Nearly two and a half years since the start of the pandemic, Canadians have started heading back into the office. This is a significant shift in the way we’ve been working. For reference, in 2016, only 4% of Canadians worked remotely — in 2021, that number was 30%. In certain industries, like finance, professional services, and insurance, remote work was closer to 70%. 

There are many opinions about the best options for employers, whether it’s entirely in-person, fully remote, or hybrid solutions that make the most sense. The data has interesting insights for employers to understand before making a final decision on new protocols. 

The Benefits of Remote Work

There are many benefits employers can gain with a remote workforce: employees have a desire to work remotely and it can lead to greater productivity.

Most Canadians want to work from home.

8 out of 10 Canadians say they’d prefer to work from home. While it’s impossible for 80% of the Canadian workforce to be completely remote, there are many opportunities for employers to address the needs of job seekers through compromise. 

Employees say they’re more productive at home

90% of employees surveyed said they are productive at home. 58% said they are equally productive at home, and 32% said they are more productive at home. 

And employers agree. More than 3 in 5 managers saw increased worker productivity tied to working from home. With those productivity rates, employers ought to understand the opportunity for growth. 

The Challenges of Remote Work

However, remote work isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. There are obstacles that can deter innovation and collaboration. The main disadvantage of remote and hybrid work as to do with the cultivation of relationships and teamwork. 

A lack of belonging and social identity

Community gives us a sense of fulfillment, connection, and belonging — and that gives people a sense of happiness and purpose. 

Effects on employee health and well-being 

Being present, together, in a shared space, like an office, reduces tech fatigue and improves physical and emotional health. 

Energy and cognitive consequences

Interactions improve cognitive performance. Plus, the “bandwagon effect” means that we gain energy from positive group experiences. 

Impact on development, learning, and relationships 

We’re most focused when we can see, hear, and experience in the immediate, and this can have positive implications for visibility and your career. 

Being together in the office builds social capital and gets workers on managers’ radars, which can have implications for consideration, promotions, and more. 

What do employees want?

When asked, an overwhelming number of employees prefer a hybrid model, which would offer both in-person and remote work. In fact, 75% of Canadians have seen work/life balance improvements by breaking up their time between home and office. 

That balance translates to tangible (and monetary) results. Employees save an average of $11,000 per year and 4 hours a day by limiting their commutes, giving people more time to connect with loved ones and dedicate time to their lives outside of work. 

Hybrid work is here to stay — and beating remote options 

The data is revealing:  employees like interacting with their coworkers, but don’t want to return to the daily grind and 5-days of commuting. 55% of employees want to return to work in a hybrid work environment — leaving employers prioritizing their remote work guidelines. 

But what if hybrid isn’t an option for employers? Retail workers, for example, can’t work from home if their work is within a brick-and-mortar business. Instead of focusing on what can’t happen, employers instead can focus on what they can control: relationships — which, during the pandemic, have become increasingly strained.

Virtually all relationships — including working relationships between managers and employees — have been pushed to their limits. Thriving in an uncertain future means determining a clear-cut vision for these critical relationships, and taking meaningful steps to strengthen and solidify these connections. Central to this is training managers on the importance of empathy — how to best support their teams through both professional and personal challenges. 

Flexibility is also essential — but that likely looks different business to business and employee to employee. Depending on your workplace and industry, offering flexibility may mean eliminating standardized hours, if possible, or staggered start and end times. For other organizations and workers, a consolidated work week — working 10 hours per day for four days, for example — may be the preferred approach. Others, still, may offer regular days off — one Friday per month off across the organization or added flex days people can take for last-minute personal commitments. 

Building a hybrid work environment 

This flexibility and empathy are key to not just thriving post-pandemic but, also, building a hybrid work environment. Another key ingredient? Trust among workers and leaders. Many leaders still lead with pre-pandemic mindsets, yet workers’ attitudes have evolved. This can be a cause of tension between supervisors and employees. But leaders who are open to admitting mistakes can build a stronger connection with their team. 

Intentional planning is a must when building a hybrid work environment. You can’t ask employees to come into the office and then have virtual meetings all day. Having intentional plans for when and why employees go into the office is essential. 

Eliminating simple things like employee start and end times can be a small, but dramatic improvement for your team. This flexibility enables employees to accommodate consistent scheduling needs like school pick-ups and drop-offs. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach 

Each industry and company will have to assess their own teams to identify what makes the most sense for them; there is no one-size-fits-all. Instead, listening to your employees, understanding their needs, and implementing reasonable measures to ensure employee happiness can be fruitful for employers as we enter a new way to work.