Not like 'the before times': what work could look like for Edmontonians returning to the office

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As COVID-19 vaccination numbers ramp up and the Alberta government considers its economic reopening plan, many Edmonton workers returning to the office, in the coming months, may find it has changed since the pandemic.

Janet Candido, founder and principal of human resources firm Candido Consulting Group, said those who have been working from home likely won’t be returning to the same work environment or nine-to-five routine they remember from 14 or 15 months ago.

“I don’t think we’re going to be going back to the office the way we were doing it in the before times,” said Candido.

While the idea of working from home might have been popular in the beginning, it’s left many workers exhausted and disengaged, she said.

A recent survey conducted by Angus Reid for ADP Canada reported that 44 per cent of remote employees are working longer hours, and stress levels are also on the rise, hitting 41 per cent, up from 34 per cent in April 2020.

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It also found that 46 per cent of remote workers surveyed were feeling less engaged with their work since the start of the pandemic.

“I did hear from a lot of people, ‘well you know, I don’t have anything else to do so I might as well do the work. But it’s gone on for a long time, and they’re a little sick of not having anything else to do. The other problem is that their employer has gotten used to an increased volume of productivity, creating expectations that are not necessarily well received,” said Candido.

Of those who spend an increased amount of time working, paying a kind of “COVID-19 tax,” one in ten reported working an additional eight hours or more per week.

But many Canadians see the perks of continuing to work virtually, at least for some of the time.

A recent survey from KPMG found that most Canadian workers want to get back to the office, but about three-quarters prefer a “hybrid” model that allows some flexibility to work remotely.

“I think we’re going to see more flexibility and more hybrid situations. Some people really enjoy working remotely and would rather continue to do that, some people really hate it, and then there’s a whole bunch of people that say, ‘well, I’d like to come into the office a few days and work at home a few days,’” Candido said.

She added the challenge will be for employers to figure out how they’re going to accommodate that.

Felicia Mutheardy, Edmonton’s acting chief corporate economist, said in an email the return to work may be industry-dependent, with some in the professional services, finance and insurance industries more likely than others to permanently offer employees the possibility of remote work after the pandemic.

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Candido said after months of working in relatively isolated spaces, workers value in-person social interaction and the opportunity for group work even more – which could change the way office space looks.

“Instead of individual offices you might have more communal spaces, you might reduce your footprint. You might even decide to make some changes to how you work together, like capitalizing on the in-person time for innovation and collaboration and, tapping into the collective brain of colleagues,” she said.

She added that she hopes the resources employers have put into mental health supports continue beyond stay-at-home orders.

“Up until now we’ve done little other than just pay lip service to mental health,” said Candido, adding she’s concerned about the number of people who have opted not to take time off, like a vacation, which can lead to burn out.

lijohnson@postmedia.com

twitter.com/reportrix

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