Media releases

  • Brock’s Niagara Community Observatory examines remote work as a long-term strategy

    MEDIA RELEASE: 20 October 2021 – R0112

    Remote work shouldn’t be for every organization, but when it’s done right, it can be a boost for worker well-being and help maintain “a healthy and productive work culture,” says new Brock University research.

    “For those organizations that do choose some form of remote work, our research suggests that success depends on building a culture rooted in human connection, supported with clear communication plans, the right digital tools and a compatible managerial style,” says Kate Cassidy, co-author of the latest brief produced by Brock’s Niagara Community Observatory (NCO).

    To be, or not to be, remote? Examining the essential factors needed for ongoing remote work success,” explores the benefits and potential downsides of remote work.

    With stay-at-home orders instituted in March 2020 having wound down, “we are now at a key transition point that requires deliberate discussion and planning,” says Cassidy, adjunct professor within Brock’s Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film.

    Cassidy says the research brief is meant to guide management in deciding whether or not to implement work-from-home strategies, some kind of hybrid approach or a full return to the physical location in the long term.

    To do this, Cassidy and co-author Mackenzie Rockbrune, an undergraduate Communications student at Brock, identify seven themes and a series of questions attached to each that managers should consider during their decision-making process.

    These include:

    Fit: Different personality types, situations and workers’ needs are some of the factors that determine if employees desire remote work and how they’ll cope. Employers are encouraged to ask: Do employees have a quiet home office space and a fast, reliable and secure internet connection? How will we ensure everyone feels like a valued and equal part of the team if some work remotely and others don’t? How will we help staff combat the isolation?

    Tasks: Many activities need to be done at a specific location that has specialized equipment, and require hands-on teamwork or mentoring. Work that involves deep problem solving, uninterrupted concentration and individual effort do well at home. Employers are encouraged to ask: Is remote work a good fit with client and customer needs? Are there issues — security, legal or other — with letting work materials leave the physical office?

    Communication: Creating a virtual office involves ensuring everyone is informed about what’s going on through clear, timely, consistent communications that create a sense of unity and collegiality. Employers are encouraged to ask: When and how often should we share organization and team-wide information, so everyone is in the loop? When should a video call be used rather than a quick text?

    Relations: When people don’t see each other daily, relationship-building must be more intentional in building social bonds and a sense of belonging. Employers are encouraged to ask: What role do serendipitous and informal encounters play for us and should we try to recreate those moments in a new way? How will we maintain team cohesion when some people are working remotely while others are on site?

    Organizational Culture: This is “the collection of stories, traditions, values and expectations that sets the context for everything an organization does.” Employers are encouraged to ask: How should our desired culture influence our decisions about whether, or how, to adopt remote work arrangements? In what ways should we redesign our onboarding process for remote or hybrid workers?

    Tools: The most appropriate and effective technologies used in remote work need to “best support the people, tasks, communication, relationships and culture of each unique organization.” Employers are encouraged to ask: Have we ensured there is an appropriate level of data security to go remote? What steps should we take to help employees manage the cognitive overload of constant digital interaction?

    Support: Remote management must support an atmosphere of trust, empathy and understanding. Remote work calls for a shift in supervisory focus from activity to results that are clearly defined. Employers are encouraged to ask: What additional training do managers need to support remote employees? Will remote employees have results-focused performance metrics? How will we support employee well-being?

    The themes and questions are based in part on interviews Cassidy and Rockbrune conducted in early 2021 with more than a dozen executives and interns from 24 different Ontario-associated organizations in a broad cross-section of fields.

    “The NCO is pleased to continue to be a platform for Brock researchers to share their current research interests with the larger Niagara community,” says NCO Interim Director Jeff Boggs, adding that the research “zeroes in on one of the most important changes it has wrought on the workplace: reliance on working from home for many office-based jobs.”

    The start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year saw an estimated 70,000 people in Niagara leave their offices and work primarily at home for the first time. Meanwhile, labour force reports indicate that about one third of Ontario businesses anticipate some remote work to continue after the emergency ends, says the brief.

