Large Employers Requiring Return to Work


May 6, 2023 from CBC News


There are numerous indications that the economy is recovering from the epidemic, including a robust employment market and the World Health Organisation officially reducing COVID-19’s position as a global health emergency.


However, the best example may be in Canada’s empty downtown center with the sight of millions of office workers relocating to cities after spending the majority of the previous three years working from home.


CBC News covers this undeniable trend in an article posted this May. According to data from cellphones, the number of individuals in Canadian cities throughout the workday is now around half what it was before the pandemic. That is a significant increase from the less than 10% reported at various intervals since 2020, when the pandemic started and lockdowns were put in place.


Even if Canadian cities are still lagging behind their American counterparts, a number of significant businesses are making an effort to close the gap. The Royal Bank of Canada made a significant step by requiring that, starting on May 1, all of its staff come into the office at least three days per week, citing worries about productivity, after allowing its office staff to work from home during the pandemic.


President and CEO Dave McKay gave his reasoning for the choice, “I think that the absence of working together in many respects has led to productivity and creativity issues, and society isn’t back together enough and working enough.


RBC is not alone in this choice as the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, started forcing nearly all of its employees to work at least three days a week in the office. Amazon’s president and CEO, Andy Jassy, stated that they are “going to give the teams that need to do that work some time to develop a plan” because getting thousands of individuals back to the office — some of whom have never even been there because they were hired during the pandemic — is a complicated matter.


This is a smart approach according to Mackenzie Irwin, an employment attorney at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, as companies run the danger of facing legal repercussions if they unjustly change employees’ working circumstances. She told CBC News in an interview, “You’ve got to give your employees enough notice and time to make the necessary preparations in order to come back.”


Irwin said that calls from workers hired during the pandemic are flooding her firm as they are being asked to come into the office. The majority of the time, this isn’t good news for the employee as employers often have a very good case for requesting a return visit.


“For the majority of employees, if you started working remotely throughout the pandemic… your employer does have a right to recall you back to the office,” she said. Irwin clarified that unless your employment contract specifically states that your position is done remotely, your employer has the right to ask you to return.


Irwin observed that working remotely during the pandemic changed people’s lives. Many of these people were able to lock in these benefits by negotiating them into their contracts at a time when businesses were scrambling to fill positions. “But now we’re seeing a switch, where there’s a lot of downsizing, not a lot of hiring,” she added. It’s possible that we’re about to enter a situation in which the employees’ leverage is somewhat gone.


The current controversy over working from home comes down to a fundamental disagreement between employees and employers. Whether it’s a change that is good for the entire company or a benefit that some employees receive and others don’t, Linda Duxbury, a professor of management and strategy at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa, spoke about the situation.


Many employees believe it’s a right once they’ve worked from home for two or three years, she said in an interview. However, a lot of employers see it to be a luxury rather than a right. It’s crucial to keep in mind that the majority of individuals can’t work from home because most of them have jobs that prohibit it, according to Duxbury. The disagreement between the two sides over the remaining objectives, however, has led to a standoff.


Before the pandemic, Irwin explained that employers really equated productivity “to hours at work, being available 24/7, working, being visible, never saying no, et cetera.” According to Duxbury, workers who are succeeding from home report putting in the same number of hours and doing as much work as they did previously. “But employers have changed the definition of productivity. Now they’re saying it’s about creativity, innovation, social connection, culture.”


The issue for employers, Duxbury says, is that there isn’t much concrete evidence to support the idea that in-person collaboration is better for business. As a result, employees who are meeting and exceeding the same work goals they’ve always had feel unnecessarily resentful of having to go back to the office.


She stated that “we have to be able to have the discussion on productivity – not focusing on hours and availability – but focusing on output,”.





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