Developing corporate culture and inspiring innovation were tough three years ago, when everyone sat in adjoining cubicles all week, drinking coffee from the same pot. Now that hybrid work appears to be here to stay, with many employees dividing their working hours between home and a company location, these challenges are magnified. New research shows that managers are deeply concerned about the downsides of hybrid arrangements for two domains that are, beyond most others, inherently social: Although evidence of damage to innovation and culture remains largely anecdotal, the potential threat is real.
We define hybrid work as a flexible balance, with working hours divided between a company location and elsewhere, typically a home office. Its endurance became manifest during the two years we studied market-leading global corporations that had adopted the model during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the managers in our sample said that their companies intended to create long-term hybrid strategies or had already done so.
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The imperative to support hybrid working is largely workforce demand. Employees — pointing to their strong performance when they worked from home during the worst of the pandemic — are reasonably demanding greater flexibility to work where and when they want. Leaders know they have to offer flexible working arrangements to attract, retain, and motivate top talent.
And companies enjoy other benefits from these arrangements. For example, 90% of the companies we studied experienced modest productivity gains in the first year of pandemic-induced remote work, thanks largely to readily available conferencing and collaboration technologies. Additional reported advantages include improved communication among managers and team members, accelerated delivery of results against short-term goals, and reduced presenteeism (that is, showing up at the workplace despite illness).
1. L. Gratton, “Four Principles to Ensure Hybrid Work Is Productive Work,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Nov. 9, 2021, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
2. See T.H. Davenport, “Process Management for Knowledge Work,” in “Handbook on Business Process Management 1: Introduction, Methods, and Information Systems,” 2nd ed., eds. J. vom Brocke and M. Rosemann (Heidelberg, Germany: Springer, 2015): 17-35.
3. E.H. Schein, “Organizational Culture and Leadership (Vol. 2)” (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2010).
4. L. Smircich, “Concepts of Culture and Organizational Analysis,” Administrative Science Quarterly 28, no. 3 (September 1983): 339-358.
5. J. Trevor, “Re:Align: A Leadership Blueprint for Overcoming Disruption and Improving Performance” (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022).
6. S.C. Kang and S.A. Snell, “Intellectual Capital Architectures and Ambidextrous Learning: A Framework for Human Resource Management,” Journal of Management Studies 46, no. 1 (January 2009): 65-92.
7. L. Gratton, “How to Do Hybrid Right,” Harvard Business Review 99, no. 3 (May-June 2021): 65-74.
8. G.C. Kane, R. Nanda, A. Phillips, et al., “Redesigning the Post-Pandemic Workplace,” MIT Sloan Management Review 62, no. 3 (spring 2021): 12-14.
9. D.Z. Levin and T.R. Kurtzberg, “Sustaining Employee Networks in the Virtual Workplace,” MIT Sloan Management Review 61, no. 4 (summer 2020): 13-15.