Harvard Business School | Hybrid work could be ‘best of both worlds’

Working from home some of the time is associated with better communication and higher quality work than working entirely from home or the office, according to a study from Harvard Business School.

The study suggested that an “intermediate” number of days in the office results in a higher number of emails sent, unique recipients of those emails and novelty of their content.

In other words, rather than create siloes or inhibit contact or creativity between colleagues, hybrid working appeared to have a positive impact on employees’ output.

Researchers analysed more than 30,000 employee emails sent during a nine-week period in the summer of 2020 at BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, based in Bangladesh. Those employees were randomly assigned a low (<60%), intermediate (60-87%) or high (87%+) number of days working remotely.

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Intermediate WFH workers sent 0.8 more emails per day than their high WFH colleagues, sending them to 58% more unique recipients.

Hybrid work was also associated with greater novelty in emails and higher satisfaction from both employees and managers – suggesting that the quality of work was higher than among those working entirely from home or from the workplace.

Although there has been other research on productivity and satisfaction in remote work, the study said it was the first attempt to quantify the effects of working from home on internal communication.

‘Sweet spot’

The study said: “Intermediate hybrid work is plausibly the sweet spot, where workers enjoy flexibility and yet are not as isolated compared to peers who are predominantly working from home.”

Adding to their own findings, the researchers also considered Gallup data on 12,166 people in the US, which found that higher levels of trust, mentorship and purpose are associated with hybrid and in-person workers.

“Intermediate WFH arrangements allow workers to capture the benefits of a productive and enjoyable workplace almost as much as those workers who are always in the office.

“While these results are not causal, they underscore the external validity of our main result: hybrid work is associated with improved worker outcomes.”

However, while the researchers found a link between hybrid work, communication and job satisfaction, they admitted their study has limitations. For example, they said, analysing the novelty of emails is not a “perfect measure” of worker productivity.

The study suggested further research into the correlation between hybrid work and productivity in different conditions.

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