Around the Within a year of the pandemic, most companies had developed a preliminary plan back to the office. Industry leaders tried to influence trends, or at least the headlines, with bold decisions, like Shopify, which publicly declared “Office centrality is over.” Others, like Apple, informed employees they would be expected to be in the office a minimum of three days a week in the fall. Then came the Delta variant and the innovative COVID. Studies reported one fifth of Canadian workers said they would quit if forced to return to an office full time. We sat down with Megumi Mizuno, chief of staff for Vancouver-based Traction on Demand, Salesforce’s largest consulting partner in North America, and Paul Burns, managing director of Twitter Canada in Toronto, to find out how they are trying to bring together people again. No danger.
MEGUMI MIZUNO: Traction on Demand has just under 1,100 people and most worked in offices before the pandemic. Right now, our spaces in Burnaby, Nelson, Montreal and Toronto are open again, but there is no mandate to return. We will maintain our offices across the country, but will seek to sublease the excess space that we now have, such as one of our two floors at our Burnaby headquarters.
PAUL BURNS: Twitter Canada’s head office is in Toronto and we have offices around the world with approximately 6,000 employees. Most of the time we worked in the office, with a few exceptions. We do not have a set date for the reopening of our Toronto office. Right now, we are testing ways to reconfigure our spaces to better support hybrid work and curation areas for collaboration, silent focus, and socializing.
MM: Our team has really enjoyed working from home; By not having to travel to the office, they simply realized that they were less stressed. Childcare issues were a bit more flexible. But they also missed the interaction with other “Tractionites”. So our CEO Greg Malpass had an idea: There are all these local restaurants that are empty during the day. Could we use them as meeting places for our employees? So that’s what we want to do now: partner with local businesses to create remote workspaces so staff can connect without having to travel a lot. The plan is to start with three spaces and we would like to establish a type of minimum spending arrangement. We know that many of these small businesses have suffered from the pandemic.
“Our team has really enjoyed working from home; they just realized they were less stressed.”
PB: For now, we allow team members to make the decision that is right for them. But since we are a technology platform, our corporate security teams likely have something to say about third-party spaces.
MM: Ours does, too, but we’re going to work with them to figure it out. Making these plans is like a pendulum: you swing too far in one direction and then too far in the other, and at some point you fall in the middle. And that medium is going to change. So we constantly talk to people and give them as many options as possible because no one solution is going to be right for everyone.
PB: We’ve been using email, Slack channels, and intranet sites to keep our staff up-to-date on the latest plans, and the reactions have been mixed. Some people are excited to go back and others have said, “I will never go back.” I’m trying to be very honest with them and help them unravel some of the feelings they are having. For one thing, there is social anxiety about going back to the office, like “Am I really going to have to interact with humans in real life?” On the other hand, there are people who yearn for interaction, who are energized by it. I also hear people worry that their career advancement opportunities will suffer if they are not in the office. So we want to help staff navigate that and make sure people know that we trust them to do what’s right for them.
MM: I’ve been thinking about how women are particularly inclined to work from home. We don’t want people who work remotely to miss out on opportunities. We will have to keep seeing that. We are also working on various justice, diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, such as workshops and training programs, so that employees who work from home have the same opportunities to network with leaders and build those relationships.
Reactions have been mixed: some people are excited to come back and others have said, “I will never go back.”
PB: On Twitter, we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner for employees in an open space with a kitchen. That common space is the place where relationships are formed and built, and I’m excited about the idea of it being restored. I find it more difficult to create that virtually; You miss those wacky organic moments of meeting someone on a deeper level. Facilitating those spaces, for me, can only happen in an office environment. That’s not to say that a hybrid model wouldn’t work for Twitter, but it would be an intermediate step.