More hybrid employers report increased productivity, CIPD report finds

But experts urge businesses to consult with staff on future preferences to prevent mass resignations or drops in engagement

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A growing number of employers have reported an increase in productivity as they take up home and hybrid working, new research has revealed.

A poll of 1,196 employers and employees in October and November 2021, conducted by the CIPD as part of its An update on flexible and hybrid working practices report, found that two in five (41 per cent) said new ways of working had increased productivity, up from (33 per cent) a year earlier. 

In comparison, one in five (18 per cent) of employers said the increase in home and hybrid working has had a negative impact on their organisation’s productivity, down from (23 per cent) in 2020.  

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Despite the productivity improvements, the research found that a potential mismatch was emerging between the working preferences of organisations and their employees: one in four (25 per cent) employers said they still wanted their staff to be in the office all the time, yet two in five (39 per cent) employees would like to work from home all or most of the time going forward. 

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said organisations should collaborate with employees to develop and implement hybrid and flexible working practices. 

“It’s great that many employers are embracing the benefits of more hybrid and flexible ways of working, however it’s important that they work with employees to find solutions that work for both the organisation and individuals.” 

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“Everyone should have the chance to benefit from more choice about when, where and how they work. This can lead to increased wellbeing and engagement and enhanced performance, all of which can lead to productivity gains many employers are reporting,” she said. 

The report also found that nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of employees who can work in a hybrid way still have not been asked about their future working preferences. 

Additionally, a quarter (24 per cent) were concerned about being treated unfavourably if they worked from home or in a hybrid way, while almost half (48 per cent) of employers recognised the potential inclusion risks that could arise from hybrid working models. 

McCartney added: “This is a crucial moment for flexible working, but a mismatch on expectations and an ad hoc approach could set back progress,” she said. 

Gary Cookson, director of Epic HR and author of HR for Hybrid Working, said employees who are not asked about their working preferences, or have them ignored, are likely to want to find an employer “who will ask or who will listen”. 

“Allowing teams to work things out between themselves based on types of work they do and when and where that needs doing is likely to generate greater engagement,” he said. 

Amy Butterworth, head of consultancy at Timewise, agreed that organisations should consider team members’ preferences, together with their role requirements: “The best employers will equip their leaders to find out what their team's working preferences are, explore together the needs of the customers and colleagues and find a system that supports these,” she said.

“It can feel more complicated to establish but it will be easier to sustain because your people will be happier,” she said. 

And Gemma Bullivant, an independent HR coach and consultant, said consulting with employees on personal preferences was critical and should be done “urgently” through surveys, focus groups and other comms approaches that feel authentic to the organisation. 

“It is unlikely that every individual will want the same thing, or that one particular mode will suit even one individual 100 per cent of the time. There are downsides to every arrangement and helping employees understand that and encouraging reasonable compromise is a good place to start,” she said.