Why Flexibility Over the Return to In-person Work is Crucial

March 28, 2022 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Andrea Lawson

Father working from home on a laptop while wearing a headset and holding his child.

As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, returning to in-person work is unlikely to mean a return to pre-pandemic ways. And that’s a good thing, says Catherine Connelly, professor of human resources and management at the DeGroote School of Business.

“The pandemic has forced many workplaces to take stock of their policies on how their employees complete their work,” Connelly explains.

“Before COVID, working from home was often a privilege granted to a few select workers like high performers and people in certain jobs that already had a high degree of autonomy and discretion.”

That’s obviously changed.

“Managers have had to adapt and focus on whether the employees’ objectives are being met rather than micromanaging the day-to-day activities of each employee,” Connelly says.

Employees have changed, too, she says. The stress of the pandemic has prompted many people to take stock of their life goals and what is truly important to them.

“Fewer employees are willing to make compromises that harm their own health and well-being or that of their families.”

Returning to the office full-time is something many people are not willing to accept. There are substantial benefits for employees who can work from home, including reduced commute time and costs.

Home offices can also be quieter and more productive and give people additional time and flexibility to plan their days — everything from childcare and elder care to finding time for exercise, she says.

It has also provided flexibility for some employees, such as people with disabilities, who often deal with inaccessible transit and work areas.

“Organizations that can allow employees to continue to work from home for at least part of the time will benefit from more satisfied and committed employees,” Connelly notes. “During the pandemic, a lot of flexibility was offered, and it would be a shame if these advances were lost.”

However, Connelly makes clear that creating a successful hybrid work environment is about more than working from home.

Organizations should provide opportunities for employees to get to know each other and break down barriers. That can include things like networking and social events, either online or in person.

“By working from home, employees may miss out on serendipitous informal interactions with co-workers. These unplanned conversations about mundane topics are important for building trust, which my research has shown has serious implications for knowledge sharing and hiding,” she says.

Some parents of young children who have experienced many challenges during the pandemic were given extra flexibility out of necessity. There is a danger that workplaces will be too quick to cancel that leeway altogether or assume hybrid arrangements and flexible work hours are sufficient, Connelly warns.

“As much as possible, employees should return to in-person work at their own pace, and with as many safety precautions in place as possible,” she says. “COVID is not over yet and pushing employees to work in ways that feel unsafe is counterproductive.”

This article was first published on Brighter World. Read the original article.

Catherine Connelly

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. Catherine also conducts applied research with several Canadian organizations in both the private and non-profit sector. In addition to her research success, Catherine is a past winner and frequent teaching award nominee for her teaching in the MBA and PhD programs. She has made presentations about her research to industry and academic groups across Canada and the US, and in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. Her research has been featured in the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, and on CTV and CBC radio and TV.

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