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Hybrid working has many advantages and few drawbacks: research

A Chinese-American study, published in the journal Nature, examined the effects of hybrid working on 1,612 employees of Trip.com, an online travel agency based in China, between 2021 and 2022

Published: Jun 18, 2024 04:54:19 PM IST
Updated: Jun 18, 2024 05:47:14 PM IST

"Hybrid work is a win-win-win for employee productivity, performance, and retention," says Nicholas Bloom, researcher from Stanford University. Image for Hybrid: Shutterstock

As one of the most visible effects of the pandemic, hybrid working -- combining remote and in-person working -- has now become the norm in many companies around the world. But it remains the subject of much criticism, given the extent to which it disrupts traditional managerial habits.

A Chinese-American study, published in the journal Nature, was conducted by a trio of researchers comprising Nicholas Bloom from Stanford University, Ruobing Han from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and James Liang from Peking University. They studied the effects of hybrid working on 1,612 employees of Trip.com, an online travel agency based in China, between 2021 and 2022.

This company began implementing hybrid working from 2021, through a six-month trial. It involved 395 managers and 1,217 non-managerial staff. Employees whose birthday fell on an even-numbered day were required to come into the office five days a week, while the others worked from home for two days.

Most of the study participants were men in their 30s. Half had dependent children. Few women volunteered to test hybrid working, certainly for fear of being frowned upon by their management. Indeed, at the time, managers were unconvinced by this type of organization. In particular, they feared that it would be detrimental to their teams' productivity.

A real plus for retaining talent


But these fears appear to have been unfounded. In fact, Nicholas Bloom and colleagues found that employees who worked from home two days a week had the same level of productivity as their colleagues who went into the office every day. Contrary to the findings of other studies, occasional remote working did not hinder their career development. Hybrid workers were just as likely as others to be promoted.

But the positive effects of the in-office and remote working mix were felt most strongly in terms of annual turnover. Trip.com employees who occasionally worked from home were less likely to resign, especially women, non-managers and those with long commutes to the office. Overall, resignations fell by 33% over the course of the experiment, saving the Chinese company millions of dollars.

However, it would be an exaggeration to say that hybrid working is the ultimate solution for retaining employees. This type of organization was not enough to retain managers who wanted to move on to new professional horizons. This may be explained by the fact that, since the Covid pandemic, this function has become increasingly difficult to perform.

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Be that as it may, the authors of the study are convinced of the multiple benefits of hybrid working for organizations. "The results are clear: Hybrid work is a win-win-win for employee productivity, performance, and retention," say Nicholas Bloom in a news release. And that's just as well, considering that some 100 million workers worldwide now alternate between in-office and remote working.