Home Health Experts believe flexibility in work arrangements is likely to persist post-COVID

Experts believe flexibility in work arrangements is likely to persist post-COVID


During COVID, most of Rachel Wright’s IT support team worked from home, but she soon ran into logistical challenges.

“I think we always need to have one or two people in the office … because we have a lot of deliveries coming in, someone always needs to be there to receive them,” she said.

“And employee communication, it’s easier to just talk to the person next to you.”

Now she basically brought everyone back to the office.

But she also wants to give her staff flexibility when she can, so they can still work from home in certain situations, such as school holidays or days when they just need to manage their lives.

Ms. Wright also believes that training new employees in the office is easier.(ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

As the COVID pandemic recedes, Ms. Wright is among many business owners struggling to find the right balance between meeting organizational needs and giving workers the flexibility they’ve come to expect.

Employees, employers are not always on the same page

Research by the Melbourne Institute, carried out in July this year, found that many workers and employers disagree about what work-from-home arrangements should be.

About 61 percent of workers reported that they have tasks that can be done at home.

But while 88 percent of workers wanted to spend at least a few days at home, only 49 percent said their employers would accept hybrid work.

A man is sitting at a computer at the dining table at home.
Many people prefer a hybrid of home and office work, but not all employers find it workable.(ABC News)

Melanie Atkinson works at Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) helping to develop projects that reduce carbonisation.

One of the reasons she likes to work from home two days a week is to help reduce the environmental impact of car travel.

But she also appreciates the flexibility that allows her to be more involved with her two young children.

“It’s important to me to be an active part of my kids’ lives and be able to drop them off and pick them up at school and be able to switch between the mental work that needs to be done at home, but then, you know, personal time at meetings,” she said.

A woman at home at the table with a laptop.
Ms. Atkinson finds many advantages in working from home some days. (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

“I’ll help them get ready for school, drop them off and then come back here, so I’m only 15 to 20 minutes late,” she said.

“Whereas if I have to go to work after school, I don’t get to work before nine, so I can extend my work day from here instead of missing it at the end of the day. “

She is one of a growing number of workers who won’t settle for anything less than flexible work options.

Employee expectations are changing

FMG’s general manager of leadership and talent, Jackie Oates, believes flexible working is here to stay, with the company seeing a 30 per cent increase in such arrangements.

“We’re definitely seeing in the market that a number of our potential candidates are looking for a flexible working arrangement,” Ms Oates said.

A smiling woman looks at the camera against the background of potted plants.
Jackie Oates says an increasing number of potential employees are insisting on flexible working arrangements.(ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

She believes flexible working is important to support workforce diversity.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of women joining the Fortescue team and I have no doubt that flexible working plays a huge part in this.”

But like a number of larger firms, Fortescue also offers office perks, such as a wellness center that offers yoga and meditation classes and an office creche to entice workers to come back at least a few days a week.

“We were really encouraged when the COVID restrictions were lifted, we really found that our team members were really eager to get back to the office,” she said.

“What we’ve seen is a true hybrid work model where people have the ability to work from home, but they also like to come into the office and connect, interact and collaborate with their team members.”

The cost of living plays a role

Organizational expert Scott Fitzgerald said the current economic climate is affecting workers’ willingness to stay at home.

“Particularly during this cost of living crisis, it’s attractive to many people to work from home and avoid the cost of commuting, the cost of parking, etc.,” he said.

Professor Fitzgerald stands in the university's common area with signage in the background.
Associate Professor Scott Fitzgerald explored how employers and workers struggle with working from home.(ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

And he believed that creating effective workplaces is not as simple as meeting people face to face.

“Organizational culture is based on trust and respect and work-life balance, so if organizations can provide that flexibility, they will provide a much better organizational culture,” he said.

However, after seeing the impact on businesses that depend on urban workers, some governments are pushing for a return to a more traditional way of working.

A woman waits for a bus as traffic approaches in the distance looking out over St George's Terrace, Perth
The cost of commuting is a factor for some workers.(ABC News: James Carmody)

WA Premier Mark McGowan is encouraging people to return to the city, citing psychological benefits.

“I know I’m old-fashioned, I actually think there are great benefits to be gained from people talking to each other looking each other in the face,” he told ABC Perth recently.

Head and shoulders shot of WA Premier Mark McGowan addressing the media.
Mark McGowan believes people should return to the office where possible.

Working at home is a “huge natural experiment”

University of Western Australia psychology lecturer Daria Kragt said while mental health issues had increased during the pandemic, it was not yet known why.

“Was it purely the social isolation of working from home, or was it because there was COVID and the pandemic and it’s raging and people are stressed and anxious?” she said.

“Working at home, we’ve been doing this big natural experiment for the past two years.”

Dr. Kragt said the benefits of working from home include being able to negotiate your time, be closer to family and manage your work-life balance.

Dr. Kragt stands outside with some trees in the background.
Dr. Kragt says working from home can increase feelings of isolation, so autonomy of choice is important.(ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

But there were also disadvantages, including social isolation.

“Covid has forced work from home, so I think it’s really important to consider autonomy here,” she said.

“We need to give people autonomy of choice.

“What do they want to do, what works best for them, what is the flexible mix and negotiate that [an] individual approach”.


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