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Hybrid work really is effective, according to new research

A cognitive scientist looks at new research, published in Nature, which studies productivity and workplace happiness for hybrid workers.

Hybrid work really is effective, according to new research
[Source photo: PeopleImages/Getty Images]

For most of the last 100 years, most white-collar employees left their homes early in the morning, spent eight-ish hours at the office, and then returned home. The commute to and from work was widely seen as frustrating, but as a necessary evil.

Then COVID-19 hit and the world changed. Suddenly, many workers shifted to doing their jobs from home. No commute and a more relaxed dress code. When the world started to open up again, companies have adopted a variety of work policies with some businesses maintaining fully remote work, some moving to a hybrid schedule with some required days in the office, and an increasing number of companies asking their employees to come back to the office full-time.

Opinions about the effectiveness of different work schedules abound, but most of these opinions are based on anecdote and hope. In June 2024, though, a fascinating paper was published in the journal Nature by Nicholas Bloom, Ruobing Han, and James Liang.


They worked with a Chinese technology company to randomly assign over 1600 highly educated employees to either work from the office full-time or to work a hybrid schedule with three days in the office and two days from home.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people given the hybrid work schedule were happier with their arrangement than were those who had to come to the office full-time. There was also less turnover among people on the hybrid work schedule than those working full-time. These results were stronger for people with long commutes (more than 90 minutes each way) than for people with short commutes.

The researchers also tracked productivity and promotions for these employees. Based on regular performance reviews, employees were equally productive, regardless of whether they worked in the office full-time or had a hybrid schedule. In addition, there was no impact of work schedule on people’s likelihood of getting promoted over a two-year period.


One final interesting data point is that before the study started, managers were much less supportive of a hybrid work schedule than employees. After six months of hybrid work, though, managers were much more pleased with the hybrid work schedule, suggesting that they recognized it was working well for their employees.

It would be nice to have a wider range of data from a broader set of regions of the world, but these results do suggest that a hybrid work schedule has a lot of benefits over a full-time work schedule with few drawbacks. In particular, if a hybrid work schedule reduces turnover, that creates a strong business case to consider it. Turnover disrupts the operation of a company, and employees are expensive to replace. If productivity stays high, and the hybrid schedule does not hold employees back from promotions, then it’s well worth giving employees a little flexibility in their work.

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Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs, and, most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work. More

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