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As B.C. companies urge in-office returns, HR pros say hybrid work here to stay

Workers are back in offices, but HR professionals say a fuller return may hurt satisfaction

As more B.C. companies mandate that their employees return to in-person work at the office at least a few days per week, human resource experts say communication and flexibility are key to ensuring that employees are motivated and productive in a hybrid-work model.

“There is a trend for employers mandating their employees to return to the office. There is also small push back though where people have gotten used to working from home and enjoying working remotely,” said Naz Kullar, chair of Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) of BC & Yukon.

“Employers and employees are now more open to a hybrid model where it’s half and half,” she said. “I think hybrid is here to stay and is definitely the way of the future.”

A survey released by human resource consulting firm Robert Half earlier this year shows that nearly half of workers (47 per cent) said they’re comfortable collaborating in person, an increase from 34 per cent a year ago. The company’s August 2023 data shows that more than half (54 per cent) of hiring managers say a hybrid arrangement was the ideal situation.

Although employers and employees are more aligned on the hybrid-work model, some employees are concerned that ordering them back to the office could be seen as “power grabbing” by their bosses, which can hurt employee satisfaction and doesn’t improve firm performance, according to a research paper from the University of Pittsburgh published earlier this year.

“[Employees] are being far more accepting of [hybrid] as long as it has been communicated properly. The expectations have been set that there remains some flexibility, and most importantly that they’ve created a healthy, safe work environment,” said Ashleigh Brown, Vancouver-based group managing director at Robert Half Executive Search.

To ensure that employees are satisfied and engaged in a hybrid work arrangement, Brown said it’s essential for employers to make sure that there’s a solid reason and value added for workers to come in the office, whether it is team building, collaborative work or rolling out new information, and ensuring flexibility in terms of the dates and time employees work in the office.

“It’s all about the culture and the space you’re creating, being mindful of the employees’ concerns – health concerns, wellbeing concerns—what we’ve all come to really appreciate is that work life balance, being able to be flexible,” said Brown.

She sees a trend of employees being asked to come to the office on certain days in the morning—when important meetings, training sessions and collaborative work happen—and they can choose to stay or leave afterwards so they can, for example, pick up their child for early soccer practice.

Some companies choose one or two predetermined days when everyone comes to the office and let employees choose their third in-office day, Brown adds.

Henry Goldbeck, founder and president of Vancouver-based Goldbeck Recruiting Inc., said most B.C. companies have asked their employees to work in the office for two to three days, but the best arrangements depend on specific industries and companies.

For instance, individuals in commission-based sectors might be more productive when they work from home since they can attend their first meetings at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., cut down on commute times and maintain motivation.

“I think the biggest thing is to talk about it and listen to the employees. Listen to what works for them, works for their life. Most employees want to be productive, they want to do a good job, they want to be part of a team, so how can you help them do that in the best way possible?” said Goldbeck.

Employers should not mandate that their employees spend more time in the office just to support “management security,” he added.

“It really depends on how effective the management is,” he said. “If you are not really organized as a manager, your communication isn’t really good with your remote employees … it’s way easier to have them in the office so you see them.”

Kullar said in a labour market where it remains challenging to find talent, it’s crucial for employers to understand their team and find the balance that satisfies different needs.

“You ultimately want an engaged workforce who’s motivated to do the best job they can for your company to ultimately succeed,” she said.

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