Working from office one or two days a week is productive 'sweet spot', says Harvard study

Report counters growing number of executives who say economies need employees back at their desks full time

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A study has shown people who work in the office only one or two days a week are the most productive.

The report, commissioned by Harvard Business School, said people who spent most of their time working from home, with a day or two at the office, performed best.

The paper was based on research involving 130 administrative employees in a live test.

Workers were split into three groups over nine weeks, with one group spending no more than eight weeks in the office.

Intermediate hybrid work is plausibly the sweet spot, where workers enjoy flexibility
Harvard Business School report

Another spent nine to 14 days in the office, while the third group was in the office for more than two weeks.

The group that was in the office for two days a week produced the highest quality of work.

"Intermediate hybrid work is plausibly the sweet spot, where workers enjoy flexibility and yet are not as isolated compared to peers who are predominantly working from home,” the researchers said.

The findings of the Harvard report, published last month, were in stark contrast to a global trend of company executives calling for employees to return to the office en masse.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams met more than 100 chief executives in February to discuss ways to get staff back at their desks.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” he told Forbes magazine.

"Let's start out with a three-day work week, to let people see how safe it is to come back to work, then we cycle back into a five-day week.”

He said the lack of people commuting to work was hurting his city’s economy.

US Financial Services company Citigroup also made vaccinated staff return to the office, for at least two days a week, in March.

A report published by Microsoft in March said about 50 per cent of companies wanted staff to return to working five days a week in the office. The survey canvassed the opinions of more than 31,000 workers worldwide in January and February.

Job candidates arriving in Dubai 'demand flexible working'

In Dubai, which has reported a post-pandemic economic boost and a flood of new professionals and families arriving, recruiters say many job candidates expect flexible working.

“I don’t think companies have that much of a say in it any more,” said David Mackenzie, group managing director of recruiters Mackenzie Jones.

“Candidates are demanding flexible working conditions. It’s one of the very first things they are asking about in interviews at the minute.”

Most companies, in line with global trends, introduced working-from-home models during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But a recent report from recruitment agency Hays said working from the office full-time was again the most common working practice in the UAE.

It found more than 40 per cent of companies had staff back in the offices about five days a week. But in a demonstration of the divide between executives, the next most popular was complete flexibility to work from home or the office (20 per cent).

Working from home for two or three days a week was adopted by 12 per cent of companies, with 7 per cent allowing staff to work from home one or two days a month.

Operating from home one day a week was offered by 6 per cent of companies that took part in the survey.

“There is no doubt that flexible working is here to stay, with many professionals considering it a critical benefit in deciding where to work," said Sarah Dixon, managing director of Hays in the Gulf.

“However, there is no standardised trend as to what organisations offer their employees in the region and it is likely this will continue to be the case.

“There is an attitude of needing people back into the workplace to justify the cost of the office."

'We can't fit everyone in the office any more'

One hurdle is that many companies are locked into long-term rental contracts for their offices.

Others, which had more flexibility with their rental contracts, have downsized their offices and moved to smaller premises.

Digital communications agency Create Media Group, in Dubai, significantly increased its staff level during the pandemic, adding 100 new employees.

Instead of moving to bigger offices to accommodate the influx of staff, it has introduced a desk-sharing policy.

“We are not able to fit everyone into the office on the same day,” said Tom Otton, managing partner of Create Media Group.

“Now we rotate different teams on different days and use it more as a hub.

“We had planned to move to bigger offices after the pandemic but the rotation has been so successful we have ditched that idea.”

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Updated: May 03, 2022, 7:15 AM