Demand for office space steady despite slower return-to-office: Colliers Canada report
Hybrid and remote arrangements that became commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic may not be going away any time soon, but some big Canadian employers want people to clock in from their office desks more frequently.
Nearly three years after the global pandemic set in, sending office workers home with their laptops in hand, public health restrictions have largely lifted, and companies are starting to ramp up their number of mandatory office days. Starbucks, Disney and Twitter are among the global names that recently announced plans to order workers back to corporate offices more frequently in 2023.
Canadian employers are tentatively following suit, but leaders acknowledge they are walking a tricky tightrope as survey data suggests many Canadians would consider changing jobs if forced back to their offices full time.
In an interview with BNN Bloomberg last month, Royal Bank of Canada CEO Dave McKay said his organization is “on a journey to make sure that we're in half or more than half the time in the office,” but also spoke to the challenges of getting hybrid staff back at their office desks for his ideal two-to-three days per week.
“There is resistance, honestly. It's a difficult needle to move,” McKay said.
Some junior and senior employees want to be in the office, he said, while many employees want to “balance their lives” and family obligations. McKay said meeting with employees and hearing their perspectives has been important to the ongoing transition.
“It's really about connecting your organization and making sure we're on the same page at the same time,” he said.
Other Canadian banks said they intend to keep hybrid workweeks, with some adjustments to accommodate people wary of long commutes.
David Noel, senior vice-president of Global HR Services at Scotiabank, said the organization is taking a “purpose-driven” approach to its return-to-office plan, with in-office requirements depending on the type of role and tasks on a given day.
Employee feedback is playing a role in the plans. Noel said Scotiabank is opening two new “community working spaces” in Mississauga and Scarborough this month to accommodate workers who moved further west or east of Toronto during the pandemic, after hybrid employees cited long commutes as a main factor keeping them at home. The new workspaces include “areas for focused work, a flexible area for team meetings or training session, day lockers, printing and a bistro.”
“As the response from employees has been positive, we will continue to take this activity-based approach to work. We also remain committed to testing new and different work options based on feedback from leaders and employees,” Noel said in a statement.
Bank of Montreal said its work models are also “driven by client, job and business needs,” with some workers based in office, others hybrid and some remote.
As corporate Canada tries to accommodate more in-office days, public sector workers are also under pressure to return.
Federal public service workers were mandated to return to the office in January after nearly three years, despite vocal pushback from their union. And next month, City of Toronto employees are being asked to return to their offices for two to three days per week.
In a statement to BNNBloomberg.ca, the City of Toronto said it updated its hybrid work policy as other companies moved to do the same in light of loosening pandemic measures.
The first year of the City’s hybrid work plan, which began in 2022, took a “less prescriptive approach,” the statement said, “which was more reflective of the place the City was at in the pandemic, allowing for physical distancing.”
The union representing city workers, meanwhile, said it’s unhappy with the city’s plan as COVID-19 continues to spread, and workers feel they have been productive enough working at home.
“We are perplexed that the City of Toronto is initiating a mandatory return-to-work scheme for employees who have capably been executing their work tasks remotely,” Casey Barnett, president of CUPE Local 79, said in a written statement to BNNBloomberg.ca
Barnett also noted that COVID-19 continues to pose a public health threat but measures aimed at reducing viral spread have been reduced.
“We are urging the City to reconsider this ill-advised return-to-work plan,” Barnett said.