Pizza Fridays. Lego rooms. 3D printers. Free meals.
Companies are going all out to make in-office work an attractive option for employees who have gotten used to working from the comfort of their homes over the past three years.
Zoom, the face of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the latest high-profile U.S. company to order its employees to partly work from the office after similar policies introduced by Amazon and Disney this year.
In Canada, too, a growing number of companies are calling workers on-site, with several big banks mandating two to three office days per week.
But some workers are pushing back against being told to return to the office, and it’s not business as usual for many who do.
Companies are “really pushing the dial” by creating a “party-like environment,” said Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, a partner in KPMG’s people and change practice.
“There’s rooms for relaxing, there’s rooms for creativity,” she told Global News in an interview.
“So really, I think it depends a lot on how much the organization is willing to go out to bring the employees that they need according to their skill set.”
Lightspeed Commerce Inc., a Montreal-based e-commerce company, is offering three free meals a day and unlimited snacks to its employees.
Over the last three-and-a-half years, the firm has nearly doubled the size of its headquarters, bringing in a smoothie bar, an on-site barista and comfortable meeting spaces, said JP Chauvet, CEO of Lightspeed.
“The pandemic highlighted the pivotal role of workplace culture and office environments in driving collaboration and team relationships,” he told Global News in an email.
Since April 3, Lightspeed has implemented a flexible working model that encourages all employees who live within a 60-minute commute of their global offices to come in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Chauvet said this approach is designed to “foster teamwork and connection.”
From reimbursements for public transit and parking stipends to meal vouchers, there is a lot of incentivizing happening to lure workers back in, said Sherri Rabinovitch, an HR expert in Montreal and owner of The People Guru.
Despite the perks, there is a “huge resistance” to going back to the office even if it’s for one day a week, according to Rabinovitch.
“Many people have changed their entire lifestyle (in) the last three and a half years and now to force people to switch back, I have seen a lot of resistance to that,” she told Global News in an interview.
Inflation is top of mind for Canadians as the cost of living has soared and going back to the office will only add to their expenses as they shop for clothes, find transportation and pay for child care, Rabinovitch said.
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Companies also need to look beyond the monetary incentives, such as flexible working hours, to really sell the in-office approach, Rabinovitch added.
But both she and Gonzalez-Zamora believe the hybrid model is “here to stay.”
Employers embracing hybrid model as workers go back to the office
The majority of Canadians favour the hybrid work model – with the flexibility of working from home or the office, polling shows.
Nearly 80 per cent of Canadian employees who were surveyed by Angus Reid for Cisco Canada in February said hybrid work positively impacted their work-life balance, while the same proportion also said flexible work policies directly affect their decision to stay in or leave their job.
The fight over a return-to-office mandate prompted more than 100,000 public service workers to walk off the job earlier this year.
In another Angus Reid poll from April, 50 per cent of employees in Canada who work from home said they would look for another job if they were asked to return to the office full-time.
While a full back-to-office policy might work for some industries, like retail, the future of work is hybrid – and it will take many forms and have multiple dimensions, Gonzalez-Zamora said.
For instance, employees might be expected to jump from one platform to another with meetings on the metaverse, Zoom, Teams and Slack.
Going forward, employers will have to shift their mentality around the hybrid model and what that should look like, Rabinovitch argued.
Meanwhile, Canada is facing a shortage in the labour market, giving employees more leverage to negotiate in the workplace dynamic.
“I would encourage companies to reflect strongly before they start to force their employees to come into the office and make it a requirement, because we already know it’s hard to recruit,” she said.
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