Career consultant Sweta Regmi recalls when working from home was incomprehensible to her.
If you had asked her years ago, when she worked in a call center, Regmi would have had a question for you.
“Are you insane?” Regmi, founder and CEO of Teachndo Career Consultancy in Sudbury, Ont., said with a laugh at the distant memory.
But that was then – not today, when even his former call center colleagues were working from home amid a pandemic-era shift towards more flexible working.
Still, the proportion of Canadians working from home most of the time is declining, as the protective lid of public health restrictions is lifted and businesses grow more confident about bringing their employees back to the office.
This creates tension with employees who do not want to return to the current situation, but who will have to adapt if that is what they have to do.
A moving landscape?
Statistics Canada reports that in May, nearly one in five employed Canadians still did most of their work from home.
That sounds like a lot, but it’s down from more than 24% in January — and well below what was reported in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ruel Tria has been working from home for over two years. For him, the arrangement is very good.
“Our business allows it,” said Tria, an operations supervisor who did all of her work in a Toronto office before the pandemic.
But that could change, as his workplace has sent out surveys about potential employee concerns about returning to the office.
Tria saved money while working from home, as well as the time he used to spend commuting.
“My concern is obviously the rising fuel costs,” Tria said, noting that’s just one cost that makes life more expensive for commuters.
Nita Chhinzer, an associate professor of human resources in the department of management at the University of Guelph in southwestern Ontario, said there are a variety of reasons employees don’t want to return to the office – not all of them. strictly financial in nature.
“Maybe someone left town, or maybe they sold the car, or maybe they don’t want to drive anymore, or maybe they realize that labor politics and drama no longer interest him,” Chhinzer told CBC canada tonight Friday.
Beyond that, she said, people’s opinions vary on what’s best for them — including those who want to be back in the office more regularly — and that’s something people with employers must fight.
“The challenge for employers today is, how do they provide that flexibility while also creating an environment where they can bring people together and somehow recreate the pulse of the workplace?” said Chhinzer.
People aren’t where they used to be
Cities are also feeling the effects of seeing fewer people coming to the office.
In Toronto, the return to the office has been delayed and foot traffic in the downtown office core remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
Marcy Burchfield, vice president of the Economic Blueprint Institute at the Toronto Region Chamber of Commerce, said the long pandemic restrictions the city has faced have shaped its rate of recovery.
“People in the Toronto area have been working remotely for long periods of time,” Burchfield said.
“There is a direct relationship between the length of a jurisdiction’s lockdown and the trajectory back to office. And Toronto is a perfect example of that.”
And that trajectory may remain slower than some companies would like: Mark Rose, managing director of commercial real estate firm Avison Young, told The Globe and Mail last week that a full and widespread return to the office is likely five years from after.
Flexibility is key for some
On the east coast, Paige Black is taking on a new job that she specifically sought out because of the flexibility it gives her by allowing her to work from home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
She quit her last job because that option was no longer going to be available in the same way.
Like Tria, Black worked in an office before the pandemic. The nonprofit professional admits she “wasn’t a big fan” of working from home, at least initially.
But she quickly discovered that working more flexibly offered many benefits, including more control over her daily life.
“I felt like I was getting more time back,” she said.
For Black and many others, that kind of flexibility is hard to beat.
“Nobody can put a price on flexibility,” said Regmi, the career consultant, summarizing its value to workers. “It’s priceless.”
In some large organizations in Canada, there is recognition that flexibility is here to stay — and they are focused on what they need to do to support that.
At the Canada Life Assurance Company, for example, the organization aims to support both its staff and a range of working styles.
“Our approach to returning to the office is one that empowers our 11,000 employees to perform at their best, wherever they are,” Colleen Bailey Moffitt, senior vice president of human resources for the company, said in a statement. press release sent by e-mail.
Bailey Moffitt said Canada Life is “committed to supporting a hybrid and flexible way of working” and recognizes that its teams and employees have varying needs. It allows leaders to decide “which style of work best suits their team”.
But the insurance giant has also taken steps to ensure that its various campuses and offices are welcoming to staff and fully equipped for their in-person work. And it has invested in these spaces over the past two years, including upgrading its meeting rooms and common areas.
Other large employers have made similar investments in facilities during the pandemic as the changing long-term needs of their businesses have become apparent.
The federal government has also paid attention to the broader change in the way people — including its own public servants — work.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal public servants have proven their ability to adapt to new ways of working onsite and remotely while delivering results for Canadians,” said the Treasury Board Secretariat of the Canada in a press release.
The council said it did not have government-wide data on the proportion of federal officials working on-site versus a remote setup, but it said “more and more employees are visiting regularly on construction sites.
The experience of the past two-plus years will help the government develop “flexible and hybrid workforce models as part of how and where civil servants work in the future”, the council said.