Sabrina Almeida

Have you received any communication about going back to the office yet? How do you feel about returning to the workplace? Many are on edge  about having to show up in the office.

Most Canadian employers are preparing to have at least some, if not all, of their employees back in the workplace this fall. Several friends shared that they’re expected back in September and October. But after working from home for more than a year, few are excited about going in.

There’s a long list of reasons for this unwillingness, the most common being the reluctance to give up the flexibility and time with family that remote work allows.

Most also feel that being in the office is unnecessary as they have been conscientious, more productive, even worked longer hours from home. They don’t want to waste time commuting. 

They want their employers to offer the work-from-home option given how well it has worked out during the pandemic, or at the very least take the hybrid approach. Meaning just one or two days in the office.

Employers, on the other hand, say that there is more at stake than productivity and are concerned about the emotional well-being of their workers. A CNN report suggests that some firms are worried about employee burnout given that there has been no switch off time with remote work as well as a lack of social contact with colleagues.

Employees are not buying into this concern about their mental well-being. According to studies, many are willing to force their employer’s hand or move to jobs with remote work options. They also want it to be a permanent feature.

Another big reason for the lack of enthusiasm for going back to the workplace is the fear of contracting the coronavirus while travelling by public transport or in common areas like meeting rooms, break rooms, and washrooms. So, some friends are finding ways to get out of it. A few have decided not to share their vaccination status with their employer (unless mandatory) while others have prepared a list of ‘medical’ reasons why it is not safe for them (or a member of their household) to return to the office. 

Human resources departments are going to have a challenging time sorting these out.

Some working parents are uncomfortable with the idea of being forced to send their kids into school and daycare because they’re expected to be back in the office. They’re also worried about the possibility of children being sent home sick.

While all the reasons and concerns expressed above may be logical, returning to the workplace seems inevitable. At least from the economic point of view. 

There are thousands of local businesses whose livelihood depends on people returning to the workplace. It’s the reason why Toronto is reopening City Hall and other civic services from August 9. As Mayor John Tory said, “it is a great step forward for the downtown core and many areas across our city, the local economy, and local businesses”. Other municipalities will soon follow suit. Governments don’t really have a choice in the matter.

So, the real question here is whether any employee can refuse to come back to the office and still have a job? And for how long?

There’s plenty of advice and tips on how to make a strong case on the Internet which only goes to show that the concern about returning to work is huge. It’s also not limited to Ontario or Canada but global.

The post-pandemic workscape is going to be a difficult one to navigate both for employers and their workers. As employees get used to the idea of returning to the office, maintaining their health and safety will become a moral, ethical, and legal concern for all businesses. Rules, responsibilities and relationships will change along with the physical set up.

While most of us realize that this change is inevitable, some are clinging to the hope that the Delta variant will delay the return to the workplace a bit longer. 

A CNBC report suggests that an uptick in cases is causing some US firms to postpone their return-to-office dates. Keeping this in mind, many Canadian employers have added the words “if possible and feasible” to their return plans. 

Given the legal ramifications of workplace infections and the looming fourth wave, those looking to continue working remotely might just get their wish.

 

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