In the News: What Could the Future of Work Look Like? These Ontario Experts Offer Their Insight

February 17, 2023 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Fallon Hewitt, The Hamilton Spectator

Businessman unsure of the future of work and what direction to go in, surrounded by multiple arrows pointing into different directions.

When you think of the future of work, what do you imagine?

Is it a workforce supported by artificial intelligence and technology? Or perhaps the exit from traditional offices into the virtual-only realm?

What about the age of the workforce? Or the kinds of workers that will be in high demand in the coming years?

Here, five experts discuss different aspects of what may lie ahead — no crystal ball required.


Workplaces, they will be a-changin’

As organizations stare down a growing worker shortfall and increased competition, one expert says companies will have to find new ways to keep their current staff — and pull in new hires.

And that no longer includes in-office perks such as midday yoga and free dry-cleaning, said Catherine Connelly, professor of human resources and management at McMaster University.

“A lot of people were seeing those as red flags,” she said. “It might sound great, but on the other hand, it sounds like a dystopian nightmare where you never leave work.”

Connelly said workplaces are instead now being forced to examine what else they can offer their employees.

That includes improved wages amid high inflation, better schedule flexibility — such as four-day workweeks — to help promote work-life balance as well as reasonable workloads, employee accommodations and improved workplace conditions that ensure staff are “treated respectfully.”

Organizations are also no longer competing with a company across the street, rather those across the country — and even the world, as virtual work increases in popularity.

However, settling on the structure of a hybrid workplace — defined as a mix of in-person and remote work — won’t be easy, she noted.

Managers will have to take into account factors such as varying employee preferences, the needs of leadership as well as the creation of a cohesive workplace that works for all staff.

That’s where most organizations are now — and will be for some time, Connelly noted.

“It’s hard for companies to come up with a one-size fits all solution,” she added. “The pandemic just taught a lot of organizations that employees can leave and will leave. They have other options.”

Worker voice needed as new technology comes

Virtual meetings. Automated checkouts. Artificial intelligence. Robots in factories. Some people love them, others hate them.

Technology is here to stay in the world of work — and more will come. However, it’s not necessarily a story of “doom and gloom” for traditional jobs, says a Hamilton-based labour expert.

Sean O’Brady, an assistant professor at McMaster University, said as new technology is phased into the workforce, there will be a need for highly skilled workers alongside it — especially when it comes to mechanization.

“In so many aspects of work, you can only automate it so much,” said O’Brady. “You’re going to need people to catch all the problems that will come along with it.”

One example he pointed to were call centres, noting how they’ve changed. Easier tasks are now directed to automated services, while “all the tricky stuff” is given to the actual workers.

However, that creates additional demands on employees, said O’Brady, who pointed to the change as one of the reasons for the need for stronger government regulations and increased worker voice as new technology is phased in.

“People are constantly being disrupted,” said O’Brady, noting that technology is being introduced into different sectors at a growing rate. “There has to be a mechanism to provide workers with the ability to exercise some voice and control over this.”

Read the full article in The Hamilton Spectator.

Catherine Connelly headshot

Catherine Connelly

Professor, Human Resources & Management

Dr. Catherine Connelly holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Organizational Behaviour, and is a Member Emeritus of the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). She is a former associate editor for Human Relations and currently serves on several editorial boards including the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Human Resource Management Review, the Academy of Management Discoveries journal, and Human Resource Management. Her research focuses on the attitudes, behaviours, and experiences of non-standard workers (e.g., temporary agency workers, contractors, temporary foreign workers), the effects of leadership styles on leader well-being, and knowledge hiding in organizations.

Sean O'Brady

Assistant Professor, Human Resources & Management

Sean O’Brady is an assistant professor at the DeGroote School of Business. He is also an associate member of McMaster’s School of Labour Studies, a researcher at Cornell University’s Ithaca Co-Lab and a co-researcher with the Inter-University Research Centre on Globalization and Work (CRIMT). His research examines the politics of work and technology, precarious work, worker power, employment standards and institutions, and the social consequences of HRM practices. Sean’s research has received awards from the Labor and Employment Relations Association, Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, Canadian Industrial Relations Association, and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux.

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