A 1,600-Employee Study Shows Flex Work Boosts Productivity

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A large tech firm saw their talent attrition rates drop by 35% and their job satisfaction rise when they instituted a hybrid work policy, according to new research.

As the pandemic ebbs, flexible work is sticking around. Companies around the world, large and small, have launched hybrid work policies. Some are meant to be band-aid solutions for a workforce hesitancy to return to the office. Others are designed to continue indefinitely. At many companies, a hybrid work arrangements looks like a couple days a week at the office, a couple days working from home or another location of the employee’s choice. The workforce loves choosing their work location based on their work style, their home life needs, and the type of work at hand — but enterprises have been hesitant to call the change permanent, citing concerns about company culture, productivity and more.

A new study co-authored by Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom lays some of those worries to rest: At a global travel agent, Trip.com, a study of more than 1,600 employees determined that hybrid work reduced attrition rates by a whopping 35%, while improving self-reported work satisfaction scores.

The randomized control trial followed 1,612 engineers, marketing and finance employees in 2021 and 2022. Those born on an odd-numbered date could work from home on Wednesdays and Fridays if they chose. Others had to work in the office full-time. Following the study, Trip.com was encouraged enough by the results to establish a hybrid work policy for the entire company. The study was co-authored by Bloom, Ruobing Han of Stanford University and James Liang.

Those in the work-from-home group self-reported a higher productivity rate, and that proved out across the IT teams, with an 8% increase in lines of code written.

These findings back up results from the group’s 2010 ‘Work from Home Trial’ of customer service staff. Results from the 2010 study showed performance increased to 22% when employees grew accustomed and got comfortable with working from home. Employees also reported higher job satisfaction — and the turnover rate dropped by 50%.

Hybrid arrangements appeared to alter work schedules and habits: Employees were found to work fewer hours on remote days but more hours worked on days in the office — and on the weekends. The arrangement also appeared to boost the frequency of communication between employees on channels like Slack and Zoom, no matter where they were working.

Ultimately, Bloom and colleagues found no drawbacks when it came to performance reviews, promotions or otherwise. In a candidate’s market, lowering attribution is a compelling reason to introduce flex work — even for the most conservative employers.