Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Work and Wellbeing has researched the changes to how we work since the pandemic began, across different states and many organisations – and has found most of us are keen to continue with a flexible working arrangement.
Centre director, Professor Tim Bentley, said many employees could look forward to working where and when they wanted as the home/office “hybrid” employment model was shown to result in more productive and healthier workers.
“One to three days per week working from home appears to have both performance and wellbeing benefits over office-based work,” he said.
However, Professor Bentley said this arrangement would likely mean a different type of relationship with your boss.
“When managing a distributed work team, the emphasis becomes much more focused on the relational aspect of leadership,” he said.
“This means regular check-ins with flexible workers, activities to enable team connectivity, ensuring staff know when to switch off, and a stronger understanding of the individual needs of each team member.”
Personal v professional: the line blurs
The key to the hybrid model, Professor Bentley says, is it allows workers to choose an arrangement which best suits them – but it also comes with the need for a new style of management.
“It requires a more inclusive form of leadership where the manager understands not everyone will experience remote working in the same way,” Professor Bentley said.
“For many, the ability to work in a hybrid way will be a great fit with their personal circumstances. For others – those who live alone, have major care responsibilities, younger or new staff members, or perhaps those who live in an abusive home environment – traditional work practices will be more suitable.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to flexible working simply doesn’t work; for this reason, work arrangements need to be discussed with each team member and their work designed to best facilitate their healthy and productive engagement with work.”
If your boss is reminiscent of Michael Scott in the TV show the Office, the prospect of opening up with private matters may not sit comfortably – but the same might be true for your superiors as well, at least for the time being.
Professor Bentley said managers will need to be trained to better handle their new job descriptions.
“Bosses will need new skills to help them manage their increased exposure to the personal lives of team members,” he said.
“This was particularly evident during lockdowns, where our research found line-managers were commonly confronted with personal and emotive issues, including stress, anxiety and depression amongst their team members, and staff experiencing abusive relationships at home or even domestic violence.
“Many staff will also be affected by loss, illness and separation from family members.”
It’s in your interest
As jarring as the idea may be, the Centre’s research has shown employees benefited greatly from more personal relationships – and noticed when they weren’t in place.
“No one ever reached out to say, ‘Hey, how are you going, is this working for you’,” one participant said.
“All that HR ever did was send forms that we had to sign to make sure that we were health and safety conscious, and we had a fire extinguisher. There was no personal touch at all.”
However, managers who took an interest in their workers as people rather than employees were warmly received.
“In terms of the more direct support from my director and manager, it was great,” another respondent said.
“If we needed time off, if we needed help with anything, they were always open at any time.
“If we had to email them or even just call them directly to have a meeting, they took all barriers down.”