As the debate between remote work and return to office rages, many employers – like the Canadian federal government – are now opting for a hybrid strategy to benefit from both approaches.
Typically, a hybrid model requires employees to return to the office for a select number of days per week or month. A hybrid workforce may also consist of a mix of fully onsite employees and fully remote employees.
This past week, the Canadian federal government announced that public servants will be required to return to the office two to three days per week. The government plans to initiate a phased introduction of this hybrid work model, going into full effect on March 31st, 2023. This marks a dramatic shift for many federal departments, whose employees have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic.
The Risks of Return to Office
As more organizations, both in the public and private sectors, mandate a return to office for their workers, it is important for both managers and employees to develop strategies to manage the transition.
Without a strong transition plan, managers are at risk of losing a large cross-section of their workforce at a time when top talent is at a premium. According to a recent survey, 35% of Canadian workers would start looking for new employment if ordered back to the office.
With this in mind, there are several important considerations for returning to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Company leadership must accept that for many employees, a return-to-office announcement is bad news.
One major survey found that 82% of Canadian workers who worked from home during the pandemic had a positive experience. Communicating the transition to hybrid work effectively can be a major challenge.
It is important to keep employees informed about the steps being taken to ensure a safe return to work, as well as any changes to policies or procedures.
Make sure to clearly communicate expectations, deadlines, and any changes to policies or procedures to both on-site and remote employees. Clearly define goals for your team and use tools to track progress towards those goals. Use a variety of communication tools, such as email, video conferencing, and project management software, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
It is important to communicate the opportunities that come with a return to the office. This may include providing in-person training and development opportunities, as well as fostering opportunities for camaraderie and team-building.
Many employees have had to adapt to working remotely during the pandemic, and it may be necessary to continue to offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate those who are unable or unwilling to return to the office full-time.
The economic impact of the pandemic, as well as current inflationary pressures, has been severe for many businesses and individuals, and it is important to consider the financial implications of returning to work for employees, including the cost of any necessary safety measures.
Regularly review how the hybrid model is working and make adjustments as needed. This may include reassessing which tasks are best suited for remote work, or making changes to policies and procedures to better support a hybrid workforce.
Long, expensive commutes are one of the major reasons employees do not want to return to the office. Managers can mitigate this concern by offering flexible hours when appropriate, enabling workers to skip rush hour traffic, for example.
Indeed, workers with full schedule flexibility report 29% higher productivity than workers without the ability to adjust their schedule, according to a survey of over 10,000 workers across six countries. They also report 53% greater ability to focus.
Staying flexible and identifying mutually satisfactory working arrangements will be one of the biggest challenges for managers in 2023, but is absolutely essential to retaining top talent.
Health and Safety
Ensuring the health and safety of employees should be the top priority when returning to work. This may involve implementing measures such as mandatory mask-wearing, physical distancing, and frequent handwashing.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of many people, and it is important to consider the emotional well-being of employees when returning to work.
For many employees who have grown accustomed to working from home, returning to the office may trigger anxiety and increased stress. Management should identify ways to address this proactively. This may involve providing resources such as counselling services or training on stress management.
Managing a Successful Return to Office
2023 will be a year of widespread experimentation, shedding much-needed light on the return to office debate.
While the federal government’s hybrid work mandate applies to all federal public service employees, there remains flexibility in how hybrid work is managed at the department and team levels. Managers should seize opportunities to be flexible, improve communication, and proactive in addressing health and wellbeing.
Whether your organization adopts a fully remote, fully in-office, or hybrid working model, embracing the aforementioned principles is critical to retaining top talent and improving team cohesion.
About Bronson Technical Search
Bronson Technical Search (BTS) is a government-focused technical recruitment and staffing firm, providing Canadian government agencies with access to top technical talent at all levels of their organization.
Learn more about Bronson’s technical staffing solutions for the federal government.