Hackett Research: One-Size-Fits-All Hybrid Work Policies More Likely to Hurt Employee Performance, Engagement, Retention

April 25, 2023
5 Min Read

MIAMI & LONDON, April 25, 2023 – One-size-fits-allhybrid work policies are more likely than other options to have a negative impact on employee engagement, retention and the amount of work done each day, according to new hybrid work research from The Hackett Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: HCKT). At the same time, giving employees greater choice drives improvements in all these areas, the research found.

The research also found that working virtually does not prevent most employees from effectively collaborating and connecting, except workers with less than a year tenure with their employers, who felt these activities were better done in-person with co-workers. Regardless, companies need to improve their support for a wider range of tools and systems to facilitate this.

According to the “Thriving in the Emerging Hybrid Workplace” research from The Hackett Group®, the impact of workplace policies on engagement, retention and productivity varies. But single mandated policies or policies mandated for all workers in jobs that can be done remotely by workforce segment are more likely to lead to decreased engagement, reduced desire to stay with the employer, a decrease in the amount of work done each day, and increased commuting time. Giving employees choice and manager-employee negotiated virtual work arrangements had the strongest positive impact on engagement and improved retention.

Working virtually also does not prevent most employees from effectively collaborating and connecting, and forcing them to spend most of their time in the office may be counterproductive, the research found. But companies need to adopt an approach that allows flexibility and provide better support for collaboration and connection to ensure high performance and satisfaction.

Most Companies Have Embraced Hybrid Work Policies

The research found that most companies have continued the work from home strategies that were developed in response to the pandemic — 85% of all workers whose jobs can be done virtually are currently either working from home (42%) or have a hybrid work arrangement (43%) where they are in the office 20-80% of the time. And the trend is continuing to shift towards hybrid work. Staff in corporate finance, procurement, and other business services functions are even more likely to work from home than others, with survey respondents in these areas saying they are spending 75% of their time working remotely.

Tools and Systems Key to Improving Collaboration and Connection

The main benefit of the return to the office has been increased collaboration and connections among team members.  In fact, significant numbers of respondents – from 25-42% — indicated increased or greatly increased ability to collaborate.  The remainder of the study respondents, however, said that more in-person time had not impacted their ability to collaborate, regardless of their company’s policy.

Top performers have much stronger processes to enable collaboration and connection among employees, the study found. Significantly, a comparison of data for top performers versus peers found that giving employees discretion over how they work and effectively supporting remote, hybrid, and on-premise modes is associated with better collaboration, stronger connection to colleagues and the organization, and greater engagement. Employees at top performers are also more confident of their ability to do their jobs in their preferred work mode, and feel more supported by their bosses in their work mode choices. Providing flexibility and support for all work modes is strongly correlated with improved effectiveness within teams and across the organization.

The biggest factor making virtual collaboration more challenging is not feeling included, the study found. Lack of trust, inadequate tools, and poor coordination and communication processes are also prominent obstacles. While video meeting tools, instant messaging, and document sharing systems have become ubiquitous, many highly effective tools for virtual collaboration, including digital white boards and knowledge management platforms, show low adoption rates. Virtual town halls and informal meetings are also among the most effective virtual tools to enable connections among employees.

While there is a strong perception among some corporate leaders that virtual methods for building connections are inferior to in-person methods, The Hackett Group’s study shows that both can be equally effective. Only two out of ten methods enabling connection – team social events and team building — showed an effectiveness gap between virtual and in-person applications.

The effects of workplace policies on collaboration and connection do vary, the study found. Single mandated and remote first policies are the most polarizing generating notable positive and negative reactions. Respondents working under single mandated policies reported the most increases in collaboration, as many are designed to ensure teams are in the office on the same days. Connections to managers grow most when policies are mandated by segment. Connections to team members, to employer culture/values, and employer mission/goals rise to the greatest extent for those with freedom to choose working arrangements.

HR and Business Leaders Must Collaborate on Hybrid Workplace Models

The Hackett Group’s research recommended that HR and business leaders work together to design effective hybrid workplace models. Key recommendations included: practice open communications and active listening; implement policies and support practices/tools to enable a diversity of work styles; equip managers and employees to continuously evolve work design and practices; schedule unstructured/informal meeting opportunities; be purposeful about using in-person time for creative work, relationship-building, and silo-breaking activities; monitor and enhance employee performance drivers such as wellness and engagement; and measure employees on results and outcomes, not hours worked or face time.

“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,” said The Hackett Group Senior Research Director Tony DiRomualdo. “Increasing in-person time alone – absent any other measures – is not really necessarily going to move the needle much. 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 major success factors for companies are flexibility and trust,” said DiRomualdo. “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.”

The full results of The Hackett Group’s “2022 Thriving in the Emerging Hybrid Workplace” research is available only to members of The Hackett Group’s HR Advisory Program. The findings are also covered in this episode of The Hackett Group’s Business Excelleration Podcast.

About The Hackett Group

The Hackett Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: HCKT) is a leading benchmarking, research advisory and strategic consultancy firm that enables organizations to achieve Digital World Class performance.

Drawing upon our unparalleled intellectual property from more than 25,000 benchmark studies and our Hackett-Certified® best practices repository from the world’s leading businesses – including 97% of the Dow Jones Industrials, 93% of the Fortune 100, 73% of the DAX 40 and 52% of the FTSE 100 – captured through our leading benchmarking platform, Quantum Leap® and our Digital Transformation Platform, we accelerate digital transformations, including enterprise cloud implementations.

More information on The Hackett Group is available at: www.thehackettgroup.com, info@thehackettgroup.com, or by calling (770) 225-3600.

The Hackett Group, Hackett-Certified, quadrant logo, World Class Defined and Enabled, Quantum Leap, Digital World Class and Hackett Excelleration Matrix are the registered marks of The Hackett Group.

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