Hybrid model of working likely to become norm past COVID-19 pandemic: expert

By Faiza Amin and Meredith Bond

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced millions of Canadians to the world of remote work, some for over 20 months at this point, forcing many to adjust to a new normal.

But will this be a temporary shift or change the way we work in the future?

Over four million Canadians are working from home as of Oct. 2021, according to Statistics Canada, and that’s just under one quarter of the workforce.

Michael Halinski, an assistant professor of Human Resources Management with the Ted Rogers School of Management, said there have been multiple benefits to the shift to remote work, but there are also challenges businesses have had to navigate.

The shift has forced employees to experiment how they manage their work day. “We figured out, ‘Hey there’s certain things we like, and there’s certain things we don’t like’ for those who have never had an opportunity to work from home before.”

According to Statistics Canada, employees have been able to keep up with the same productivity they had in the office. Of all remote workers surveyed, 90 per cent reported being at least as productive. This included 32 per cent who said they accomplished more work per hour at home.

However, remote work has created challenges in being able to manage employees, keep a proper work-life balance and having limited social interactions.

In a survey from Cisco Canada, 46 per cent of employees worried that in-person workers will have more opportunities for engagement and career growth.

Halinski said many organizations have relied on a management style where the employee is visually present with the manager, rather the performance-based management.

“As a result, a lot of organizations have struggled to adapt to that type of management style and as a result, a lot of organizations have decreased their expectations in terms of output for employees just because they don’t how to manage, motivate and reward employees accordingly,” said Halinski.

Approximately 35 per cent of workers reported working longer hours, 51 per cent for those in management positions, and only three per cent of workers said they worked shorter hours. Statistics Canada said it was too soon to determine whether these longer hours affected family-work balance.

Halinski said it should be up to the managers to encourage employees to foster a healthy work-life balance.

“What we’ve learned over the pandemic, over the past 20 months is that work and life can be incredibly interconnected and we need to do a better job of empowering managers to empower employees to help them navigate their own time,” explained Halinski.

This shift has also allowed workers to avoid commuting, not paying for parking or transit and for some, even allowing them to move out of high-rent neighbourhoods closer to work.

However, Halinski says some are hesitant to leave because they don’t know what’s going to happen. He predicts most organizations will be shifting to a hybrid environment that could end up being the future of the workplace.

“And what that hybrid is, it will be completely different for different organizations depending on context, depending on the management style,” explained Halinski. “One thing I do hope is that it isn’t dependent on individual managers and that organizations are going to make organization-wide decisions. It’s really important to culture that it’s a strong consensus as to what’s taking place across the entire organization.”

In a Twitter poll conducted by CityNews, 46 per cent of over 1,500 respondents said they were in favour of a hybrid model while 35 per cent said they hoped to continue working remotely. The final 19 per cent said they would like to see a full return to the workplace.

Halinski said this pivot to remote work can redefine what a modern workplace looks like.

“Organizations are trying to frame work from home as a perk or benefit that they can offer employers form recruitment perspective. Employees are framing this as a preference – as that’s what I want to do.”

Several organizations had started to bring their employees back to work, but have began to shift back to remote work with the emergence of the Omicron variant and surging COVID-19 cases.

The City of Toronto had planned to bring all employees back on Jan. 4 as a model to other businesses, but earlier this month, delayed the return.

While Halinski says most organizations are headed to the hybrid model, it could be some time before it is implemented permanently as the world continues to deal with the ever-changing risks of a pandemic.


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