Calgary employers are re-evaluating office needs and creating back-to-work plans

During the pandemic, commuting for a nine-to-five job could often be measured in steps rather than kilometres, as many worked from home.

As September nears, some Calgary employers are looking for that to change. 

One key step companies and employees can take right now, according to an expert, is open and clear communication about what’s expected in the weeks and months to come. 

“There’s only so much you can get done on a video call,” said Local Laundry co-owner Connor Curran. “It’s a bit cold and impersonal and everyone’s just sick of being on video calls.”

As it turns out, a lot can change for a business throughout a pandemic. Local Laundry had only one full-time employee when the lockdowns started, but the custom-garment company fared well over the past 17 months. Curran now has five full-time employees instead of just one, and many haven’t met in person yet.

“We don’t want to go, you know, zero to 100, and everyone has to be in the office all the time,” Curran said. “So a coworking space, I think it could really help with that.”

Concerns about a 4th wave

There is one thing holding him back from jumping into a lease: the delta variant.

“We’re kind of still in this wait-and-see approach,” Curran said. “We know we want office space. We know we want to create that space. But this notion that this fourth wave potentially coming is … stopping us from taking the leap.”

Goodlawyer, an interactive online service to find legal help, started at Brett Colvin’s kitchen table with three employees but quickly expanded to include 20 people, all working remotely.

When public health restrictions were lifted in Alberta, Colvin signed his company’s first office lease. 

Working in office leads to morale boost

“We struck quickly, found a great space,” he said. 

Now that Goodlawyer has an office, Colvin said morale has gone up, people are smiling and enjoying social interactions again.

“We have a totally optional office policy,” Colvin said. “No one has to come into work. But I can tell you, everyone on the team has because they’ve been looking for that opportunity to reconnect with people.”

Mount Royal University associate professor Melanie Peacock says the most important thing right now is two-way communication:

  • Addressing health measures and outlining where the employer’s responsibility on those measures lies and where employees are expected to pitch in.
  • Setting expectations on work arrangements and outlining why working remotely full time may or may not be the plan going forward.
  • Giving employees an open line to give feedback and ask questions.

Hybrid approach may be best

Despite fears around the pandemic and a fourth wave, mental health is a concern, too, and there are benefits to working together in person, Peacock says.

“Look at what’s needed to keep your organization viable,” she said. “Look at what your employees can do and what they’re able to contribute and what their needs are. And perhaps a hybrid when it can work might be the middle ground for now.” 

Many are still wondering, though, Is it too soon to return to the office?

Peacock says no one knows the future, it’s hard to predict how the latest stages of the pandemic will unfold.

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