Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jamie Burke relished her role in property management. As an outgoing Vancouverite, she embraced the vibrancy of her daily office encounters, combining different meetings and networking events into her routine. However, once the pandemic took centre stage and a remote working environment became the new norm, Burke grappled with the change. In time, she grew fond of the flexibility that accompanied her remote work-life and was unwilling to relinquish her newfound liberty when asked to return to the office full time.
In 2021, Burke quit her job and explored various roles before founding her own business. Struggling with rigid hybrid work policies left her yearning for genuine flexibility over a mere part-time office role. Like many workers, Burke found the pandemic morphed her understanding of conventional work, making the transition back to office-based routines feel imposed.
Workplace consultant and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, Graham Lowe, reiterates: “The pandemic essentially transformed work as we know it,”. He explains that the pandemic revealed to millions of Canadian workers that remote work was feasible and even beneficial. However, Statistics Canada reveals that this was not a universal experience, with just over a third of Canadians working from home as of mid-2020, largely contingent upon the industry.
Despite many companies now urging employees to return to office spaces, several workers remain hesitant due to significant alterations to their lifestyles. This hesitation magnifies the disparity between employers’ expectation and employees’ perception of change in the workplace. Many employees deem remote working a right, creating a debate over whether it is indeed a privilege or right.
Remote working does undeniably provide several perks such as cost savings, although it doesn’t necessarily translate into benefits for the employer. Employee surveys suggest that productivity during remote work is at par or even exceeds that during office hours. Yet, some patterns reveal longer working hours, decreased productivity and poor mental health in remote working scenarios.
Current research also indicates the crucial role of face-to-face interaction in building trust and fostering collaboration. However, random office policies and mandatory in-person attendance may not hit the intended mark.
Shifting dynamics in major influential companies reveal further reluctance towards fixed office attendance. In the U.S, prominent companies like Amazon have adopted return-to-office policies, even pushing to relocate some corporate workers for office attendance. In Canada, large financial firms are altering office trends with revised office hours and revamped office spaces to attract workers back to their desks.
Trust appears to be the central issue, with employers feeling that sight equals effective leadership. The swift shift to remote work in 2020 presented a slew of challenges, including managing remote teams and juggling work-life balance with non-traditional office settings.
Consultation with employees about future working arrangements increased job satisfaction and employees’ likelihood of remaining with their current employers. For remote or hybrid work to flourish, a two-way line of communication is crucial to understand the impacts on workers, management and the organization.
While the shift to remote work post-pandemic may not have unfolded as envisioned, the need for flexibility is more recognised and accepted. The pandemic has had a lasting influence on work culture that is unlikely to reverse completely.
Lowe remains optimistic, however, asserting that as more companies experiment and share their experiences with remote and hybrid work, we will be better equipped to make informed decisions about which arrangements are most suitable.