Working from home put on hold as more people return to the office

For some it's been over a year of bliss not having to battle traffic, paying for parking or specialty coffee. But that's all about to change as more workers head back to the office.

The lesson learned from a year or more of working from home is that in many cases, it works pretty well.

"In many environments they've been working very well virtually," said Laura Williams with Williams HR Law. "In fact in many environments productivity has been up working virtually remotely.

"For employers who are thinking of a full return or even a hybrid," Williams added, "it's going to be important when you're communicating the return to work strategy and plan, why we need to reconstitute as we're intended, really important for employees to get their minds around that to buy in."

MOOD WRISTBANDS

Keri Smith is the chief of staff at Altaml, an artificial intelligence tech company with offices in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary. She says staff started coming back to work earlier this month working three days in the office and two from home.

"I would say safety is the number one priority and we're being accommodating to any individual to make sure that their experience back in the office is as comfortable as possible," said Smith.

She said many employees were hired during the pandemic and this is their first chance at meeting each other face to face. That's created an air of excitement and the company is trying to capitalize on that by encouraging fun games with prizes at the office.

Staff also have the option to wear coloured wrist bands so their colleagues can see how they're feeling at a glance. Red means the individual isn't comfortable in close proximity to others.

"If they'd like to be more distanced in a meeting situation, be more distanced," said Smith. "Yellow means I'm not sure how I feel today and green that means you're feeling really comfortable, high fives, fist bumps, all of that is fair game."

Williams said some staff are choosing to resign likely because their values have changed and they now want more family time.

"Priority has shifted and employers have to be mindful of how they communicate their way forward to stay attractive, so they can get the right talent to keep it," said Williams.

CREATING SEPARATION

Carter Perrier works for an oil and gas company in downtown Calgary. He lives close to the office and found it hard to keep work apart from home when he worked virtually.

"For me personally, I found there's a great mental aspect of separating where I live and where I work," said Perrier. "So having a 'once I leave this building, I'm not doing work anymore' (attitude) has been for me a big mental relief and has certainly cut back on the hours I'm working."

Karen Anderson has returned to her downtown office for three days a week and is glad to be back.

"The company doesn't require us to tell whether we've been vaccinated or not," said Anderson. "It doesn't require people to be vaccinated so it's basically personal choice, I know that 75 percent of Albertans have been vaccinated so I'm feeling very safe and happy."

Williams said it's difficult for companies to require staff to be vaccinated but that depends on the industry or business.

"Do you really need to ensure that individuals are vaccinated or can you achieve the health and safety obligations that you have as an employer, through the use of PPE?" said Williams. "In most cases PPE will get you there and instituting a mandatory vaccination policy can create some factions within your working environment."

Williams says if employees are unclear about what the return to work looks like at their company they should be asking their employer now so they're prepared for when they have to head back to the office again.