Canadian companies delay return to office amid Delta variant concerns

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Despite initially planning a return to office this fall, companies across the country are now starting to push back the expected date to early 2022, marking nearly two years of remote work.

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Many companies initially planned to reopen for Labor Day, or targeted Thanksgiving as a key point in their return-to-office plans. But those plans are being shelved as the delta version of the COVID-19 surges and companies continue to deliberate on how to handle the complexities of flexible work arrangements while balancing employee preferences.

Toronto-Dominion Bank is one of those delaying sweeping returns, in a mid-September internal memo asking employees to see them next year, further ceasing previous plans to open in the spring and summer of 2021 . The bank also requires employees to upload their vaccination status to a mandatory registry.

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Laurentian Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce are also postponing reopenings until the new year, and Manulife Financial Corp is limiting office workers to essential workers for the remainder of 2021.

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Similarly, Desjardins Group has yet to set a return to office date for its 40,000 employees who work from home, according to spokesman Chantal Corbeil in an e-mail. Instead, she said, they would wait until public-health officials provide further guidelines.

American companies are following suit. In early September, US bank Wells Fargo & Co told its employees that they could expect to return in early November. On 28 September, it extended that date to 10 January. Uber Technologies Inc. recently announced its reopening plans for the same date, with Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Google LLC sharing similar plans for a 2022 start.

“Most, if not all, companies we work with decided to push back the work-from-home policy for the new year,” said Jean-François, Canada’s executive vice president for recruitment company Randstad SourceRight. Vezina said. “They realized that the cases are increasing and it is not worth the risk in the long term.”

In fact, August vote Research firm Gartner Inc found that two-thirds of organizations are delaying reopening because of new COVID-19 variants. The survey of 238 executive leaders, mostly from North America, also found that companies are offering a variety of draws, including extra vacation time or monetary incentives, to get employees back into the office.

Some have even told their employees that they will never have to return. Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers announced on October 1 that its US employees would have the option to stay away permanently.

Mr Vezina expects the companies to open their offices in the spring of 2022, but says it could be pushed to the second or third quarter if the situation with the Delta version remains the same or gets worse.

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That timeline may be too soon, according to Linda Duxbury, a professor in the Sprout School of Business at Carleton University.

“I think many key organizational decision makers are heaving a huge sigh of relief right now, because the fourth wave means they don’t have to turn people back when they’re not ready,” Prof. Duxbury said.

Instead, she expects large companies to test pilot programs in the new year before a broad return to office. This includes considerations of training, cyber security, mental health and employee evaluation.

“Our data shows that many top decision makers and companies do not know how to bring people back,” Prof. Duxbury said. “This whole idea of ​​hybrid work is very complicated.”

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said that in addition to health concerns, labor shortages could put additional pressure on companies to meet the wishes of their knowledge workers.

“Many employees have had a taste for working from home, and now quite like it and do not wish to return to the office. That’s why employers are being pushed to delay the reopening of their offices so that they don’t lose out on their talent,” Mr Kelly said.

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Until then, Mr. Kelly says, the hybrid approach will remain common, with companies experimenting with different in-person formats, asking teams to volunteer, or assigning in-person days on a daily or weekly rotation. is included.

“If they miscalculate, they can start losing people,” Mr Vezina said. “We’ve seen that with organizations that forced it a little too early – we saw people resigning and moving into positions or organizations that were more flexible.”

Some companies are simultaneously avoiding the date of return. Consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited is one of the first to gradually welcome employees on a voluntary basis, taking into account local restrictions and capacity limits.

“The way things are going with the pandemic, a scheduled return-to-office date doesn’t seem realistic,” said Linda Blair, Deloitte’s chief experience officer. She said that the company has started welcoming employees to its offices. Employees must book a location ahead of time and fill out a health-assessment form.

“That way, they can keep planning and not worry about a date when everything changes,” Ms Blair said.

Although they originally had a return set for October 12, according to Danny Derry, vice president of employee experience, the National Bank of Canada canceled that date in the last week of September, instead without a set date. Opted to reopen sequentially.

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Bank of Montreal’s trading floor is also set to open sometime this fall, although its US offices begin opening in June, spokeswoman Kelly Hechler said in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, others are still expecting definite returns in office work this year.

The Bank of Nova Scotia said it would open its offices to senior leaders by October 1 and select teams in the Greater Toronto Area to return to work on a voluntary basis. Law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP said it would begin encouraging employees to return on a limited and gradual basis after October 4, subject to attendance caps.

Huami, an HR company based in Toronto, is planning several events during the first week of December, although it will also allow employees to work remotely if they wish.

Andrea Bartlett, director of people operations, said the complicated logistics of bringing back its work force has been one of the reasons behind the delayed return – its team has doubled in the past year to 100 employees. Installing equipment, rearranging work areas and posting COVID-19 safety signs, she said, has taken longer than expected.

“A lot of things go behind the scenes for an office to reopen,” Ms Bartlett said.

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Companies spread across provincial borders face even greater challenges. Although private-equity firm Investissements Novacap Inc., Brossard, Que. Located in the U.S., one-third of the company’s 90 employees live in Ontario. Mark Trepanier, NovaCap’s vice president of human resources, said this makes returning to office doubly complicated, as his team struggles with government sanctions in two jurisdictions.

Among his team’s concerns are questions about making vaccinations mandatory for employees. Mr Trepanier said the firm would require employees entering the office to show proof of vaccination, but they are still expecting further instructions from the government on what companies can legally enforce.

“When we talk to our lawyers, that question is still here,” Mr Trepanier said.

For others, the future is unclear. John Marafino, president of VMC Media, a small media business in Toronto, said he has no concrete plans to bring his 20-member workforce back into office. For now, they will continue to operate entirely remotely.

“There is a great level of uncertainty in all businesses and in all categories, so leaders are reluctant to make quick decisions because things are changing all the time. It is almost as if procrastination is underway at this point.”

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