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Working from home may be here to stay, study finds


Professional staff at Australian and Canadian universities ‘want some sort of mixture’ after the pandemic

Universities may look very different after the pandemic as staff have discovered the benefits of working from home, according to research by Griffith University.

In a survey of staff at 10 universities in Australia and Canada, with results still expected from several more institutions, Griffith researchers found that professional staff in particular were changing their work preferences.

Study leader David Peetz, professor of employment relations in Griffith’s business school, said the impetus for the study came from anecdotal reports about fewer women submitting research papers during the pandemic.

As publishing rates have implications for performance management and promotion opportunities, he pushed to begin the study as soon as possible. He contacted colleagues including Canadian contacts through Canada’s Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work.

However, early results show that the main differences between staff work patterns are splits between academic and professional staff, he said. Pre-pandemic, academic staff had often done some work from home—“they generally get to choose”—whereas professional staff had been required to be in offices on campus.

This meant that the change for academic staff had not been as great, although there were issues around online learning. “Everybody had to do online teaching, and they had to get to it very quickly.”

The results suggest that “overall, the academics…were on average unhappy about it”. General professional staff, on the other hand, were, on average, happy about the change. Most of them indicated that in future “they wanted some sort of mixture of working on campus and working from home”.

The extent to which these preferences will translate into actual work-from-home options after the pandemic is over will be affected by management attitudes, Peetz said. “It’s not only what people want to do but also what management want them to do.”

The researchers hope to identify the effects of domestic responsibilities on staff working from home.

Separate research from the University of Melbourne has found an increase in “techno-stress” and “techno-invasion” of people’s home lives as they work from home.