducted over the last two years – the actual duration through which the hybrid model emerged. The research comprised a randomized control trial of 1,612 engineers, marketing, and finance employees at the global travel agent Trip.com during 2021 and 2022. The methodology involved making some employees work two to three days each week at the office full time, with the others working from home on those days. To make things easier to track, employees born on an odd-numbered date were made to work from home on Wednesdays and Fridays, while even-born employees had to work from the office on those days.
In addition to an encouraging drop in attrition by nearly one-third, the study findings also revealed how hybrid arrangements can change individual work routines and employee behavior – something that can bring around significant long-term shifts in urban culture and lifestyle. Trip.com employees subjected to the study worked for fewer hours on days they worked from home but put in a greater number of hours at the office, and –surprisingly – on the weekends too! Workers participating in the study worked about 80 minutes less on home days but about 30 minutes more on other workdays and the weekend.
However, despite working in the hybrid mode, the participants working from home reported slightly higher productivity. The study found an 8% increase in lines of code written by IT engineers in that group compared to those attending the office. This was a clear validation of how empowering employees with flexibility allowed them to split tasks best done in person and those best done individually – leading to optimum productivity and work-life balance. The employees managed their own time without impacting work, and everyone was happy.
Best of both worlds
Furthermore, it was observed that work-from-home employees adopted better collaborative practices during the period of study. They started to make increased use of messaging tools and group video call communication even when working in the office.
And here comes the best part, which reassured both the management as well as the employees! The study found that hybrid work had no impact on performance ratings or promotions. The paper pointed out that “… this highlights how hybrid-WFH is often beneficial for both employees and firms but is usually underappreciated in advance”.
In fact, following the study, Trip.com rolled out hybrid work to the entire company. The paper was circulated by the US National Bureau of Economic Research.
Reciprocal trust is the key
The new approach would require all concerned stakeholders to learn, unlearn or re-learn while working in the hybrid mode. Both managers and employees must accept that so long as work gets done, the place does not matter. There should not be any scope for mistrust. While many businesses are pivoting to allow employees to spend less time in the office, some are still insistent on full 40 hours per week attendance – even though getting the actual work done might take considerably less time. Skepticism about the efficacy of an eight-hour workday is growing fast, and more companies are showing interest in embracing a four-day workweek – if for nothing else than to cut overhead expenses. What counts at the end of the day is the processes that govern the work practices, and this might be the best time to implement new processes and strategies.
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