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Dilanka Dilanka is a Business Development Manager at IceHrm. You can contact her at dil[at]

The Productivity Puzzle: How To Navigate Hybrid Work

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The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way we perceive work environments.

Overnight, people were thrust from the traditional office environment into remote work to comply with lockdown rules and social distancing guidelines. Ever since, this transformative shift has continually challenged our understanding of productivity and workplace dynamics.

While the sudden change to remote working may have been a culture shock for some, many companies actually experienced a sharp increase in workplace productivity.

In fact, Stanford’s research noted a 13 percent increase in remote-work productivity levels compared to pre-pandemic figures, emphasizing improved work satisfaction and a 50 percent reduction in attrition rates.

Looking at remote work in general, a study by Connect Solutions observed a productivity boost—this time of up to 77 percent from people working remotely—with 30 percent doing more work in less time and 24 percent doing more work in the same period of time.

But more recent data shows that those heightened productivity levels are dropping, marking the most significant slump since 1948.

EY’s recent research found that “U.S. productivity plunged 2.7 percent in the first quarter of [2023] compared to last year … That’s a 0.9 percent year-over-year drop. Concurrently, quarter-over-quarter output grew slightly (0.2 percent), and hours worked grew 3 percent.”

This means that although people are working longer hours, productivity levels are down.

While remote work is increasingly being labeled the scapegoat for low productivity, the latest trend from companies is the return-to-office (RTO) approach, either full-time or on a hybrid schedule. However, the numbers simply don’t support this claim.

Unpack the root cause of the productivity drop

The past three years have been taxing, emotionally and physically.

The swift shift to return-to-office policies, coupled with the emotional and mental exhaustion of the pandemic, has been tough on everyone. And when you throw in the ups and downs of getting back into the social swing of work and the daily grind of commuting, it’s no surprise that many of us feel on the edge of burnout.

Unlike the majority of RTO mandates which require at least four days at the office, hybrid work structures are seen as a breath of fresh air for some. They allow for more flexibility and time away from the office and maintain an emphasis on mental health and work-life balance while still embracing the positives of face-to-face time and social interaction.

But, in order for companies to effectively leverage the advantages of hybrid work models, it’s up to HR leaders to spearhead a hybrid-work program that puts your people’s needs and preferences first.

Value flexibility and open communication

What recent times have taught us is that people value flexibility.

But flexibility isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all rule—which is why communication is the cornerstone of understanding what works best for your people. These insights give you a fantastic jumping-off point to improve morale and increase motivation.

Your managers are your greatest resource when it comes to having a touchpoint with your people. Leverage them to gauge how people are feeling and what their idea of a cohesive work structure is to give you the information you need to evolve and adapt in a way that best suits your organization.

Address the productivity conundrum

When it comes to fixing productivity issues, guessing games just won’t do the trick. What you need is to drill down into the micro-data and get the facts.

Of course, traditional surveys can be a great tool, but HR tech is the perfect solution for a deep dive into your internal data—helping you to gain relevant, detailed insights into your productivity levels and what may be causing issues.

HR information systems (HRIS) or human capital management (HCM) platforms can help you to correlate dips in productivity with RTO mandates and any possible declines in team satisfaction. This information can then help you come up with a data-driven, tailored solution that wins buy-in from your colleagues in leadership position across the business.

This process might be easier than you think, but it also might require a compromise between your people and your C-suite leadership.

Gain C-suite buy-in for hybrid work structures

As an HR professional, this is your time to shine. Here are a couple of tips that can help:

  1. Highlight the benefits. Frame how you present RTO in a way that shows people what’s in it for them. For example, use office time for specific activities that can benefit team members more in person than they would over video chat—whether that’s onboarding, project kick-offs, or team-building events. This helps to make coming in to the office “commute worthy.”
  2. Utilize data-driven propositions. When laying out your strategy, lean into the data. Harness relevant insights to make your point, utilizing your employee surveys and HCM data, and complementing them with macro-data from the wider world of work. You can present solutions rooted in reality, not speculation, by grounding your strategy in relevant and concrete HR data.

Chart the way forward for hybrid work

Hybrid work may be popular today, but it’s not necessarily a static solution. Hybrid work’s effectiveness and viability will evolve as business and societal needs evolve alongside it.

The key is regular communication with your people to ensure that your work structures continue to suit their diverse needs and preferences while aligning with your company culture.

By pairing these insights with HR data—evaluating productivity, happiness, and engagement—you can ensure that your approach remains effective and relevant.

The essence of a hybrid setup isn’t just about where we work but how we work. Because, at the end of it all, a happy team is a productive team.

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