    Remote Work: By the Numbers

    • During the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately one in every three Canadians were working from home, almost three times more than those who worked remotely, at least occasionally, in 2016. (Source: Statistics Canada, April 1, 2021)
    • A Canadian Labour Force Survey conducted in February 2021 found that 80 per cent of new remote workers would like to perform at least half of their hours remotely once the pandemic is over. (Source: Statistics Canada, April 1, 2021)
    • It is estimated that just over 70,000 Niagara workers were working primarily at home for the first time during the pandemic. (Calculations by Cassidy and Rockbrune)
    • Labour force reports indicate that about one third of Ontario businesses anticipate some remote work to continue after the emergency ends. (Source: Statistics Canada, April 1, 2021)
    • Approximately 61 per cent of Canadian jobs cannot be regularly performed away from a specific location. (Statistics Canada, May 28, 2020)

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases

  • Brock economist to carry out national water survey as part of oil sands research

    MEDIA RELEASE: 20 October 2021 – R0111

    Scientists are studying ways that plants and their associated microbes can clean up wastewater from oil sands processes using constructed wetland treatment systems.

    The big question is: will the public support such an approach?

    Brock University Professor of Economics Diane Dupont is aiming to find out. She is creating a national public survey to gauge the extent to which people value technologies that harness the power of ecosystem services in the natural environment.

    “The benefits provided by plants and microbes are not directly purchased from a shelf or traded in the marketplace,” says Dupont, whose work will focus on ecosystem services from plants that filter and clean water.

    Dupont is a member of a Canada-wide research team that is studying how researchers, industry partners and communities can work together to enhance the performance of constructed wetlands.

    These enriched wetlands provide an enabling environment for plants and microbes with particular genes that treat wastewater generated by the oil sands industry.

    Dupont is leading a subsection of the research that will examine the Canadian public’s perspectives on the use of these genomic methods in the context of oil sands reclamation.

    “I see it as a really great opportunity to inform the general public about the role ecosystem services play and how important it is to better understand the values provided by these services,” says Dupont.

    The project, titled “Application of Genomics to Enhance Wetland Treatment Systems for Remediation of Processed Water in Northern Environments,” is being led by Douglas Muench

    at the University of Calgary and Christine Martineau at Natural Resources Canada and is supported by a grant from Genome Canada.

    A natural way to clean up large volumes of wastewater is through a constructed wetland treatment system, which uses vegetation, soils and microbes to remove dissolved compounds and trace metals.

    The national research team is using genomic approaches to study how plants and microbes can be harnessed to biodegrade toxic organic compounds such as naphthenic acids.

    “The proposed applied research will provide insight on the mechanisms of plant-microbe interactions to facilitate the development of a robust, ‘green’ and cost-effective system for the remediation of OSPW” (oil sands process-affected water), says the team.

    The surface mining of oil sands is a large industry in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta. While no release is currently allowed, future legislation will require operators to restore the water before release and to reclaim the landscape.

    A section of the team, led by Lori Bradford at the University of Saskatchewan, is studying the social sciences aspect of the research to explore legal, social and economic gaps in knowledge and practice.

    “With a window opening for people to have their say in the technologies we use to reclaim landscapes, and the regulations used to monitor and measure that reclamation, the time for this project is now,” says Bradford.

    Dupont says social benefits from a constructed wetland treatment system that safely and effectively treats oil sands process-affected water have several important benefits.

    These include potential cost savings from use of natural processes to sustainably deal with industrial effluents, as well as the potential for a shorter time period needed to achieve good water quality.

    Dupont’s previous research has found that most Canadians support green measures and value clean water, health and a protected natural environment.

    But in the case of using genomic tools to enhance bioremediation efficacy, the public may not be familiar with genomic-based technologies, she says.

    “The Canada-wide survey that I’ll be implementing will to try to get a sense of what are people’s perspectives,” says Dupont. “Do they understand what the process is and how important is it to them to use genomic research to enhance this green technology?”

    She says she expects the survey results will provide insight into the general public’s knowledge level on genomic-based reclamation methods and where educational campaigns might be needed to increase understanding of ecosystem services.

    Dupont will also be working with Indigenous communities and partners to gather Indigenous perspectives.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews: 

    * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases