Will employers bring workers back to the office post-pandemic? Experts share their opinions
TORONTO -- Thousands of people working from home have left big cities for smaller and more affordable towns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but some experts say they may have made that decision too soon as back-to-office plans still loom.
For almost a year now, many people across Ontario have been working from home due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and are making significant life decisions based on the new, but possibly temporary, reality.
David Zweig, an organizational behaviour professor at the University of Toronto, told CTV News Toronto that it’s very difficult to predict what will happen once the pandemic ends, but things certainly won’t continue as is.
“We have to understand that the way that we're living and working right now under the pandemic is not the way it’s going be once the pandemic ends,” Zweig said.
“I think that there will probably be a transition back to the workplace for sure, and maybe not be completely every day of the week, but certainly a significant amount of time will be spent back in the workplace.”
Zweig said it would be very hard for employers to coordinate who can and will work from home and who won’t. He said different policies for different people within one workplace would most likely not go well.
“Organizations might be forced to develop either blanket plans that are fair to everyone, or to try and negotiate with each individual employee for something that works,” he said. “It's going to be very complicated.”
Julie Labrie, president of bilingual recruitment firm BlueSky Personnel Solutions, says she’s seen a mixed response from employers she works with.
“I've had a little bit of a mix of everything, which is interesting,” she told CTV News Toronto. “It makes my job easier when I'm recruiting because people are happy to hear that there's flexibility now.”
She said workers would have the upper hand over employers when negotiating whether or not they can work from home.
“Before the pandemic, we had an issue, there was so much of a lack of qualified workers, and the pandemic has not resolved that,” she said. “So the employers will need to be flexible with their work-from-home offers.”
She said she’s noticed that some of her clients, who previously claimed they would never allow an employee to work from home, have changed their minds drastically, and now say they do have a problem with it at all.
Statistics Canada data states that a record-breaking number of 50,375 more people left Toronto for other areas of Ontario between July 2019 and July 2020. Some also left the city to move to smaller cities outside the province like Kelowna and Halifax.
Jesse Stockall is a chief architect at a global software company and says he made a big move to British Colombia when the company’s satellite location in Toronto closed down permanently to allow everyone to work from home.
He said he spoke to his company directly to allow himself and three other people, who had long commutes to the small Toronto office, to work permanently from home. He said they agreed and closed down the office.
“Our lease happened to be up at the end of the year so the timing worked out perfectly and we agreed that we would rather not go back into the office,” Stockall said.
Both Labrie and Zweig agree that it is probably best that people do not make hasty decisions about relocating without consulting with their team leaders and managers first.
“The employer can ask you to come back to work in the office and so you really want to know before you make the leap to leave the city,” Zweig said. “You don't want to get stuck in a situation where you're two hours from the city.”