There is much discussion about hybrid work – how it should be structured, how it affects productivity and performance, and what kind of job functions are best suited for it. In the past we talked about a study from 2013 that answered some of these questions, but there is renewed interest after the pandemic. A team of researchers, led by the main author of the 2013 study, are trying to answer those questions and they published their findings in the July 2022 paper “How Hybrid Working from Home Works Out.”
The 2013 study results were in favor of hybrid work, but it was done only on 250 call center employees who, by nature, are not team workers or involved in creative tasks. This new study was done on 1,612 engineering, marketing, and finance employees in the Airfare and IT divisions. 70% of them were technical employees who write software and are involved in technical operations, while the rest were in business development creating new services and products and refining existing ones. These employees worked in teams, leading and contributing on long term projects, while doing individual work. Both studies were conducted with employees of Trip.com which is the largest Chinese travel operator with around 35,000 employees.
The study was conducted in 2021 and lasted for 6 months. The employees were offered the option to work from home (WFH) Wednesday and Friday. On average, the employees chose to work from home one day per week, typically Friday. Not surprisingly, employees with longer commutes and children were more likely to WFH more often. The take up surged on Fridays before major holidays since many employees chose to travel over long weekends. Let’s see the findings of the study.
Hybrid work reduced attrition by 35% and improved self-reported work satisfaction scores. Other pre-pandemic studies have shown that employees put quite some value on the WFH benefit and it has been quantified to be in the order for 4% to 8% of wage increase by other studies.
WFH employees worked around 80 minutes less on home days, but increased weekend work by around 30 minutes. This shows that employees, when given the option, would structure their working hours to meet other daily needs such as doctor visits, pickinging their kids up from school, or completing house chores.
The habit of using more asynchronous and remote communication channels, such as chat and videoconferencing, when working from home resulted in an increased use of these communication modes even when working in the office. This was surprising to the authors, and after interviewing employees, they heard that WFH habits were transferred to the office environment since they were working with the same team either in the office or at home.
Performance and Promotions
There was no performance review impact on WFH employees or promotion opportunities. On the contrary, some positive outcomes include 8% increase in lines of code written and 1.8% increase in self-assessed productivity impact. Overall, there was a slight positive impact of WFH which debunks one of the major criticisms of hybrid work, which is reduced productivity for the company.
The results were so overwhelmingly positive, that in February 2022 the executives at Trip.com decided to roll out hybrid work to all 35,000 employees of the company. This was picked up by the media around the world, and several other major Chinese tech companies have adopted similar policies since then.
Closing Remarks on Hybrid Work Performance
I found this study very interesting because it was a follow-up of the 2013 study which was only on call center employees. Obviously, the pandemic made WFH for employees and companies much more attractive since the lock downs forced everyone to rethink work arrangements and accept the new reality. Although this study shows that hybrid work is a win-win for employees and employers, I still think there is going to be a slow, years-long adjustment around WFH and hybrid work. Personally, I am in favor of hybrid work. What are your thoughts?