After nearly a year and a half of working from our kitchens and coffee tables, the country’s restart plans are well under way and Canadian businesses are looking forward to welcoming back employees who, in some cases, haven’t set foot in a physical workspace since March 2020.

Hurray! Right? Well, yes – for some, this is what they’ve been waiting on for 18 months, but for others, it’s the news they’ve been dreading.

Collectively, we called it the ‘new normal’, and people adapted to that as best they could. It was challenging, certainly, but we also accomplished some truly incredible things as we pushed ourselves to succeed in this ‘new world of work’.

Whether you hated working from home or positively adored it, we all have to ask ourselves: at this point, is it fair – or even possible – to go back to the old status quo?

What’s next?

Well, if there ever was a good time to have a crystal ball handy, this would be it.

Mark Friesen, Practice Lead of Impact’s IT division, says that, understandably, his clients are curious to learn what other organizations have planned in terms of when and how they’ll transition their team back to the physical office.

“After so many months away, there’s definitely some uncertainty around what this is all going to look like,” Friesen says.

“It’s kind of funny, actually, because none of us have ever been in this position before, so everyone is sort of looking to everyone else for some direction on what to do next. It’s like, ‘Okay, so what are you doing? Right, and what have they done?’ Everyone’s in the same boat, we’re all just trying to figure it out as we go.”

Employee vs. employer?

We’ve likely all heard the stories going around about a supposed “clash” happening between employees and employers, based on the assumption that every employee in the country wants to remain fully remote, and that all of Canada’s employers are rallying together to force their staff back to the office 9-5, five days a week.

This is absolutely not the case, thankfully. In reality, there’s actually a lot of overlap between what individuals and organizations are looking for in terms of a work model that makes sense for them in the long term.

At this point, multiple surveys have shown that the majority of employees would like to return to the office a few days a week, and the consensus from employers seems to be that most are hoping to try and make some type of a hybrid model work for their organization.

A hybrid schedule would offer employees the flexibility to work a few days in the office and a few days at home – so, essentially, it’s a bit of a compromise, and it’s a great place to start.

Benefits of continued flexibility

People aren’t keen to give up all the flexibility that remote work allowed them, but most do still see the merits in having a physical office space available for the purpose of intentional collaboration, brainstorm sessions, mentorship and training, or even a bit of socializing around the good ol’ water cooler.

A hybrid work model (or ‘partial return to the office’) gives employees more freedom to manage their own week, allowing them more control over their time and the ability to be more productive during work hours.

Just a few of the benefits of a hybrid work model for employees:

  • Less time spent on commute
  • Less money spent on transportation, childcare, meals, etc.
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • More time with family (or pets!)
  • Improved work/life balance
  • More positive outlook, less likelihood of burnout

And a handful of the benefits of a hybrid work model for employers:

  • Improved talent attraction and retention
  • Increased employee motivation, engagement and job satisfaction
  • Reduced employee absenteeism
  • Increased diversity and inclusion (resulting from access to a much wider talent pool)
  • Lower office overhead (just think of all the money you’ll save on snacks and beer kegs!)

Of note: it’s important to keep in mind that what works well for one organization won’t necessarily make sense for another. Each business will need look at their own specific requirements and, from there, figure out what a successful hybrid work model will look like for them.

To get you started, we’ve gathered some tips for a (relatively) smooth transition back to the office.

Have the tough conversations

If possible, have your upper management team speak with their respective groups one on one to get a read on how employees are feeling about returning to work.

If this isn’t feasible, hosting a company townhall meeting is also a good option. Give employees the freedom to engage in honest conversations and open the floor to anyone who would like to ask a question or share a concern. Use this as an opportunity to really listen to what your people say, and do your best to consider their needs as well as the needs of your business.

After that, sit down with your leadership team and figure out the specifics. Make sure you’re all on the same page about next steps!

Clear + consistent communication

Communication seems to be a recurring theme in the majority of our blog posts from the past year, doesn’t it? Once again, clear and consistent communication regarding what’s happening, when it’s happening and (most importantly) why it’s happening is essential during this transitional period.

No one wants to be blindsided by the news that – surprise! – you want them back in their desk first thing Monday morning.

The more detailed information you can share with your staff, the better prepared they’ll be for what’s coming down the line in both the short term and the long term.

Rethink your processes

“But this is how we’ve always done it!” probably isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Sure, we’re ‘returning to the office’, but the office we’re going back to isn’t the same one we left at the start of the pandemic – and that means that some of those historic workplace processes you’ve had in place since 1996 are going to need to be reimagined and rejigged.

With a hybrid workforce, you’ll need to reconsider everything from workflow to collaboration and everything in between. What jobs can be done from home? What meetings are appropriate to have over Zoom and which ones must be attended in person?

Top priority is to ensure that your on-site staff and your remote staff are able to work together cohesively, from anywhere.

Safety procedures + protocols

Yes, health restrictions are being lifted and vaccination efforts are well under way; however, many of us haven’t been around a bunch of people from outside of our household (or our little bubble) in a really long time – so, yeah, going to an office space filled with other human beings could be a little, uh, disorienting.

To ensure your team feels as comfortable as possible, make sure they know that you are doing your due diligence to provide a safe and healthy work environment. This may include a COVID-19 screening process, physical distancing measures and guidance regarding how many people can be in communal spaces at one time.

A popular organization system many employers have taken to recently is called hot-desking (or “hoteling”), which allows employees the flexibility to reserve free desk space as needed, without assigning anyone a permanent spot in the office.

Empathy + understanding

Encourage your team to communicate with you regularly; weekly meetings are a good idea so you can check in on how they’re adapting, if they’ve encountered any challenges and if they have any concerns they’d like to discuss.

While a lot of people are excited to be back out in the world and to reconnect with their long-lost co-workers, that may not be the case for everybody.

“We’re all going to be navigating some pretty big changes over the next little while, and some of these things will need to be approached more delicately than others,” says Kristina Lee, Director of Impact’s IT division. “It’s so important right now to remember to be empathetic, and to be human. I’ve spoken with a number of employers who have noted that they have individuals on staff who are extremely worried about returning to the office, with some experiencing severe anxiety and, in some cases, even panic attacks.”

Try not to be too rigid in your return-to-work plan, and be open to making adjustments on a case by case basis. A little flexibility goes a long way in making your employee feel valued and appreciated.

“Mental health is something we really need to keep in mind during this transition back into the physical workspace,” says Lee.

IMPACT’s job market insights

“It’s beginning to look a lot like the same candidate-driven market we saw before COVID-19,” says George Gao, of Impact’s building division. “The demand is huge for a variety of roles, from entry level positions all the way up to senior management.”

“Both candidates and clients seem to be more future-focused than they were pre-pandemic,” notes Gao. “Fewer people are looking for short-term gigs; they’re more focused on opportunities that will guarantee security for the long term.”

Abhi Sharma, Strategic Account Manager with the IT division, is interested to see what happens in the market as some employers take a firm stand against continued remote work.

“There are certain candidates who have done really well working from home, and they aren’t prepared to go back to the office,” says Sharma. “In some cases, these individuals have even bought property outside of the city centre – say out in Chilliwack or something. If they have an employer who decides to put their foot down and say, ‘Everyone has to come back to our office full-time,’ and that office is in downtown Vancouver, that might be enough for them to walk.”

For businesses that are able and willing to support continued remote work, this offers them a chance to add very high-calibre candidates to their organization.

“I anticipate a flurry of movement as the world reopens and employers decide how to approach this with their team,” adds Sharma. “But honestly, we don’t know yet how it’s all going to play out, it’s a bit of a wait and see for everyone at the moment.”