COVID-19 has changed office work. This is what the ‘next normal’ looks like when people return


Deloitte Canada would have moved into a newly opened office in Vancouver sooner had it not been for the pandemic.

But the delay has given the company some time to think about how to use that space.

“We’ve been able to really think about this ‘next normal,'” said Jayara Darras, corporate culture and human resources manager, who at Deloitte involves supporting hybrid working arrangements.

For now, about a fifth of Deloitte’s regional workforce of 1,500 people is in the building on a typical work day.

Local Deloitte Canada staff moved into the Deloitte Summit tower in Vancouver in June, a process the company’s culture and people chief said has been delayed by the pandemic. But the delay caused the company to think about how it wanted to use the space there. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“We reach around 275, 300 people [on a given day]”, Darras said, noting that fewer people are choosing to come on Mondays and Fridays.

She predicts that number will increase this fall, but also doesn’t expect Deloitte to demand a return.

The pandemic has upended entrenched office routines, prompting organizations to rethink how work can be done and embrace more flexible arrangements.

More and more people are being encouraged to physically return to work this fall, but it doesn’t look like the working world will return to its pre-pandemic state.

WATCH | Need for flexibility, even when returning to the office:

Workers want flexibility with return-to-work plans

With the easing of pandemic restrictions across Canada, businesses are preparing to welcome employees back to the office. But many are pushing back and asking for flexible working arrangements, while others are eager to get back to the office.

“Working from home is clearly here to stay,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who has studied the impact of the widespread adoption of more flexible working, via email.

Shy start to climb?

Colliers Canada manages over 60 million square feet of commercial real estate across the country, with office space accounting for more than half of this footprint.

Amy Vuong, vice president of property management services strategy for Colliers Canada, says many companies started seeing people return to the office on a voluntary basis in the spring – and her organization is hearing that some companies are now doing this. in the -presence at the office mandatory. (Submitted by Amy Vuong)

Amy Vuong, vice president of property management services strategy for Colliers Canada, said the company has conducted regular surveys of its tenants throughout the pandemic.

This year, between spring and fall, Vuong said Colliers saw “a 4% increase in the number of companies that said they were moving to full-time occupancy” of the office – working staff five days a week – with that number rising from 33 to 37 percent.

It may seem like a temporary gain, but Vuong said it could indicate a larger trend.

“Many companies have deployed their [return-to-office] policies on a voluntary basis this spring,” Vuong said.

“We’re hearing that companies are potentially considering removing this voluntary option as we approach the fall.”

Cities and commuters

In Toronto, many offices are still unused nearly 30 months into the COVID-19 era.

The Strategic Regional Research Alliance (SRRA), an independent research group, monitors the level of office occupancy in Canada’s most populous city.

The Strategic Regional Research Alliance estimates that the percentage of people entering the Toronto office is, as of last month, less than 30% of its pre-COVID equivalent. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It estimates that the proportion of people going to these spaces – as of its last snapshot in mid-August – is still less than 30% of its pre-pandemic equivalent.

SRRA co-founder Iain Dobson expects employers will want to see more people in the office this fall, if at all possible.

“We had so many false starts,” Dobson told CBC News in a phone interview.

The Toronto Transit Commission expects a 10 to 15 per cent increase in ridership this fall, after students return to school and “more people are going back to office work.”

A file photo shows the exterior of the Côte-Vertu metro station in Montreal. The Société de transport de Montréal expects to see more people using public transit this fall as students return to school and more people return to the office. (CBC/Radio Canada)

This corresponds to the expectations of the Société de transport de Montréal.

“We are currently at 65% of the pre-pandemic level and we expect to reach 70 to 80% this fall, mainly due to the return of workers and students,” STM spokesperson Amélie Régis said in a statement. e-mail.

Many employees will be in the office “more often” than today

Some notable large employers in Canada are pushing to bring more people back on site this fall – although under their new working arrangements, those employees may not be in the office every day.

Royal Bank of Canada, which has more than 60,000 Canadian-based employees, is looking to see executives and staff in the office ‘more often’ – with chairman and chief executive Dave McKay arguing that people thrive in working together.

Royal Bank of Canada has over 60,000 employees based in Canada. The company’s president and CEO said the organization wants its teams to spend “more time” in the office. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We know not all roles or teams are the same, and many types of work can be done productively from home or offsite,” McKay wrote in a recent LinkedIn post.

“At the same time, there’s an energy and spontaneity that comes from connecting in person that I don’t believe technology can replicate.”

At Canadian Tire, corporate staff in hybrid positions have “no mandatory ‘office days’ or a set number of days our employees are expected to be onsite,” said Christopher Gray, vice president. company culture and organizational design, in an emailed statement.

According to Christopher Gray, vice president of corporate culture and organizational design, Canadian Tire corporate staff who work in hybrid roles do not have a mandatory number of days they must be in the office. . (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Still, Canadian Tire has invested in “new technology, modern conveniences and collaborative spaces” and believes its employees “will continue to meet more frequently in person,” he said.

The federal government, which employs more than 300,000 public servants, also expects to see more people entering its facilities — and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat says that process has been underway, for various departments, since the spring.

In an email, the council said “the Government of Canada has been testing new hybrid models for full implementation in the fall” if public health considerations permit.

Unions representing civil servants have expressed concerns about the plan.

“No real justification”

Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Public Employees, said the government hadn’t sufficiently explained why more time was needed in the office – and he didn’t indicate there was a problem with the work that public servants do. from home either.

“No real justification is offered,” said Phillips, whose union represents 23,000 members, including government economists, translators and interpreters.

Stanford University’s Bloom was part of a larger effort to examine the experiences of people working from home during the pandemic.

And the research points to a future where workers want to retain the flexibility they’ve grown accustomed to over the past two and a half years.

A February 2022 survey involving more than 20,000 participants worldwide indicated that 15% of those respondents would quit their job if forced to return to work five days a week.

An even higher proportion of Canadians — almost 22% — felt this way.

“Canada has, like the United States, a highly developed economy with a high number of professional jobs that can [be] done remotely, a highly skilled workforce and many people living a long commute to work,” Bloom said.


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