As employees return to the office, the much-hyped hybrid model is put to the test: does it work?


As former office workers return to their workplaces, employers and workers need to know exactly what the new working standard will look like.

The subject of returning to the office after years of working from home is particularly thorny. In a recent Angus Reid Institute poll conducted in partnership with CBC News, when asked what they would do if their employer forced them to return to the office full-time, more than half of respondents said they would likely start looking for another location where to work.

Between March 1 and March 4 of this year, the polling firm asked 2,550 Canadian adults what they would do if they received such an ultimatum. (A probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

A third (33%) said they would reluctantly, but would start looking for another job. Almost a quarter (23%) said they would quit right away. Twenty-nine percent said they would agree. The others weren’t sure.

Flexibility will be key

Professor Linda Duxbury, who teaches at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, says the answer to the question of what a normal work pattern will now look like is far from clear.

“I wish I could give you an answer…but it’s a lot more nuanced than that,” she said.

Duxbury has been researching remote work during the pandemic, and after looking at data from 26,000 Canadian workers, she said a few big trends can be gleaned from the data. About a quarter of workers, she said, want to return to the office full-time, while about the same proportion would prefer never to set foot in the office if they don’t have to.

A complex split like this reinforces why flexibility is now the name of the game for office work. Outside of a few industries, the days of mandating 40 hours per week of office time are over.

Just under half of Canadian workers are theoretically able to do some or all of their work from home, Duxbury said, but that doesn’t mean they all want to do it all the time or produce their best work when they do. do. Smart organizations, she said, will be flexible and based on people’s needs.

“You must… start talking to your people [and] stop pretending…there is a magic plan you can pull off and it will be a miracle,” she said.

“People are no longer willing to sacrifice their souls for their organization and the privilege of working for you,” she said, citing an ongoing war for talent that has given workers an edge they don’t. hadn’t before.

That’s why his advice to employers is straightforward.

“If you get it wrong, you might not even have a business to run in two or three years.”

Recruiter Hannah Gold of staffing firm TDS Personnel says competition for workers is fierce and companies that are flexible will fare better. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

Hannah Gold, recruitment consultant for staffing firm TDS Personnel, agrees that flexibility is key, both for workers and the people looking to hire them.

Most of his company’s clients have moved to a version of the hybrid working model, where new hires expect some jobs to happen in the office, while others don’t. While a few employers insist on working full time in the office, this becomes a challenge.

“Those who impose it are going to have a harder time getting into this job,” she said, because today’s job market is really “what we would call a candidate market.”

Work environment expectations become so paramount that they almost outweigh things like compensation in some cases, she said.

“Not everyone wants that,” she said, referring to returning to the office full-time.

“Some people do, but not everyone wants to come in, go to the office every day… like they used to.”

Ashira Gobrin, head of human resources and culture at Wave, says the new working standard at the company will be to allow the company’s 350 employees to do their jobs where they do their best: at home. or in the office. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

Wave Financial is one of the employers for whom flexibility is the watchword. With around 350 employees in Canada and the United States, the fintech company has taken a hybrid approach and says it works well.

“We’ve really learned a few things through the pandemic,” said Ashira Gobrin, Wave’s head of human resources and culture.

“The first is that we can actually work very effectively remotely and people are happy at home doing things,” she said, while others benefit from working together in person for certain tasks.

At Wave, the office is “designed to be a place that gives you something you don’t have at home,” she said, but “everyone has the opportunity to choose what works for them, and then also what works for his teams.”

Satisfied workers

On the streets of Toronto on Monday morning, most commuters to the office who spoke to CBC News were happy to be back, but almost none of them expected them to be like before .

Jake Cruikshank said his employer required all employees to be in the office at least two days a week, but he chose to come in for four.

“It’s just better for me, I just do things,” he said.

“Some people can work full-time remotely, but I’m just not one of those people.”

Hari Balasingham, who works in finance, jokes that he may miss his dog being home all day, but that’s not the case.

“I prefer being in the office, to be honest. You do more there.”

WATCH | Check out what commuters told CBC News about returning to the office:

Hybrid working becomes the norm as office workers return

On the streets of downtown Toronto on Monday morning, a number of workers spoke to CBC on their way to the office. Although their circumstances differed, overall they were delighted to be back and expected that a mix of office life and working from home would now be their norm. 0:55

Royal Bank of Canada has implemented a hybrid approach, and Mike Elsey, who works for the bank, said it worked for him.

“It’s good to be back,” he said.

“I mean, it’s nice to have the flexibility.”

Kristen Howcroft, Project Coordinator at CIBC, will split her work week between home and the office. She said she was looking forward to sharing the space with her colleagues again, as she missed the interactions with her colleagues.

“It will be exciting and I think it will lift everyone’s spirits.”

Overall, workers who spoke to CBC News agreed with the idea of ​​returning to the office to some extent, but Duxbury said that does not mean employers should assume they can impose that things are as before.

She said in this job market, smart companies must take seriously the threat of losing a quarter of their workforce due to a refusal to adapt.

“Even if they don’t leave, do you think it’s a good thing that one in five of your team members stay with you for gold handcuffs and hate you? Absolutely not,” she said. .

“You want people who stay because they love you and are committed to the work and what you do. Good employers are going to walk away smelling like roses.”