Ian McGrath has made it clear to his bosses: if the company forces staff back into the office, they will resign.
The Halifax-area technician says he thrives working from home. His productivity has skyrocketed, his latest annual report has exceeded expectations, and he is now one of the top performers in the company.
“I also achieved a much better work-life balance,” McGrath said. “I am healthier, happier and more productive.”
Companies are releasing back-to-office plans across the country, calling white-collar workers back to their cubicles after two years of working from home.
As pandemic restrictions are lifted and case numbers drop, some companies want workers back in the office five days a week. On the other side of the spectrum, others are canceling expensive leases in major city centers and asking employees to work remotely for good.
Many others are adopting a hybrid model, ranging from a flexible “come when you want” approach to requiring workers to report to the office on specific days.
Yet after more than two years of Zoom calls and Slack chats from home, wearing comfy “soft” pants and having more time for kids, exercise or reading, employees may be reluctant to return to work. office.
“Some employers just want to flip a switch and go back,” said Catherine Connelly, professor of human resources and management at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business.
“It’s wishful thinking,” she said. “If you look at any other past pandemic…behaviors just haven’t reset to the current situation.”
A return to the office doesn’t affect all workers equally, said Connelly, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Organizational Behaviour.
Multiple factors can influence how employees respond to the rebirth of office life, from the comfort of their home working conditions and personality type to their workplace culture and the layout of their workplace. office.
“If you have a nice big office with a door that closes and maybe a dedicated parking space, that’s very different from someone being asked to work in a noisy cubicle with lots of interruptions,” she said.
According to experts, the key to a successful return to work plan is flexibility and taking it slow.
If workers feel pressured back into the office, they will push back.
“If people perceive it as a loss of control, you’re going to encounter resistance,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president of research and total wellness at LifeWorks.
“Two years is a long time for habits to take root and people don’t like change,” she said. “That won’t change overnight.”
Some tech companies, previously known for workplace perks like free office fitness classes and nap rooms, are turning back to incentives to help lure workers into the office.
ServiceNow Canada, an enterprise software company with offices in Montreal and Toronto and plans to open an office in Calgary soon, hopes to entice employees with free lunches and team-building events.
“We’re starting to host events to say, ‘We’re here, come join the fun,'” said Marc LeCuyer, vice president and general manager of ServiceNow Canada.
The tech company hosted a Taco Tuesday lunch, local bakery pop-up and pizza-making event, he said.
“We want to get back to that mindset where human connection is valuable and healthy,” Lecuyer said. “We want to set the stage for a return to the office in a very positive way.”
The company does not plan to mandate a return to the office, he said.
“We give people a choice,” Lecuyer said. “If you work for an employer that forces you to do something you don’t want to do, there’s no path to a positive experience.”
The desire to entice employees into offices with perks like free food has been a boon for startups like Hungerhub, a corporate catering tech platform that delivers lunches to workplaces from local restaurants.
Sari Abdo, co-founder and CEO of the Toronto-based startup, said the corporate lunch program eases some of the burden of returning to the office.
“I think we’re seeing a carrot and stick approach to getting employees back into the office and that’s a carrot,” he said. “Companies say, ‘Don’t worry about food, don’t worry about meal planning, just walk in.'”
While a free lunch is a nice gesture, companies have the right to call workers back to the office — no inducement required, labor attorney Hermie Abraham said.
“It’s about the employer’s legal right and their decision as to how they want to implement return-to-work plans,” she said. “People may think they should have the right to continue working from home, but unless there’s a consideration for human rights, they don’t.”
Many workers coming to the office for the first time in years complain of a long commute, expensive parking, and skyrocketing lunch prices.
But from a legal standpoint, Abraham said a lot of it was “too bad, so sad.”
“You may have made gains during COVID because you didn’t have to pay for those things, but that’s not your employer’s problem,” she said. “This is the job you signed up for when you were originally hired.”
Still, Abraham said a best practice would be to allow for a gradual return to the office – especially given today’s job market.
“There is going to be a war for talent in certain positions and the more accommodating and flexible you are as an employer, the more likely you are to win.”
Halifax-area tech worker Ian McGrath said he was aware of low unemployment and competition for talent in many industries, including his own.
“I know what the market looks like right now,” he said. “I know I could quit my job to go somewhere else and make more money.”
—Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press