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Why Hybrid Work is Here to Stay


The COVID-19 pandemic changed the shape of many workplaces as society was forced into an unplanned experiment in working from home. Now, as we emerge nearly two and a half years on from a fourth wave, most acknowledge that new working norms have evolved, and that flexible work is now an enduring part of our workplace.

Studies like Statistics Canada's Working from home: Productivity and preferences provide a snapshot of how Canadians fit flexible work into their lives.

In the study, 90% of new teleworkers reported being at least as productive (accomplishing at least as much work per hour) at home as they were in their previous place of work.

At 58%, more than half reported accomplishing the same amount of work per hour, while 32% reported accomplishing even more work at home! The remaining 10% found that they accomplished less work per hour while working from home.

Interestingly, men and women tended to report a similar extent of being at least as productive at home than in the office regardless of age, education, industry, occupation, marital status, and whether or not they have children.

It's important to remember that not everyone perceives remote work similarly. Some do not have the tools or skills to work remotely, and others may feel their home environments are unsuitable. Some individuals thrive in an environment in which they interact with work colleagues. For this reason, collaboration with employees to determine what model works best for them is essential.

Some employees may prefer hybrid or remote work for reasons associated with protected grounds under human rights legislation.

Employers are now also considering how flexible working fits their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies. Suppose hiring and promotion decisions are made based on relationships and visibility in the office environment. In that case, remote workers may be disadvantaged, and those less likely to participate in these traditional networking activities may be marginalized even further.

What are some of the obstacles to performance in working remotely?
There are challenges to working from home. According to the McKinsey survey, younger people were more likely to say that mental health issues impacted their ability to work effectively. Workers with children at home also reported problems with physical health or a hostile work environment that affected their ability to do their jobs.

Another big challenge is that remote workers report spending too much time in video meetings, often on pointless interactions that drain energy and cause information overload.

Some have challenges in stepping away from the desk at the day's end and controlling their work hours when working from home. The question of 'work hours' is further complicated when colleagues are in different time zones. Some employers mandate core hours and 'logging in and out,' while others opt for flexibility and moving away from traditional working hours.

Many employers are considering adapting their workplace culture initiatives to acknowledge work-life balance.

Recent legislative changes that impact remote work
The Ontario government has introduced amendments to Ontario's Employment Standards Act that speak to work-life balance. The legislation requires that employers that employ 25 or more employees are required to have a written policy on disconnecting from work in place for all employees and that all employees be given a copy. Interestingly, it doesn't give employees a right to disconnect; it just states that an employer must have a policy!

Another issue that has arisen is the question of how much information your employer can have in relation to your network and computer while you are working remotely. In this context, it's important to note that the courts have said that employees have a limited expectation of privacy in the workplace.

Further amendments to the Employment Standards Act state that any employer who employs 25 or more employees must have a written policy on the electronic monitoring of employees. Your HR department should create a policy that describes how and in what circumstances your employer may monitor you and for what purpose.

For example, some employers may wish to monitor hours to measure productivity and support work continuity or to determine whether an employee has worked overtime. They may also be using it to monitor for misconduct.

Other human resources issues arise in the context of work flexibility. Your employer may ask you for your written consent for changes to hours, responsibilities, or wages associated with working from home. Your employer should be transparent in these dealings so that it's clear why they are making any change to your contract of employment.

You may even be asked to consider workplace safety issues in your home, such as ergonomic chairs and potential hazards, because of occupational health and safety legislation.

Our remote work policy
ARAG has adopted a collaborative, hybrid work policy for our Toronto head office.

Each team is required to work in-office one day a week. However, it is their decision regarding which day that is. For the remainder of the week, it is up to the individual to choose where they work. In fact, before this policy was even formalized, many of our teams had already voluntarily selected one or two days a week to come into the office to collaborate and spend time together in-person.

We have found that this employee-focused work arrangement produces optimal productivity, work-life balance, and employee satisfaction.

The implications of flexible work on our cities and homes are still playing out, but there is little doubt that remote work is here to stay, and we believe its impacts are good overall.