Last March, as COVID-19 was surging in Europe and spreading into North America, the percentage of Canadian teleworkers surged almost overnight from less than 15% to around 40%, according to Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay, a researcher with the Université TELUQ*.
For many employees, teleworking was a completely new way of working, and one they had to balance with other concurrent changes, i.e., children home from school, daycares closed, partner also working from home, elderly loved ones requiring extra attention, etc.
The pandemic forced employers to impose arrangements that they had previously been disinclined to consider. They had to adapt quickly and adjust their expectations to reflect the extraordinary circumstances, and for the most part, we hear anecdotally that employees rose to the occasion and did their best to meet their obligations. Technology has certainly been an essential part of this success. Some employers provided furniture or allowances to help their staff setup workspaces, but most made do with what they had: kitchen table, couch, side table, etc.
A significant number of organizations have stated that these arrangements will continue well into 2021, and some have indicated that they will become permanent for portions of their staff. What does this mean for employees? A study conducted by Tania Saba, professor at the University of Montréal, found that 39% of teleworkers were inclined to continue working from home, 37% expressed little or no interest in continuing and 24% were undecided.
Older workers with fewer family responsibilities tend to appreciate teleworking. For those not as interested in working from home, the downsides include feeling isolated and confined, disconnected from their team and the decision centre, unable to “turn off” at the end of the day, as well as yearning for an efficiently organized work environment and missing the social interaction.
If the future is more reliance on telework, the corporate world will have to speed up its slow transition from the traditional model of fixed hours and strict attendance. But even with a rejuvenated management style, it seems that employees will prefer having a choice in the matter. A combined schedule of telework with on-site time could be the favoured model. As corporations explore future office spaces, they may decide that situating offices closer to residential areas or in easier to access locations that provide meeting rooms, shared office space, opportunity for networking and socializing, workshops and seminars, gym, etc. will help balance the arrangement.
In terms of talent management and mobility, the horizon is certainly changing. There may be a need to attract candidates with allowances for home office furniture, improved internet connection or maybe even small workspace renovation projects, as well as other perks that would lessen some of the downsides of working from home. Already, many companies are allowing employees to start new distance assignments from their home location. They may come to the conclusion that the entire project can be handled in this manner, or with a couple of business trips rather than a complete relocation? Others may go for a relocation that encompasses a strong telework feature in the destination. Much of this will depend on what employees and families require to feel at ease and productive but will also have to be balanced with the organization’s objectives with business cases focussing on related financials and cultural dependencies.
Much of the current reliance on working from home is a necessary change resulting from the pandemic. However, we know that this situation will go on for a while, and if we do something long enough, it becomes a habit.
*Université TÉLUQ is a public French-language distance learning university, part of the Université du Québec system.