Most workers in Canada want to return to the office, but about three quarters prefer a “hybrid” model that allows some flexibility to work remotely, according to a survey of about 2,000 people done for KPMG.

Half of respondents said they’re more productive and effective in a virtual work environment. That was a drop from 59 per cent in a similar survey a year ago, suggesting that 14 months of work-from-home arrangements are taking a toll on some employees.

Canadian office workers in finance, government and other sectors haven’t returned to their places of work as quickly as their U.S. counterparts, in part because the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign got off to a slow start. Less than 4 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

But Canada’s vaccine supply is improving and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged that all Canadians who want a vaccine will be able to get two shots by September, providing companies with an impetus to solidify their back-to-the-office plans. Some firms including Manulife Financial Corp. have already committed to retaining some form of flexible work policy when the pandemic is over.

“People miss their colleagues and just want to come back in and say hello and be a part of the buzz. So I think there is going to be a bit of a rush back into the offices,” Doron Melnick, national leader of KPMG’s people and change practice, said in an interview.

That does not mean, however, that they will want to be there five days a week. Among KPMG’s findings:

  • 63 per cent say they want to return to a physical workspace or office. KPMG partner Leigh Harris said that’s consistent with other research showing the pandemic is affecting Canadians’ mental health “and many feel overworked and burnt out” by the pandemic.
  • Nearly half of those polled are worried they could be discriminated against or overlooked for job opportunities if they keep working remotely.
  • More than 80 per cent say managers need better training to manage hybrid workplace teams.

Canadians have plenty of concerns about the safety of getting to work and dealing with colleagues once they’re there; 57 per cent say employers should have the right to demand that staff be vaccinated before they return, according to the survey.

Vaccinations and immunity to the coronavirus are the key to making workers feel it’s safe to come back, Melnick said. “Honestly, I think that’s going to be the biggest driver of whether people will see themselves as permanently back in the office or not.”