Plenty of new research is still emerging about working from home (WFH). It’s not surprising when you consider that WFH has increased by 500% in the last four years (1). However, the jury is out concerning the costs and benefits. For example, there seems to be a significant difference between how employees and their managers perceive levels of productivity associated with WFH. While employees believe WFH increases productivity by 7.4%, managers believe it reduces it by 3.5% (1). Other research suggests hybrid work offers the highest productivity (1% to 3% above fully in-person) (2). In contrast, fully remote work is associated with a 10% drop in productivity relative to hybrid work (3).
Drivers of the benefits of hybrid models include spending time in quiet home environments (better for concentration deep work) and time saved by reducing commuting days, complemented by time in the office for mentoring, culture building, real-time collaboration and problem-solving. A well-organised hybrid approach may be the way to go.
Most people do not want a fully remote job
Also, it’s worth considering that most employees do not want to work from home every day. Even among people aged 20-29, often the greatest proponents of WFH, only 24% want full-time remote work (3). However, a successful transition requires the establishment of new team norms. For example, 38% of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office (3). If you pick WFH days, Nick Bloom, one of the world’s leading WFH researchers, suggests Monday and Friday.
Hybrid work is associated with other challenges, too. While hybrid working patterns offer the flexibility that many workers crave, some employees have found that work/non-work boundaries are increasingly blurred. For example, on average, hybrid workers respond to almost six calls, messages, and emails in the evenings and weekends (4). Nonetheless, flexibility is still viewed as the third greatest benefit of working from home (after no-commuting and saving on travel costs) (4).
It’s all about control
I can relate to this experience. I often do some work at the weekend as it frees up time in the week for other activities, a longer bike ride, or time with friends and family, for example. However, working at the weekend is my choice. I may feel differently if someone insists that I work on Saturday or Sunday. It’s likely that the question of whether working at the weekend helps or harms wellbeing relates to our experience of ‘control’. For example, evidence including over 20 years of data demonstrates that control is one of the most critical factors in determining whether we can adapt healthily to job demands and stress. You can read more about this here.
What can leaders do?
The move towards hybrid and remote work represents a significant shift in how we think about workplace wellbeing and performance. We must strike a balance between employee preference and commercial imperatives. Hybrid work may provide a happy medium relative to fully remote or in-person every day, but we must consider how the transition to these working patterns is accompanied by clear expectations and systems, ensuring that flexibility supports personal and professional objectives rather than leading to stress-inducing ‘always-on’ work. Consequently, as we navigate this new terrain, businesses and managers must:
- Engage in open dialogue
- Establish clear norms
- Consider individual needs when defining hybrid work strategies
If they do, the evidence suggests that they will be on track to building healthy, happy, and high-performing hybrid teams.
1) Barrero, J.M., Davis, S.J. & Bloom, N. The Evolution of Working From Home. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). Working Paper No. 23-19. July 2023
2) Bloom, N. The Future of WFH. Exec Briefing. Synthesis of research from:
a. Nicholas Bloom et al., Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 130, Issue 1, February 2015, Pages 165–218 https://www.nber.org/papers/w18871
b. Emanuel, Natalia & Harrington, Emma, Working Remotely? Selection, Treatment, & the Market for Remote Work (May 1, 2023). FRB of New York Staff Report No. 1061, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4466130 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4466130
c. Choudhury, P., Foroughi, C., & Larson, B. Work-From-Anywhere: The Productivity Effects of Geographic Flexibility. Strategic Management Journal. (In press) https://academic.oup.com/qje/article/130/1/165/2337855
d. Bloom, N., Han, R., Liang, J. How Hybrid Working From Home Works Out. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). Working Paper No. 22-28. July 2022: https://siepr.stanford.edu/publications/working-paper/how-hybrid-working-home-works-out#:~:text=Finally%2C%20while%20there%20was%20no,suggesting%20a%20small%20positive%20impact.
3) Microsoft (2022) Work Trend Index: Annual Report: https://news.microsoft.com/wp-content/uploads/prod/sites/631/2022/03/WTI_AnnualReport_Extended_.pdf
4) WFH Research: wfhresearch.com