Hybrid headache: why people choose the office or the home

This WORKTECH Academy Briefing looks at a new study from a group of Dutch researchers on preferred work settings, and at a model of four types of hybrid leader shown at our Amsterdam conference

As organisations continue to struggle to persuade their employees to return to the office, an intriguing new study from a group of Dutch researchers led by Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek, an associate professor at Eindhoven University of Technology, shines a light on different hybrid working preferences.

As part of this project, study participants were asked where they preferred to work in three different situations: one with relatively more meetings (planned and unplanned) and relatively less solo work requiring concentration; a second with about equal amounts of time spent in meetings and on individual focused work; and a third in which there were fewer meetings and more solo focused work.

Survey participants reviewing the first scenario (requiring a lot of communication) were more likely to prefer to work in company offices. When considering a day with more solo, focused work, however, most preferred to work from home.

‘For a day of concentration, the chance is very much that employees will prefer to work from home…’

According to the researchers, there is a 74 per cent chance that employees will select a workspace at the office over working from home when they have a workday with mainly communicative work, and a 57 per cent chance when the workday consists of both focus and communication activities. However, for a day of concentration, the chance is very high (79 per cent) that employees will prefer to work from home.

For all three scenarios, study respondents reported that not having available space to do work requiring concentration was a negative. Even on communication-heavy days, people did not want to be able to hear conversations they could follow in their work areas.  Also, study participants did not want to work in isolated spots not near circulation routes.

The researchers were able to distinguish two groups of employees. The first group was much more positive about returning to work in company-owned offices and the second would prefer to work from home a lot.  The office ‘enthusiasts’ were more likely to be male, have short commutes, and work in jobs where communication is important.

Those more positive about working from home were more likely to be females with long commutes doing relatively more work alone that requires concentration. Only 34 per cent of this second group would choose a workspace in the office over working from home in the communication-heavy scenario, compared with 99 per cent of the first group.

The message from the study is clear: offices in the hybrid era cannot just be repurposed as hubs for collaboration – they need to provide areas for concentration and communication to meet the demand for both.

‘How to Attract Employees Back to the Office? A Stated Choice Study on Hybrid Working Preferences’ by Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek, Astrid Kemperman, Make van de Water, Minou Weijs-Perree, and Jan Verhaegh (2022) is published in the  Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 81, 101784.

Amsterdam’s hybrid leaders

There was a great buzz as the WORKTECH conference returned in face-to-face format to Amsterdam for the first time since the pandemic on 21 April 2022 with an expert line-up of speakers and panellists eager to dissect the hybrid working model. Much of the conversation revolved around ways to entice people back to the office rather than mandate their attendance – the carrot was deemed to be more effective than the stick.

Not surprisingly, given the complexity of making hybrid work, Gartner’s new framework of hybrid leaders was given an showing during the event. This matrix plots four different types of leader on two axes – mindset and skillset. Hybrid champions are currently in short supply, but hybrid resistors – highly skilled but close-minded – are ever present. The message from WORKTECH Amsterdam was that this position will need to change as leadership will be crucial to making hybrid working a long-term fixture.

Interested in the hybrid working issues discussed in this WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing? Then check out our WORKTECH events calendar for 2022 to engage in the big conversation on the future of work and workplace.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 27 April 2022.
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