Flexible work models are best – research

Research is now producing clear evidence that hybrid workers are more productive and have better mental health. | Freepik

Research is now producing clear evidence that hybrid workers are more productive and have better mental health. | Freepik

Published May 22, 2024


With the introduction of hybrid and remote work options over the past three years, the world has seen the biggest workplace shift since the industrial revolution.

Since recently, the jury has been out and most insights anecdotal about whether these changes would prove to be temporary - or if they would become a permanent feature in the “new” world of work.

After a year of global surveys and substantial research, enough evidence now exists for employers to make an informed call; with the data unequivocally proving that hybrid workplace solutions work best.

Performance benefits

“Two of the key data points that have emerged are that hybrid workers report better mental health and personal well-being, and that they are more productive,” says Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer.

Given the findings that hybrid workers perform more optimally while also being more engaged and personally fulfilled – a winning combination underpinning successful organisations – employers who continue to push for people to return to the office should take pause to reconsider, she adds.

“There has been a lot of experimenting and more than a little arm-wrestling between management and employees about what constitutes a fair return-to-office policy.

“We warned companies against unilaterally demanding a return to in-office work for all employees, who were often given very little time to make the transition. Evidence now overwhelmingly shows – quantitatively, qualitatively, locally and globally – that it was the right call at the time.”

Naidoo says that given the harsh economic circumstances and threats of continued job cuts, companies might erroneously feel that employees have little choice should management call for a return of all bums on seats once more.

“Unfortunately, we are witnessing some companies here and abroad losing touch with workers and taking them for granted in a distinct move away from the support and connection that were established during the lockdowns. While it may be true that employees feel vulnerable and in a precarious position given global economic turmoil and uncertainty and developments in AI, leaders must not delude themselves into thinking that just because workers are toeing the line, they are supportive of decisions handed down without their buy-in.”

Key insights

Naidoo says research is clear that employees prefer and perform best where they are offered hybrid, flexible work solutions.

“Indeed, our insights show that this is even more favourable to most than a four-day work week that requires employees to be fully back at the office,” she says.

Global research provides the following insights into flexible work arrangements:

• A survey by Mercer of 800 HR leaders reported that 94% found that staff members were more or equally productive working remotely, compared to working in the office.

• A two-year survey by Great Place to Work of more than 800 000 employees showed that the shift to working remotely during the pandemic boosted worker productivity by 6% on average.

• Envoy – a US-based workplace-tech organisation – found that 82% of organisations surveyed have a hybrid work policy and that 71% of employees preferred going into the office in the middle of the week.

• A large employee well-being survey conducted by Vitality in the UK (Britain’s “Healthiest Workplace”) found that hybrid employees have the lowest loss of productive days.

• Survey data of 1 100 corporate executives across several industries around the globe, including 24% from the US, revealed that the return-to-office mandates of companies such as Amazon, Disney and Starbucks represent the exception, not the rule. In fact, of the CEOs from the US, only 3% indicated they would decrease the availability of remote work in their companies.

With all of this hard data, it’s surprising that companies should still be questioning the commercial merit of flexible work options, Naidoo says.

“This presents a huge competitive advantage and opportunity to those leaders and employers who have embraced hybrid work solutions, as they will continue to lead the race for top talent.”