Single mandated hybrid policies — or policies mandated for all workers in jobs that can be done remotely based on workforce segment — are more likely to lead to decreased engagement, retention and productivity, according to new research from The Hackett Group.
However, giving employees greater choice and creating manager-employee negotiated virtual work arrangements drove improvements in these areas and had the strongest positive outcomes for engagement and retention.
“Our findings suggest that HR and business leaders need to dig a bit deeper to understand the factors that drive the ability of employees to collaborate,” Tony DiRomualdo, senior research director for The Hackett Group, said in a statement shared with HR Dive.
“Increasing in-person time alone — absent any other measures — is not really necessarily going to move the needle much,” he said. “For example, if you go back to an office where it’s loud, it’s noisy, you don’t have good places to interact with people, chances are you may struggle to connect and to collaborate just as much as you might if working virtually.”
The Hackett Group found that most companies have continued the work-from-home policies that were developed during the pandemic. Among workers whose jobs can be done virtually, 42% are working from home, and 43% have a hybrid work arrangement where they are in the office 20% to 80% of the time. In particular, staff in corporate finance, procurement and other business services are more likely to work from home than others.
Among those who have returned to the office, the main benefit has been increased collaboration and connection among team members. About 25% to 42% of respondents said they had an increased or greatly increased ability to collaborate. At the same time, the remainder said that more in-person time hadn’t affected their ability to collaborate, regardless of their company’s policy.
Importantly, top-performing companies had stronger processes to enable collaboration and connection, Hackett Group said. In a comparison of data for top performers versus peers, collaboration and engagement were greater when employees had discretion over how they work and effective support for remote, hybrid and on-premise modes. Employees at top performers also felt more confident about their ability to perform in their preferred work mode and felt more supported by their bosses.
Overall, the biggest factor that hindered virtual collaboration was not feeling included, according to the report, as well as lack of trust, inadequate tools, and poor coordination processes. Although video meeting tools, instant messaging and document sharing systems have become popular, other collaboration tools — such as digital white boards and knowledge management platforms — have low adoption rates. Virtual town halls and informal meetings were also noted as some of the most effective virtual tools to help employees connect.
The Hackett Group provided several recommendations for HR and business leaders to work together to design effective hybrid workplaces models. Notably, the group suggested implementing policies and tools that enable a diversity of work styles, equipping managers and employees to continuously evolve work practices, scheduling unstructured and informal meeting opportunities, using in-person time for creative work and relationship-building, monitoring employee performance drivers such as wellness and engagement, and measuring employees on results rather than work hours or face time.
Other recent research has found that return-to-office policies may lead to workplace dissatisfaction, particularly when there’s a lack of flexibility. Remote and hybrid work may also be linked to lower confidence in leadership and mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and burnout.
“The major success factors for companies are flexibility and trust,” DiRomualdo said. “Companies need to understand that employees have a diverse range of responsibilities and work styles, and they should implement policies and support practices and tools that enable staff to excel in their jobs regardless of location.”