By Wendy Campbell, Principal
With fall approaching, kids going back to school, and governments lifting COVID-19 restrictions, many organizations including Google, Apple and Microsoft are opening their offices and moving towards a hybrid work model. On a survey of 350 business leaders, LaSalle Network found that 70% plan to have employees back in the office in some capacity by fall of this year.
A hybrid approach combines the flexibility of remote work with the collaborative advantages of an in-person environment and incorporates flexible hours to help employees better juggle their personal and professional responsibilities. A Leger poll in May found that 60% of Canadians preferred a hybrid model while only 20% wanted to return to the office full time.
With many people now going back to the office, how will things have changed? What will return to the office look like? What should job seekers be looking for when they meet with potential employers and what key questions should they be asking in an interview? Here are a few things to consider as you transition back to the office.
Employee safety is the highest priority when considering a return to the office and businesses should make sure that back to work safety protocols are communicated and adhered to. This includes maximizing physical distancing, greater spacing with seating plans, Plexiglas barriers, disinfectant wipes readily available, and keeping masks mandatory. Health experts predict that on-the-job medical screenings such as temperature checks, antibody tests, and proof of vaccination will also be a reality for those who return to the office.
Moving to a hybrid workforce will lead to a reconfiguration of the workspace. The amount of time you work in close proximity with others will be one of the biggest cultural shifts moving forward. Prior to the pandemic, many companies favoured an open office layout – employees sat close together, side-by-side. Employees may now prefer being physically distanced from their co-workers regardless of vaccination status. Office layouts will change, desks could become spaced out, partitions could go up, and cleaning stations stocked with hand sanitizer. Corporate spaces may now offer modular furniture for both individual and group seating with lockers or cupboards to store items. In some cases, companies may open regional hubs rather than have the majority of their workforce at one central office.
Some organizations are offering incentives like free meals, commuting cost reimbursements, onsite childcare, and financial bonuses to bring employees back to the office. Businesses may also consider flexible schedules and part-time arrangements that meet the needs of the organization while catering to an employee’s individual circumstances. This could involve giving employees a choice regarding in-office attendance, job sharing to help workers meet personal obligations, and scheduling meetings when hybrid workers plan to be in the office.
The pandemic has created a more agile way of working and communicating with colleagues. Meetings no longer involve everyone crowded into an office board room. More meetings have become emails and more emails instant messages. Experts agree that videoconferencing will remain a big part of our work lives for years to come. New technology is emerging to facilitate more sophisticated virtual meetings and bridge the gap between remote and in-person staff. Companies like Microsoft have introduced elaborate conference rooms with specialized mics and cameras that make in-person participants feel like everyone is present and remote participants feel like everyone is remote.
During COVID-19 we got “comfortable with getting comfortable” – it is unlikely you put on a suit or heels when working from home. The trend toward casual attire will accelerate even in the office. Some organizations will have “dress for your day” policies (if you are not meeting with clients, you can leave the suit at home). Workers who video conference frequently may retool their wardrobe to be camera-friendly – more bold colors, large scale patterns, and clean lines. Wearing a face mask around the office may become commonplace especially in bigger companies with more workers sharing tight quarters.
Changing consumer preferences and greater interest in social distancing will limit large group events such as conferences and conventions for the foreseeable future. Companies have learned that some business travel is unnecessary and can be done via video meetings.
Companies need to ensure that workers who choose to be physically present in the office are not favoured because of their proximity to leaders and colleagues. Those working from home should be treated equally and be considered for promotions and other benefits. If you desire a remote role, you do not want to get paid less compared to an in-office peer. As a job seeker, try to determine if remote and office staff are on a level playing field and ensure you have a full understanding of the role and the way you will be required to work.
By late September many companies will have finalized their return-to-office models. While the majority will choose a hybrid model moving forward there are still a few organizations like Shopify which have closed some of their offices encouraging employees to work from home. There is still a lot of uncertainty about what return to work will look like this fall. However, what we do know is that in spite of many offices opening up, remote work isn’t going anywhere and despite our fatigue with it – neither is Zoom.