Giving employees flexibility works – and workers are concerned about losing it

This is the weekly Careers newsletter.

Déjà Leonard is a copywriter and freelance journalist based in Calgary.

The pandemic gave many workers the opportunity to work from home, but now big, high-profile companies like Amazon, Disney and Tesla have been pushing employees to spend more time in the office.

And the conversation around return-to-office isn’t heating up at just big US companies. Earlier this year, the Canadian federal government mandated that public workers return to the office at least part-time.

The idea wasn’t well received by some staff.

“The government doesn’t have a case,” Marc Brière, national president for the Union of Taxation Employees, said to CTV News. “They’re not telling us why we’re forced arbitrarily to go back to work … nothing is preventing us from conducting strike votes and it’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of when we start to conduct strike votes and it’s coming fast.”

They’re far from the only workers who don’t want to be forced back to the office. New data from recruitment firm Robert Half show 45 per cent of Canadians are worried about losing the ability to work where they want this year.

Many of those who champion remote work point to studies and surveys that show the model have advantages for people and their employers.

For example, data from Future Forum, a research association created by instant-messaging provider Slack, shows that workers who have full schedule flexibility report 29 per cent higher productivity and a 53-per-cent greater ability to focus than workers with no ability to shifts their schedule.

The survey also found that remote and hybrid employees are more likely to feel connected to their direct manager and their company’s values, and are equally or more likely to feel connected to their immediate teams, as fully in-office workers are.

There is also evidence that flexible work helps keep employees around for longer. One survey from Monster, a career resource company, stated that two-thirds of employees said they would quit if they were required to return to the office full-time, and 40 per cent would consider quitting even if it were just one day per week .

However, some leaders, including Forage CEO Tom Brunskill, believe that nothing can replace in-person interaction, and that a middle ground is needed.

“I truly believe that you can have your cake and eat it too when it comes to building a work policy that works for both employees and businesses,” Mr. Brunskill said.

Forage, a company that facilitates virtual work experiences, employs a hybrid model that gives employees choices on how they work, based on what they value.

The company has offices in key locations for those who want the option to meet in-person more often. They also host get-togethers at the team level and across the business so that people can connect with their colleagues and other teams throughout the year.

Mr. Brunskill says that this approach is having a positive impact on employee retention.

The company has seen a 5-per-cent voluntary attrition rate. When you compare that with other startups, who often see attrition rates as high as 50 per cent, he knows the company is doing something right.

“I think that’s because that hybrid approach recognizes that all people are different,” Mr. Brunskill said.

He also said it allows his business to accommodate the time zones of their global clients and attract the best talent, instead of just the local work force.

“My strong belief is that a hybrid model, if thoughtfully implemented, can cater to everyone’s unique circumstances, while also ensuring that the business delivers on what it needs to,” he said.

What I’m reading around the web

  • A new workplace trend, “bare minimum Monday,” is emerging as more workers are choosing to prioritize their mental health and well-being before they immerse themselves in a busy week. From declining meetings on Mondays to waiting a few hours to check e-mail, bare minimum Monday can look different for each individual.
  • In this short and sweet post, Amy Edmonson, a professor from the Harvard Business School, challenges leaders to think more like scientists in the way they interact with their teams. She said that not only is traditional management logic ineffective, but it can be destructive to performance, especially during uncertain times.
  • Setting boundaries can sound intimidating, but relationship therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab breaks down how you can start using boundaries to feel more empowered at work. Watch the TED talk, or read the video transcript, for a three-step process that helps you set and hold firmly to your boundaries.

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