Back to work: what are the social norms in offices today?


Shake hands. Drinking coffee with colleagues. Drink and eat customer. Social niceties once taken for granted look increasingly complicated as thousands of Canadian workers return to the office this spring, many for the first time in two years.

Along with anxiety about commute times and company vaccination policies, there are questions about what professional behavior will look like in 2022.

Travis O’Rourke, president of staffing firm Hays Canada, says employers will need to focus on making the return a positive, not dreaded experience, and deal with any potential issues that could make employees feel bad. easy.

“The back-to-office culture has to be at the top of every manager’s list, or they’ll find that their employees just won’t want to come back,” O’Rourke said in an interview.

He also says that the workplace culture will need to adapt to the changing needs of employees and reflect the evolution of society over the past two years.

Most Canadians say they don’t want to go back to work full time. According to a recent Amazon business survey, half of Canadian office workers say they would prefer to work mostly or completely remotely. The report also found that 43% of Canadians would likely look for a new job if their bosses forced them to return to the office full-time.

Signs of downtown life are picking up nonetheless. Toronto’s financial heart has become increasingly busy since major banks began calling back their employees. Manulife Financial Corp. authorized the return of staff on a voluntary basis from this week.

In other parts of the country, like Alberta — where nearly all COVID restrictions were lifted earlier this month — workers are also returning to downtown offices. According to commercial real estate firm Avison Young, which tracks daily activity estimates for representative office occupants in North American cities, foot traffic in downtown Edmonton has increased week-over-week since the start of the year. Foot traffic is also up in Calgary, to its highest level in 2022 so far since the week ending March 13, according to Avison Young.

Will we feel comfortable with each other – shaking hands, sitting close to each other, talking without masks?

O’Rourke of Hays Canada thinks some employees will be nervous with their co-workers at first as they try to follow workplace health protocols, from masking to distancing to sanitizing, for their own safety while trying to navigate within their team’s comfort level. . But that should be short-lived.

“We find that once an employee is comfortable with the requirements, they start to feel a lot like before,” he said. “The other big driver is reading your colleagues – once you have an idea of ​​where everyone is on your team, it’s a lot easier to interact.”

For immunocompromised workers, O’Rourke sees accommodations and considerations made by team leaders, such as masking in tight spaces if necessary, and other workers doing their best to respect and protect their co-workers.

What about working lunches, after-work aperitifs and coffee meetings to network?

O’Rourke definitely sees a resumption of the social activities that were an integral part of the office experience before the pandemic.

“People want it,” he said. “The idea of ​​having another ‘party’ or social event remotely isn’t appealing.”

He expects to see many employers take advantage of these activities and outings as a way to bring people back to show them what they miss about working from home.

What about flexibility, especially for parents?

O’Rourke says companies are working to try to support a desire for more flexibility. Some of these features include flexible schedules to allow for pick-up or drop-off at school or daycare, personal days to accommodate family members’ schedules, and mental health resources to support employees going through a difficult time outside of work. Many companies are also looking for ways to subsidize child care or even have child care on site, he adds.

“In the war for talent, companies use all the tools they can afford,” he said.

Checking things out, he said, and this shouldn’t be a one-off conversation.

“Open and honest communication and dialogue is key, he said. “If your employees aren’t doing well, you have the choice of finding out at your own pace or finding out during an exit interview.”

What about the design of the desk itself?

Many offices have spaced desks, added barriers, upgraded doors and other elements to be touchless, etc., but that may not be enough, says Gale Moutrey, vice president of innovation at Steelcase. Steelcase is an office design solutions company that collaborated with furniture and service provider POI Business Interiors to open WorkBetterLab in Toronto, a prototype pop-up workplace giving people the opportunity to see what a hybrid office.

“We envision the office of the future as a neighborhood that creates the same energy and connection that people feel sitting in a sidewalk café or the same level of flow that they experience in their local library,” he said. said in an interview.

This concept includes a variety of interconnected space types that support a mix of uses – private places for productivity, places to collaborate with in-person or remote colleagues, spaces for socializing. One of the goals of this approach is to create equitable experiences and spaces that welcome those who work from home and in person.

“Today’s office must ‘earn’ the worker ride,” Moutrey said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 17, 2022.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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