Dr Amantha Imber28 June 2024

Productivity Paradox: When Hybrid Work Hurts the Bottom Line

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid work models promised to revolutionise the way we work—but for many companies, the reality has been far from the ideal. As businesses grapple with the new normal, it’s becoming clear that not all hybrid work arrangements are created equal. Inventium’s 2024 Future of Work research found that the distinction between hybrid by design and hybrid by default can make or break organisational success.


Hybrid by Default: The Risks and Realities 

Hybrid by default refers to a loosely structured approach where employees have the freedom to choose their work location without clear guidelines or objectives. While this model aims to offer flexibility, it often leads to unintended consequences such as decreased productivity, weakened team cohesion, and a lack of accountability.  

According to Cheyne Woolsey, Chief People Officer at Healthcare Australia, managing the tensions between different employee preferences is a significant challenge. “We can’t have a ‘one way’ for this. Some principles and agreed practices need to be applied differently based on situations, and that does cause tension,” Woolsey explains. This lack of a cohesive strategy can result in a fragmented workplace culture, where employees feel disconnected and unsupported. 

Post-pandemic data supports these concerns. The Diversity Council Australia’s Inclusion@Work Index 2023-2024 found that workers feel less connected to their teams compared to pre-pandemic levels. Only 71% reported feeling a sense of belonging, down from 78% in 2019. This decline in connection is alarming, as strong workplace relationships are crucial for collaboration, innovation, and overall job satisfaction. 


Hybrid by Design: Intentionality and Impact 

In contrast to Hybrid by Default, Hybrid by Design is an intentional approach that combines the benefits of remote work with structured in-person interactions. This model involves clear guidelines on when and where employees should work, with a focus on enhancing productivity and fostering team cohesion. 

Professor Nick Bloom, a global expert on hybrid work, advocates for “well-organised hybrid” models. He suggests implementing “anchor days” where team members are in the office simultaneously, allowing for planned collaboration and socialising. This strategy can yield a 3-5% productivity increase, according to Bloom. The emphasis shifts from the number of hours worked to the quality of output, aligning team efforts with organisational goals. 

Atlassian’s research underscores the effectiveness of intentional in-person gatherings. Their “Intentional Togetherness Gatherings” (ITGs), lasting 3-5 days, focus on relationship building and advancing mission-critical projects. These gatherings have shown a 27% boost in team connection, with this positive effect lasting up to four months. Such structured approaches to hybrid work not only enhance productivity but also reinforce a strong sense of community among employees. 


The Financial Implications 

The financial implications of hybrid work models are significant. While flexibility is a key component of modern employment value propositions, organisations must ensure that their hybrid policies are not undermining productivity and engagement. A hybrid by default approach to hybrid work can lead to inefficiencies, reduced employee morale, and ultimately, a negative impact on the bottom line. 


Strategies for Success 

To maximise the benefits of hybrid work, organisations should focus on the following strategies: 

  1. Utilise “anchor days”: Establish specific guidelines for hybrid work, including in-office “anchor days” that prioritise connection. Clear policies help manage employee expectations and maintain consistency. 
  1. Prioritise knowledge retrieval over knowledge transfer: In a traditional office environment, the focus is on knowledge transfer – the ease by which someone can quickly get information from another. In contrast, knowledge retrieval involves creating systems that allow team members to independently locate and use information when needed, without being hindered by differences in time zones or the availability of others. 
  1. Emphasise Output Over Hours: Shift the focus from time spent working to the quality of work produced. Set clear goals and measure performance based on outcomes rather than hours logged. 
  1. Invest in Technology: Equip employees with the tools and resources they need to work effectively from any location. This includes robust communication platforms and secure access to company data. 
  1. Monitor and Adjust: Continuously assess the effectiveness of your hybrid work model. Gather feedback from employees and make adjustments as needed to ensure the approach remains aligned with organisational objectives. 


The productivity paradox of hybrid work lies in the difference between intentional design and default flexibility. By embracing a hybrid by design approach, organisations can leverage the benefits of flexibility while maintaining high levels of productivity and employee engagement. As companies navigate the evolving landscape of work, those that adopt strategic, well-organised hybrid models will be best positioned to thrive in the future.  

Download the full report here. 


Dr Amantha Imber is the CEO of workplace consultancy Inventium. She is also the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful people. For more tips and tricks, check out Amantha’s musings at One Percent Better