Bring back the commute and office attire. A growing sense of isolation and lack of belonging shifting feelings on remote work

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For the first year of the pandemic, Jasper de Man rarely left his Leslieville neighborhood. As the director of a Toronto cybersecurity company, he was no stranger to working remotely. But as businesses across the country suddenly shifted to remote work, many became victims of cyberattacks, and he’s busier than ever.

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His days were filled with back-to-back calls and video meetings, and his wife working from home with him. Still life started getting lonely.

“I went into lockdown thinking ‘Oh, I know how to do this,'” said De Man, who works for ISA Cyber ​​Security. “But there’s a difference between hybrid work and 100 percent working from home.”


De Man was one of more than five million Canadians who mostly started working from home at the start of the pandemic, enjoying a break from the daily commute, morning rush and rigid office attire.

But those sentiments are beginning to shift as the autumn of the second work-from-home of the pandemic creeps in and more than four million people are still working from home – almost the same as last year this time – for many. There is no fixed date. Return to the office out of sight.

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Concerns about a fourth wave and COVID-19 variants have forced many major employers to push office-to-office plans down the road – repeatedly – increasingly worrying employees and, in some cases, workers’ shortages. Adding fuel to the fire is feeling angry and cynical as the pandemic progresses.

“We have this population that is on edge and doesn’t want much change,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president of research and total wellness at LifeWorks, a human resources company that released a report last month that found negative Highlighted was Trends in Canadian Workers’ Mental Health for the 17th consecutive month.

A LifeWorks survey of 3,000 Canadian employees conducted in late summer found that those who work exclusively from home say Feel more isolated than those who work on site or do a mix of both.

And nearly 40 percent of people who work from home at least half of the time say they don’t feel a sense of belonging or acceptance at work or were unsure about it, up 12 percentage points before the pandemic.

Similarly, a recent PwC survey in 42 countries, including Canada, found that of those working exclusively from home, 44 percent said it became more difficult to maintain a sense of community with their colleagues, while 33 percent reported continued to go to work. .

“Others are, in the best of ways, unpredictable,” Allen said. “As human beings we need a sense of belonging and belonging to other people for resilience and managing stress.”


Carly Bassian, a manager in higher education at Ryerson University who oversees a team of about a dozen people, said she likes her work-from-home routines, but when they all return to campus, times change. It has been challenging to deal with. work individually.

"We really miss each other and look forward to the day when we can be together for a team meeting," she said. "So that's the craving. And it's not clear when exactly it will come to fruition.

"Sometimes it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Bassian said she's tried to maintain a connection with her team by doing virtual social events and regular video check-ins, including one day a week where they share something they're grateful for and non-working. binding on subjects.

In the absence of the unexpected interactions that used to make daily life interesting, "employers should encourage people to use work time to connect with colleagues for informal conversations," Bassian said.

This is an important new skill for managers, many of whom have been thrown into the biggest challenge of their professional lives during the pandemic, said Jean McClellan, national people and organization leader for PwC Canada. A LifeWorks survey found that managers are struggling with their mental health more than non-managers.

"Pre-pandemic, you might have an office, you might have your door open and you might have random collisions where people bang their heads in the door," McClellan said. "Without thinking about how you recreate those conflicts, you can really cut yourself off from your team members."

LifeWorks' Allen said the lack of structure in the work-from-home world means that managers need to think differently about providing feedback and showing employees that they fit into the "big picture" at their company. Huh.

"People need to feel that they have a sense of purpose, that there is meaning in what they do and that they are valued," she stressed. Employers should take this seriously as people who do not feel connected to their jobs are less productive and difficult to retain, as professional workers are losing jobs in record numbers during COVID-19.

Taking a break from the Zoom life can also help relieve the anxiety of the unknown. Christopher Dias, who had just been called to the bar and started as an associate attorney at Learners LLP in September, said he has enjoyed connecting with colleagues from afar, and from his North York home. Is not needed. But he adds, "I like to stick my head in the office once a week, getting the vibe of downtown Toronto... I like a little bit of both."

Turns out, that's what many activists want. In a July report, LifeWorks found that two-thirds of respondents want to return to the office full-time or at least part of the time.

And yet for some, including parents with online learning and schools grappling with the COVID-19 outbreak, working from home is a huge relief, and the thought of returning to the office is a source of stress. Faced with regular discrimination in professional office environments, some ethnics have also started working from home during the pandemic.

“It stems from our collective experiences in workplaces of all types,” said Janelle Benjamin, who started All Things Equitable Inc., a Toronto-based management consulting business during the pandemic, to advise companies on addressing workplace inequalities Can go

Benjamin said how many ethnic women around the world in public and private sector jobs have told him they want to continue working remotely.

"I could literally converse with another black woman and she could tell me the exact same things about her experiences: the harassment we feel, the subtle attacks in the workplace, the troubling conversations we have. "

LifeWorks' Allen said that now that the pandemic has shed light on those experiences, it's an opportunity to rebuild a broken home. "We can't fix it by saying, 'Okay, everybody stay home.' We have to make the workplace a place where people feel mentally safe."

Recognition of the importance of mental health in the workplace has grown over the past year and a half, giving some confidence to be more forthcoming about their challenges.

By last summer, De Man decided that it wasn't healthy to keep pretending everything was okay. He began to open up to his coworkers and clients about the exhaustion, fear, and anxiety he was feeling.

Which makes more...

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