‘A magnet, not a mandate’: How some big Canadian firms are reframing the office

Click to play video: 'What to expect with flexible working arrangements in the near future'
What to expect with flexible working arrangements in the near future
WATCH: What to expect with flexible working arrangements in the near future – Jul 20, 2021

Sixteen months after the onset of the COVID-19 health emergency in North America, work from home seems set to outlast the pandemic.

The forced exodus from the cubicles and meeting rooms has taught employers that “you can put trust in your employees and they will work when they’re not in the office,” says Jane Griffith, managing partner and founder of Griffith Group Executive Search.

But most companies aren’t letting go of the office entirely. The corporate buzzword for post-pandemic work set-ups is “hybrid model,” Griffith says. For many employees, in other words, some of the work will happen at home and some, once again, at the office.

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New study shows working from home will be permanent for many employees

The ability to permanently working from home for at least a few days a week has become a key request for many job candidates, HR experts and recruiters say. And companies are taking note.

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“Flexible and hybrid work models are here to stay,” RBC CEO Dave McKay wrote in a recent post on LinkedIn.

The bank is leaving it to its business leaders and teams to come up with flexible arrangements that suit their needs, he added.

“Over the next few months, we’ll test and learn as we go and adjust our plans along the way.”

Another giant of the financial industry, Sun Life, has said it will allow its 12,000 Canadian employees to decide which arrangement suits their needs.

Following the announcement, the company is seeing “even more interest from top talent in the industry professionals,” says Oricia Smith, president of Sun Life Global Investments and senior vice president of Investment Solutions within Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada.

Employers who insist on the old-fashioned workweek at the office are now often at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attract new hires and retain employees, Griffith says.

It is mostly mid-sized companies where Griffith is seeing an old-fashioned attachment to having employees clock in at the office from Monday through Friday. But that expectation often meets “pushback from the labour market,” she says.

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Even retaining staff is becoming an issue for companies that don’t allow flexibility, according to Griffith.

“Some might argue there has been an exodus from those companies,” she says.

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Minister of Labour calling for ‘right to disconnect’ under work from home policy

Smith also believes hybrid models will help boost diversity.

“Making flexible options more accessible and encouraging men to use them as well will result in a much more productive and diverse workplace,” she says.

A mother of three teenagers — one of whom is a competitive althlete who’d still have 6 a.m. practice every day on Zoom — Smith says she’s seen the advantages of working from home first-hand.

That flexibility became even more important over the past few months, when Smith’s mother was hospitalized and had to undergo surgery and then rehab.

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“Making time on a Friday to visit my mom in the hospital, when it was permitted, or just stopping by to have lunch with my dad, who was very independent but was home alone, became a very high priority for me,” she says.

Still, both employers and employees are keen to maintain at least some attachment to the office, Griffith says. Requests for full-time remote work from job candidates are still relatively rare, she says. And companies generally want staff to check-in at the office at least a few days a week, she says.

At Sunlife, the office will continue to be a place for employees to meet with each other and employees, Smith says.

“We want our offices to be a magnet, not a mandate.”

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