Work From Home (WFH). It’s no longer a fad, and it’s not (yet) a new normal. However, for many Edmonton employers and employees, it is a rumbling and hot issue.
To hybrid or not to hybrid. That is the Edmonton corporate dilemma. For many Edmontonians, enjoying and even celebrating their newfound work routines or crediting pandemic disruptions for making it all happen, it may be surprising that the WFH concept actually dates back nearly three decades.
It’s hardly ancient history or corny nostalgia but, in the early 1990s when technology and clicking computers barely began to crudely connect web users worldwide, companies first started experimenting with remote work as a viable way to do things and to have workers work from outside the office.
The cell phone explosion fueled the idea even more, as all kinds of employees and businesspeople did their work from home, coffee shops, golf courses, cottages and anywhere else where there was a cell signal, internet or both.
Of course, the WFH option was popularized, normalised and also served as a sudden-but-perfect fit as a pandemic necessity for Edmonton employers, employees and students.
Since then, various employment surveys have shown that as much as three times more people are now working from home or in hybrid situations, than during the scramble and crunch time of the pandemic. Re-jigged work routines are parts of the workplace’s new normal and often a new component of corporate health.
WFH or hybrid versions have caught on so much that even Statistics Canada (StatsCan) is officially involved.
“Based on the census of population,” explains Vincent Hardy, senior analyst, Statistics Canada, “the share of workers who usually worked at home was 7.7 per cent in 2006 and 7.4 per cent in 2016. At the beginning of the pandemic, StatsCan started collecting data on work from home every month through the Labour Force Survey. In April 2020, at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, 41.1 per cent of workers were working most of their hours from home. By July 2020, the number fell to 28.4 per cent.”
He notes that last year, StatsCan enhanced its data collection strategy and started to collect information on hybrid work – an arrangement where a worker usually works some hours at home and some hours at another location. The numbers track that, while WFH trends stabilized, hybrid options are rising.
“Based on what happened in 2022, with the re-opening of the economy and the workplace and based on what’s happened so far, the easing of restrictions has not triggered a mass return to the office; but, there does seem to be a transition to hybrid work in many industries.”
StatsCan shows that, in January 2022, almost 24 per cent of workers worked exclusively from home and 3.3 per cent had a hybrid arrangement. By the end of last year, the share of workers who worked exclusively from home fell to 15.8 per cent, while the share of workers with a hybrid arrangement increased to 9.6 per cent.
On Edmonton’s corporate side of the new workplace trending, WFH or hybrid arrangements involve new HR challenges and new ways of doing things.
“Pre-pandemic, there were endless articles and hype about ‘digital nomads,’ those who could work from anywhere and not be tied to a physical location, although it was typically limited to the technology space,” explains Rob Kilarski, CPHR, MIRHR, a respected human resources professional in Edmonton and manager of corporate governance & human at Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation.
“The trend and desire for flexibility by employees did begin long before the pandemic but usually revolved around basic, flexible scheduling. For most of the workforce, the default work location was usually on-site, at the office, since many employers did not yet have the technology, processes or procedures in place for WFH. It was seen as not possible for many roles, despite occasional employee requests.
“Also, competitor organizations didn’t tend to offer WFH so competitive recruitment pressures to offer WFH weren’t felt, either,” he adds.
Then, with disruptions during COVID and transformational and sophisticated technologies like Zoom, things changed. WFM became routine. As Kilarski points out, WFH options have pros and cons for employees and the company.
“For the company, it works out to a significant savings for how much office space is needed to do business. If 10,000 square feet was required before with a full office, how much office space is required with increasing WFH?”
Another corporate aspect is ESG, the hot corporate topic of environment, social and governance. Having the bulk of the workforce reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating lengthy commutes to work also reflects a positive organizational impact on the environment.
Flexibility is a key factor. “Employees are desiring flexibility from their employers in terms of how and where they do their work in order to accommodate increasingly busy and complex lives,” he says. “WFH also creates increased employee focus. Depending on the role, many employees find working at home to be less distracting than conventional working in the office.”
There’s no denying that, for the company and the employees, there are downsides. While it’s sometimes quick referenced as socializing, a vital issue for employees is less effective communication and collaboration.
“Effectiveness of communication can be reduced, especially when problems arise,” Kilarski notes from much professional HR experience. “Spontaneous office conversations often lead to creative solutions, conflict resolution and camaraderie. It doesn’t really happen working virtually, where communication is more controlled. Employees can sometimes feel like they are being more intrusive calling up someone on Teams, instead of popping their head in a doorway.”
For the company, a major downside is the pervasive risk of unleashed technology; too much WFH access from too many sources. Risks such as data breaches, privacy breaches, and home office health and safety all need to be managed with strong company policies and procedures.
On the corporate upside, WFH is a bonus by giving the company an increased talent pool.
“Employees may not be bound to a physical office and employers may be able to hire employees from other job markets that were not available before, due to the constraints of commuting to an office,” he says.
WFM is transforming the workplace. While much of it is untested and new territory, it is interesting and offers exciting new ways of work.
“WFH is seen as highly desirable by employees and potential employees. In roles where remote work is feasible, employers are losing desirable candidates due to being unable to offer fully remote work; even hybrid WFH is not sufficient to attract some highly sought after employees,” Kilarski points out. “Unless employers are able to offer other compelling reasons to work at their organization that they can effectively communicate (e.g. higher than market salary, attainable advancement opportunities, etc.) they will be hard-pressed to attract and retain highly sought after candidates, especially when competitor organizations are willing to offer WFH or fully remote work for similar roles.”