Most Canadian workers want mix of remote, office options post-pandemic, survey says

Some employees are anxious about the possibility of returning to the office. What can companies do to help ease their concerns?

A new survey shows Canadian workers are looking for flexibility when it comes to working in the office or remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic, but some have doubts about whether their employer can manage a hybrid workplace.

KPMG LLP released the results of a workplace survey of more than 2,000 Canadians this week, which shows that 77 per cent of those polled want the options to work both remotely and in the office after the pandemic ends.

Roughly three in five employees (63 per cent) said they want some kind of return to the physical office.

While two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with their current work-from-home setup, that’s down from the 76 per cent of people who said the same thing in KPMG’s similar survey from July 2020.

“We miss the social interaction, the buzz, the creativity of being at work,” says Leigh Harris, a management consultant with KPMG who tells Global News the sentiments she’s been hearing from her clients are reflected in the data.

Just over half (51 per cent) of those surveyed said they still feel productive in a virtual working environment, compared with 59 per cent last year.

But as employees look forward to a return to the water cooler, they’re also expressing doubt that their organizations are set up well to accommodate both remote and in-office working styles.

Roughly four out of five survey respondents expressed concern that their bosses are not equipped to manage a so-called “hybrid” workplace model.

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Nearly half (49 per cent) said they were concerned they’d be looked over for promotions or face discrimination if they continued working from home, while 45 per cent said their employer doesn’t understand the implications of a hybrid workplace.

Perhaps even more worrisome than the organizational shakeup are the lingering fears of the pandemic.

Nearly seven in 10 workers surveyed (68 per cent) listed the fear of a colleague coming to work sick or asymptomatic and passing on COVID-19 as a top-three concern post-pandemic.

A majority of respondents also indicated concerns about travelling for work (59 per cent), with 72 per cent reluctant to take public transit as part of their commute.

What it takes to make employees feel safe at work post-pandemic can be a tricky question.

While six out of 10 workers surveyed by KPMG said they think it’s fair for an employer to demand employees get vaccinated, and more than half think requiring vaccine passports is justified, most experts say it’s a legal grey area about what can and can’t be mandated.

Labour law experts who spoke to Global News say it’s “unlikely” that workplace policies requiring vaccinations would stand up to court challenges.

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“There are parameters around some of those elements that are going to be legally, operationally and philosophically, even, difficult to reconcile,” Harris says.

The solution to the concerns about the post-pandemic workplace is first and foremost about setting expectations, both for the employee and the employer, according to Harris.

“They’re looking for assurances,” she says.

The first thing companies should be doing, she says, is sitting down with employees to gauge their comfort levels, their anxieties and their desires for after COVID-19.

From there, build a “playbook,” Harris says, that acts as an agreement for how the company will operate in the transition from pandemic to post-pandemic. This should be a “dynamic” document that evolves as comfort levels — and the pandemic itself — evolve.

“You have to be constantly checking around what’s working and willing to make adaptations and shifts as required,” Harris says.

KPMG’s survey polled 2,003 Canadians aged 18 and older from March 26 to 30, 2021. The margin of error on the data is plus or minus two percentage points.

— With files from Erica Alini

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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