Two in five Canadian workers say they’ll look for another job if asked to return to the office full time

Canadian workers have spoken: they don’t want to return to the office full time, and they’ll move on if their employer orders them to.

A recent Amazon Business survey of 1,595 Canadian office workers found flexibility is increasingly important, to the point that two in five said they would look for a more flexible job if mandated to come back in person full time.

And if a prospective employer mandated full-time in-person work, more than half would be less likely to accept a job offer.

Only half of surveyed workers had returned to the office before Omicron, and of those that had returned, one-third went back to remote working when the wave began.

Workers in Ontario were the least likely to have returned to the office before Omicron compared to other provinces.

Nick Georgijen, country manager for Amazon Business in Canada, said companies have increasingly been buying products and shipping them directly to employees’ homes during the pandemic, instead of to their offices, signaling a big change in how and where people were working.

And that change will almost certainly carry over into the next phase of the pandemic, he said.

“What’s most interesting to me is how few people are actually excited to go back to the office,” said Georgijen.

half the workers surveyed said working remotely most or all of the time is their preferred situation, while only a quarter would prefer to spend most or all of their time in the office.

Only 12 per cent said they want to work from the office full time.

However, if offered salary increases, flexible hours, more vacations and better benefits, workers said they could be incentivized to return to the office five days a week.

At Amazon Business, Georgijen said he has been able to recruit employees from farther away now that remote and hybrid work seem like they are here to stay.

“It’s definitely opened up our talent pool, and I think many other companies would probably be seeing this as well,” he said.

However, Georgijen said he still prefers the office for team meetings or events.

“But on the day-to-day kind of work that each individual is doing, we believe that can be done either from the office or from home,” he said. “So everybody should have the flexibility to decide that for their own circumstances.”

For some companies, more flexibility may mean big changes for the office, said Georgijen.

“I definitely think companies will have to re-evaluate their real estate footprint,” he said, as well as the types of seating and rooms in the layout of the office.

The role of the office is changing for many companies, experts say: employees need a good reason to come in, whether it’s for collaboration, socializing or just to get out of the house. Offices will increasingly have more collaborative and informal spaces, with fewer individual workstations.

And employers who want to mandate their employees back to the office full or part time may be faced with resistance, as workers want the flexibility to decide for themselves when to come in. A May 2021 survey by KPMG Canada found that 77 per cent of Canadians wanted to keep some flexibility.

The big banks in Toronto’s financial district have tended to lead the way when it comes to remote and in-person work during the pandemic, and some have already started bringing workers back. Others have planned their return for later in the spring.

Insurance firm Manulife announced Wednesday that beginning March 14, fully vaccinated workers can return on a voluntary basis to its offices in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Waterloo.

So far, companies are continuing to ship office gear to employees’ homes, said Georgijen, but it will be interesting to see whether that changes as COVID-19 restrictions lift.

“We’ve seen that pattern shifting kind of from the start of the pandemic and we’ll see how it evolves,” he said.

“Maybe that will answer some of our back-to-work questions.”


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