Remote working and the new normal
The last two years have taught everyone a lot about a lot of different things. Among the many lessons is the one about how we work and where we work. As the pandemic set in two years ago in Canada, workplaces reacted quickly to move staff to makeshift offices at kitchen tables, in the corners of bedrooms or tucked away in basements. We learned how to look professional from the waist up, share spaces with furry co-workers, and manoeuvre through new software for online meetings. We also learned how much time we saved without a commute, how much money we saved on professional attire and lunches out, and for many of us, we realized that working remotely can be as productive or more so than being in the office.
Homes as offices
According to the 2022 Canadian Housing Market Outlook report by RE/MAX, Winnipeg’s real estate market has been attracting young couples who do remote work. That has been driving the demand for one- and two-story detached homes in the capital. The report found that the “appeal of Winnipeg has had less to do with affordability, and more with lifestyle shifts such as hybrid working environments.”
Brandon’s real estate market has also seen an influx of interest since the middle of 2020. RE/MAX also noted that the Brandon market has been thriving due to the “widespread increase in remote working environments, working professionals are no longer bound to urban or suburban living.” The company found that more out-of-province residents were attracted to the region because they could buy a larger, more affordable home in the city.
Not only have Canadians looked for homes that can be offices, they also don’t see themselves heading back into the office anytime soon. An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted in December 2021 for Global News found that only 50 per cent of Canadians working from home expected to be back in the office with any regularity in 2022. The poll also found that 64 per cent of working Canadians reported a better work-life balance in 2021. In Manitoba, that number rose to 68 per cent. Those working from home also reported how much they enjoyed it. Eighty-eight per cent said they enjoyed working from home more often in 2021. While 58 per cent said they missed being with their colleagues in person, 56 per cent still did not want to return to the office on a regular basis.
In March, the Amazon Business Return to Office Report reported that 57 per cent of Canadian office workers prefer to either split their time equally between in-office and remote or work mostly remotely. As well, 43 per cent said they would be likely to look for a new job if their current employer mandated they return to the office full time.
As workers have examined their feelings about where they want to work due to the pandemic, this has created new challenges for companies wanting to attract and retain talent. BDO Canada’s Midmarket Outlook Report released last October found that “Canadian businesses of all sizes and across industry sectors are experiencing recruitment and retention challenges, a trend that is expected to cascade into 2022.” Fifty per cent of companies surveyed said that attracting new talent is the biggest challenge for their company. Companies also remain divided on how to handle work locations, with 35 per cent wanting employees to return to the office, and 29 per cent seeking to increase their remote working options.
Making it work
PwC Canada’s 2022 Emerging Trends in Real Estate report released in October 2021 noted the major changes made in office space due to the pandemic. “Most employees continue to be hesitant to return to the office indicating a preferred hybrid-arrangement even in a post-pandemic world,” said Frank Magliocco, National Real Estate Leader, PwC Canada when the report was released. “When PwC Canada asked Canadian workers about their ideal work arrangement, the most popular option, selected by 36 per cent of respondents, was to have an even split between face-to-face and remote working, while just 10 per cent chose a traditional in-person environment.” Because of this desire for flexibility in work locations, companies are having to address both their workers’ wants and their organization’s needs. The PwC report noted that companies are examining how to attract workers back to the office through upgrades, and also offer the hybrid work arrangements that are making talent attraction even more competitive.
For many workplaces looking to find a solution for workers that want flexibility while having office space sitting empty, the hybrid model is becoming a way to address the issue. Toronto’s Wave Financial has moved to a hybrid model, along with some departments at CIBC. Quebec’s iA Financial Group has done the same, announcing last August that the majority of their employees could choose to work where they were most effective. “Despite the pandemic, we continued to deliver strong results and value to all our stakeholders,” said Denis Ricard, president and CEO of iA Financial Group in August at the announcement. “Our employees have consistently demonstrated performance, commitment, and agility. They have been able to take full advantage of the benefits of remote working. This is why we are moving enthusiastically and confidently towards a hybrid model with undeniable efficiency.” Closer to home, Wawanesa Mutual Insurance has created flexible working models for staff in a program introduced last fall. Canada Life is also examining flexible work options.
As the return to work continues, it remains to be seen whether remote work is here to stay. However, in the ongoing search for talent in a tight labour market and two years of proof that remote working is possible and productive, employers will have to find a way to keep their teams productive and engaged wherever that happens to be.