Three years after the majority of companies sent employees home for a temporary lockdown, the vast majority of them want to see people back in the office. But executives at large organizations have different ideas about how to best do that.

In 2022 Manulife created a plan to woo employees back to the office. Manulife’s chief executive Roy Gori says a complete overhaul of the company’s nearly 100-year-old office building, as well as pro-actively listening to employee feedback on their hybrid arrangement, has already paid off.

“We’re not seeing any decrease in productivity,” Mr. Gori says. “If anything, I think we’re going to see – and probably already are seeing – productivity improve because people are now being more purposeful with their time.”

Manulife started off with three mandatory days but after employee feedback dropped that number to two. Now, every Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Gori sees about 91% of his Toronto staff who worked in-office pre-pandemic have returned. The company’s U.S. headquarters in Boston, Mass., which has a similar requirement, is operating at about 90%, while the Asian operations have already hit its pre-pandemic level of 95% in-office attendance.

What is surprising, says Mr. Gori, is that on certain nonmandatory days the company has also seen a boost in attendance. For example, in Canada, Monday is the third most popular day of the week for attendance, with about 70% of employees in-office.

The numbers stand out for a company operating in Toronto – a city that has fallen behind the average occupancy achieved in major U.S. cities, with an average weekly attendance rate of 43% in downtown office buildings, according to recent data by Strategic Regional Research Alliance. The U.S. is closer to 50%, while Europe and the Middle East have seen office attendance return to 70% to 90%, according to research by Jones Lang Lasalle, a global commercial real estate company. In Asia, that number jumps to around 80% to 110% – meaning some workers are spending more time in office than they did before the pandemic.

“Other companies are not choosing the [mandatory] route, but we think the combination of hybrid and compulsory days is going to be a part of what makes our culture better in the long run,” Mr. Gori says. “I have no worries that some of my competitors have got a very different philosophy. It’s a competitive advantage that we will see take three years to pan out entirely.”

But to start, Mr. Gori knew he had to “earn the commute.” The company eliminated overly large executive offices, revived the company cafeteria and upgraded its wellness and fitness centre. In addition to a ground floor barista, the cafeteria offers multiple meal and snack options, as well as foosball tables. The company provides a 25% discount on food and beverages, with kiosks that serve both Tim Hortons and Starbucks. A separate food station sits at the entrance of the cafeteria, offering different menu items every week.

In order to drive the masses through the doors, employers need to create value for workers, says Heather Haslam, vice-president of marketing at payroll processor ADP Canada. “Companies need to create purposeful reasons for people to want to come back,” Ms. Haslam said. “The idea of having one day where the whole team is face to face brings value, because if I come in and sit at my desk on Zoom all day, there is zero value for me to pay for that commute, for parking or dry cleaning. It is not worth the cost of my time.”

About 83% of companies across the country are making efforts to entice employees to work more frequently in the office, including offering office perks, according to research by Robert Half Canada Inc., a global human resource consulting firm. These can include free meals, commuter benefits, enhanced workplace set-ups such small conference rooms, offering greater engagement opportunities with leadership, or scheduling social events. As well, almost 40% of employees in Canada say a search for better office perks and benefits are among the top reasons they are actively looking to leave their current job, according to Robert Half Canada.

Sheila Botting, head of professional services for the Americas at real estate company Avison Young, has spent years advising companies on how to redesign their corporate space. She says she’s noticed that the companies who are spending the time – and the money – to develop “high-performance dynamic work environments” are the ones attracting and retaining top talent.

U.K. employers desperate to recruit and retain gen Z workers are increasingly offering “early finish Fridays” in a bid to fill vacant roles amid an ongoing staff shortage crisis. Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna, said the shift reflects the fact that employees are “demanding more” from employers after the pandemic. “For jobseekers, a company offering early-finish Fridays signals that they are flexible in their attitude to working hours and care about their employees’ well-being — two factors of utmost importance in today’s jobs market,” Hunter said in an emailed statement.

At Manulife, there was a discussion around whether implementing compulsory work days would spark a number of employees to leave. But Mr. Gori says his attrition has been lower than the industry average with “not a lot of people exiting.”

“I’m less stressed about the number of days we mandate and much more focused on whether people leave the office saying that was awesome, because once they see that it was worthwhile, they will come in on their own. We already see that happening on Mondays.”

Source: Financial Post
Source: Globe and Mail