Since returning to office last year, the jury has been out and most insights anecdotal about whether these changes would prove to have been temporary or whether they would become a permanent feature of the future.
After a year of global surveys and substantial research, there now exists enough evidence for employers to make an informed call, as the data unequivocally prove hybrid workplace solutions work.
“Two of the key data points that have emerged in the past year, are that hybrid workers report better mental health and personal wellbeing, and that they are more productive,” says Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer Global, Africa’s largest executive search firm.
Given these 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 says.
“Over the past year, there has been a lot of experimenting and not a little arm-wrestling between management and employees about what constitutes a fair return-to-office policy.
“In April last year, we warned companies against unilaterally demanding a return to work of all employees, who were often given very little time to make the transition. Now, evidence – quantitatively, qualitatively, locally and globally – overwhelmingly shows that 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 (knowledge workforce, not frontline) 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, that they are supportive of decisions handed down without their buy-in,” she says.
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 4-day workweek that requires employees to be fully back at the office,” she says.
Recent global surveys provide great insights into flexible work arrangements:
- A survey by Mercer of 800 HR leaders reported that 94% found that the staff at their companies 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.
- The largest recent employee wellbeing survey, conducted by Vitality in the UK (Britain’s Healthiest Workplace), found that hybrid employees have the lowest loss of productive days.
- And survey data of 1100 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.
“What’s evident is that old habits die hard, and many managers would prefer that all staff are at the office. This presents a huge competitive advantage and opportunity to those leaders and organisations who have embraced hybrid work solutions, as they will continue to lead the race for top talent,” says Naidoo.