NewsResearchHybrid working from home improves retention rates and maintains productivity, study shows

New research from the journal, Nature, proves that hybrid working from home has less of an impact than many managers assumed and decreases employee turnover
Sophie Crossley1 month ago7 min

Working in the office five days a week seems like a distant fever dream to many employees now, but the initial transition caused major concern for most managers. Now that a few years have passed, how have opinions on hybrid working from home changed? New research from the journal Nature is the largest of its kind yet, finding that employees who work from home two days a week maintain productivity levels and are still on track for promotion at the same rate as their office-based colleagues.

Over the course of six months, a randomised control trial looked at over 1,600 employees in a Chinese technology company from 2021 to 2022. Half of the employees were based in the office full-time, and the other half worked from home for two days a week.

This study focuses more specifically on university-graduate employees in software engineering, marketing, accounting and finance, whose activities are mainly creative team tasks. That being said, there are plenty of lessons to take home for other hybrid industries.

Managers warmed to hybrid WFH as trial progressed

Prior to the experiment, managers perceived that the impact of working from home would have a negative effect on productivity. Whether distracted by personal tasks at home like laundry or simply not having an authoritative eye around to discourage distraction, there are plenty of reasons for concern. But, by the end of the trial, 395 managers revised their survey responses from negative perceptions on productivity to positive views. These adjustments align with other findings from the study that show employees do actually retain their productivity levels when hybrid working from home.

A group of people sit together while working at a desk in a large office.
Pictures of Trip.com employees in the office during the experiment.

Work from home benefits both employees and employers

Employees’ performance reviews were tracked over the course of the study along with promotion rates. The research found that neither productivity nor the rate of promotion were negatively impacted when employees worked from home two days a week.

Other factors may have contributed to this consistency, as employees reported higher levels of job satisfaction while rates of quitting fell by one-third. In particular, the reduced quit rates were significant for non-managers, female employees, and those with long commutes. Thanks to working from home, employees reported being able to save on time and commuting costs while having more flexibility when it came to attending to occasional personal tasks during the day.

These findings highlight that more satisfaction in work-life balance can have positive impact on output in work-related settings. Anonymous surveys from the employees in the hybrid group showed significantly higher scores when ranking for ‘work-life balance,’ ‘work satisfaction,’ ‘life satisfaction,’ and ‘recommendation to friends’.

End results: Extending the hybrid WFH policy

At the end of the trial, Trip.com saw such a positive shift that they decided to extend the hybrid working from home trial. Perhaps most significantly, the reduced quitting rates would help the company reduce its spend on recruitment and training of new staff, resulting in both higher savings and employee satisfaction.

So, what does this mean moving forward? Well, it’s not a fool-proof plan for every single company. Company culture varies by size, organisation, and global location, which means each has to find what works for them on an individual basis. While previous research has shown there can be negative impacts of fully-remote working, this experiment shows there could be a sweet spot when balancing office time and home working.

You can see the full Nature report here.

Sophie Crossley

Sophie Crossley is our Content Editor. She has 5+ years of experience in comms with a focus on wellbeing, the built environment, and lifestyle.

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