Beyond BLS briefly summarizes articles, reports, working papers, and other works published outside BLS on broad topics of interest to MLR readers.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the nature of work. Many office jobs became remote and have not been restored to full-time office jobs. Instead, employers are using a hybrid work model, which is a mix of in-office and remote work. Critics of hybrid work argue that worker productivity will suffer if workers are not working in the office. However, proponents of remote work say that workers save time not having to commute and that a hybrid schedule offers workers more flexibility in balancing work and family. But what does the evidence say? In their paper titled “How hybrid working from home works out,” Nicholas Bloom, Ruobing Han, and James Liang examine data from an experiment conducted by Trip.com, a multinational online travel company based in Shanghai, China. From September 13, 2021, to January 21, 2022, Trip.com ran the only randomized evaluation of the impact of a hybrid work system. The experiment ended in January 2022 because of a single case of COVID-19, but none existed before this date. This study was especially unique because no other corporate entity in China offered a hybrid work schedule.
The motivation for the Trip.com experiment was to improve job satisfaction and productivity and reduce attrition among its 35,000 employees. Trip.com selected 1,612 employees who were in the fields of engineering, marketing, and finance in the Airfare and information technology (IT) divisions (1,219 nonmanagerial employees and 393 managers). Some of the selected employees were offered a hybrid schedule, working from home Wednesday and Friday, and the rest continued to work in the office full time.
Trip.com measured productivity using a few different indicators. The authors find that having a hybrid schedule did not affect employee performance reviews and promotions. For the IT employees, the authors look at lines of computer code written as a productivity indicator. They find that lines of code rose 4.4 percent for employees working from home; however, this percentage was insignificant. The authors point out that this null result rebuts the argument that hybrid work hurts productivity.
The authors also note several other interesting results. They find that a hybrid work schedule reduced attrition rates by 33 percent and improved self-reported satisfaction. Employees truly valued a hybrid schedule. During work hours, on the 2 days at home, hybrid employees worked about 2 hours less. However, they partly made up this time by spending more time working in the office and working from home on weekends. Hybrid workers also took fewer sick days and holidays. This finding implies that the flexibility to complete tasks during days at home reduced the need to take time away from the office. In addition, employees turned to communicating more electronically, even on the days when all were present in the office.
Furthermore, Bloom and coauthors observe that managers were much more reluctant to participate in the study than nonmanagers and had more negative baseline views about how they felt the experiment would affect productivity. After the experiment was completed, however, the authors report that manager opinions improved to the point that they were not noticeably different from the opinions of nonmanagers.
Perhaps the most telling result is that Trip.com decided to offer hybrid work to the entire travel company after the experiment ended.