Published: 16-02-2024 13:36 | Updated: 16-02-2024 13:44

Study shows upsides and downsides of hybrid work at KI

Two women talking in a corridor.
Photo: Liza Simonsson.

The adoption of the hybrid work model in the KI administration led to better health and less stress for the staff, according to a recent study. The research project, which looked into the effects of the more flexible approach that was taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, provides valuable insights that will inform the development of new workplace models for the future at KI.

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study was launched that monitored the transition to more flexible work arrangements in order to observe the effects on the KI administration staff and managers. 

The results have been compiled in a report entitled "Framtidens arbetsplats – Slutrapportering av uppföljningen av övergången till hybridarbete för verksamhetsstödet på Karolinska Institutet" (lit: The Workplace of Tomorrow – the concluding report of the study to monitor the transition to the hybrid work model in the KI administration).

Professor Irene Jensen. Photo: Martin Stenmark.
Irene Jensen. Photo: Martin Stenmark.

"The aim of the study was to draw on the latest research and personal experiences to draft proposals for how we can develop a modern and attractive workplace for the future here at KI," says Irene Jensen, professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine (IMM) and assignment manager for the study.

The study began in the autumn of 2021 when working from home restrictions were in place, and terminated in the spring of 2023, after one and a half years of hybrid working. 

By means of regular surveys, the researchers measured how employees were affected by the changes to the working environment, leadership, health and performance. 

"Overall, the results we got were very positive when it came to attitudes towards hybrid work," says Professor Jensen. "However, it needs pointing out that at the time of our study, no major changes had been made to the physical work environment."

A better work-life balance 

According to the first survey in 2021, half of the employees stated that they had never worked from home before the pandemic. After the introduction of the hybrid model, a majority said they worked from home two to three days a week. 

Two thirds of the employees felt that both their working environment and work-life balance had improved, which led to better health and less stress. 

Managers, however, worked more on site. 

"One possible explanation for this is that managers like to meet their staff so they need to be in the office more often," Professor Jensen says.

A managerial challenge

Even if the overall results were positive, remote working did have its downsides. 

Building a strong team spirit proved a challenge for the managers, who were compelled to think innovatively and creatively. It became clear that administrative support for managers has to be adapted to hybrid models. 

Multiple stress factors

Access to properly functioning digital tools, IT support and IT knowhow were other factors that went into determining levels of stress. 

Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg.
Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg. Photo: N/A.

"Employees of an older generation found it particularly stressful," says Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg, assistant professor at the IMM and project manager for the study. "An important lesson to take home is that continual training and support is needed in order for a high level of digital skills to be maintained among the staff."

There were also large discrepancies in how matters like workload and influence were experienced between different categories of employee, such as men/women and older/younger. 

The category that experienced the greatest load was middle-aged employees with a longer length of service. Women felt that they had less influence over their work than men, which is also a common phenomenon in the physical office.

Lessons for change 

Tinnerholm Ljungberg and Jensen agree that the results of the study indicate that the hybrid approach is the future. 

"The study clearly demonstrates that hybrid working was beneficial," says Dr Tinnerholm Ljungberg. "That said, it makes new demands on things like leadership, teamwork, digital tools and IT skills."

She continues: "All organisational change is a stress factor for staff when the actual change is made. Our study shows, however, that it is temporary and gradually wanes. One success factor was that KI prepared the transition to hybrid working early on and let it take its time, which gave the staff time to get accustomed to it. To proceed at a leisurely pace to let the transition take time is a valuable lesson to bring to the ongoing change work at KI."

How to max your workplace

  1. Plan your tasks and adapt them as much as you can to where you’re working. Some tasks are better suited to the office and others to working from home.
  2. It’s best to strike a balance between office and home.
  3. Put time and energy into building a strong team spirit.
  4. Remember that we’re also each other’s work environment in the hybrid model too. 
  5. Make sure that you have/make time to improve your computer skills.
  6. Use a shared calendar to book office time; it makes it easier to plan tasks and meetings.
  7. It’s easy to book digital meetings, but important to schedule setup times between them.
  8. Remember to take motion breaks when working from home.