The Future of Work: Evidence-based considerations for hybrid and remote work

For NIH and many other organizations within the research community, flexible workplaces continue to be the new normal as we head into 2023. According to a 2022 survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 59% of workers who responded that their jobs could primarily be done from home were in fact working from home all or most of the time, while 61% of workers who had an established workplace outside of their home chose not to go to their workplace.

OBSSR prepared a summary of some of the current behavioral and social science evidence about two types of workplace flexibilities: hybrid (a mix of employees working in the office and from other locations) and remote (all employees working from other locations) work. The goal of the report is to help inform current practice as well as planning for the future of work. Multiple research tools, including PubMed, Google Scholar, Google, and Elicit, were used to inform this report. The review was not exhaustive, rather the goal was to capture the breadth of scientific literature to highlight relevant findings and research opportunities to advance and support decision making relevant to the future of hybrid and remote work.

The report, authored by OBSSR staff, is now available on our website: The Future of Work: Behavioral and Social Science-Informed Considerations for a Hybrid Work Environment. I encourage you to read the full report if you are interested in a more thorough review of works cited, historical context, and recommendations. For the purposes of this report, we focused on considerations for hybrid or remote work among “knowledge workers”, i.e., those employees whose jobs involve handling or using information, and who may rely primarily on use of a desktop computer or laptop for conducting their work, and for whom fully remote or hybrid work is a possibility based on job roles and responsibilities.

The report summarizes the evidence related to common concerns about a hybrid or fully remote workforce and the evidence related to 1) workforce development and 2) workplace effectiveness and employee wellbeing. The questions addressed in each section include:

Workforce Development:

  1. How might hybrid work impact issues of diversity, equity, accessibility, inclusion, and belonging?
  2. How might hybrid work impact recruitment and retention, and what factors merit additional considerations?
  3. What factors should be considered in creating a psychologically healthy work environment, and how might they be impacted by a hybrid work setting?
  4. What factors are related to digital literacy in the workplace and what can be done to increase digital literacy?
  5. How might leadership skills be cultivated across employee types and work statuses, and what factors might leaders need to consider when leading across mixed status (i.e., remote, in-person, and hybrid) teams?

Workplace Effectiveness and Employee Wellbeing:

  1. How might employee motivation and engagement be enhanced, and are there differences in remote, in-person, or hybrid settings?
  2. How might distractions and disruptions be minimized, particularly in virtual or hybrid settings?
  3. What are facilitators or barriers to employees in hybrid work environments successfully fostering collaboration and innovation?
  4. How can effective remote and hybrid teams be built and maintained?

While this report summarizes the evidence to date, there are clearly many additional questions that need to be answered to best navigate the future of workforce development, workplace effectiveness, and employee wellbeing. The report outlines some of these research directions. The behavioral and social sciences community is well-poised to help characterize the challenges and strengths of hybrid and remote work, inform change management strategies, and help develop a research agenda that empowers a more diverse, equitable, accessible, inclusive, and effective workplace.