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Returning to Work = Returning to Office?

Recently, I hosted a webinar named “Does Remote Working Hurt Your Organizational Culture?” A question raised by an attendee who works at a commercial real estate company in the U.S. triggered more thoughts, “Will the demand for traditional office be the same in the future?” This question has its merits - businesses who had a taste of success operating remotely during the pandemic are contemplating downsizing their space to save costs and offering more flexible arrangements to their workers. While businesses are re-opening, does returning to work mean that employees will return to the office? If more and more organizations pursue alternative work configurations, what are the implications for human resources management?

Which type of office arrangement foster organizational culture and productivity?

Survey results have shown that workers now have a higher expectation of being given the option to work from home, for at least one day per week, even after the pandemic is over. By speaking with different businesses, I learned that for some smaller and technology focused companies, their offices will become a place where people can rotate to be on site. There will be fewer “assigned” desks, but more “hoteling” spots. Some non-profit organizations are considering reducing their footprint and exploring “co-work” space to enjoy more malleable lease terms. By sharing common space (i.e. kitchen, conference room) and even shared services (i.e. Administrative support, IT, HR, marketing, training), these organizations will not only reduce costs but also better collaborate and promote themselves by co-occupying the space with other like-minded organizations. However, will this type of arrangement foster organizational culture and productivity?

Cory Wosnack, Principal & Managing Director at Avison Young Commercial Real Estate, has pondered these questions and remains optimistic. He believes that “many large organizations will keep 10-15% of their staff at home after the pandemic is over. I anticipate this will be the average. The consistency among them all will be flexibility to accommodate staff who require a day or a couple of half days to work remotely because of other obligations.” Not all businesses and industries can get their work done off site: “The pandemic helps us to explore our most productive working methods and hours, in addition to learning how to trust people when we cannot physically supervise their work, as in the office,” he stated. This view is echoed by Kira Bocian, Operations Manager, Commercial and Residential Rental Assets at Rohit Group. With an HR background herself, Kira believes that people are only productive up to a limit in isolation. She explained, “When you can casually meet with co-workers face-to-face, that’s when ideas are generated, and trust is being built.” She argues that working remotely can hurt your ability to “manage up”, so much as the idea affirming the adage “out of sight, out of mind”.

A group of employees working in an open office
Open and Flexible Office

Now, as the workforce views working remotely more favorably, how will that view influence human resources management?

The answers can be complicated. Let me try to name a few.

Strategic HR Planning

  • Re-evaluating the workspace can entail a re-evaluation of strategic HR planning. This process gives organizational leaders a chance to weigh current human capital against the demand for talent in order to achieve its mission, vision and business objectives.

  • While work can be done anywhere, will we only recruit from the local talent pool or a global talent pool? Will the work need to be done by permanent full-time staff or contractors?

  • While work can be done via technology, will we have a more inclusive workforce with people with disabilities or caregivers whose workability was previously hindered?


  • Will hiring from regions / countries with cheaper or uniquely skilled labour give our business a competitive advantage?

  • Do we have a robust system to select and integrate candidates via technology? Manulife had a positive experience with onboarding their new staff virtually by offering new hire networking sessions, tailoring welcome message from the senior management, etc. The technology team also ensures that the new hires receive their equipment on Day 1 and offers one-on-one set up support.


  • Facebook adopted permanent remote work. Workers can choose a location of residence and update the company about their address by January 1, 2021. Their salaries will be adjusted to reflect the local cost of living. However, in my opinion, salaries should be tied with one’s output and qualifications.

  • More benefit dollars should be given towards home office equipment purchases (i.e. computers and accessories, internet, IT security set up, phone, etc.), and ergonomical assessments and furnishings.

Performance Management

  • Managers need to adopt a different supervisory mindset – managing workers’ performance based on their output instead of input.

  • The start and finish time of the workday can also be re-assessed. Personally, I find myself most productive in the afternoon and evening. Therefore, the traditional measurement of attendance at 8:30am will prove ineffective.

  • Those changes need to be reflected in the company policies and employment contracts.

Occupational Health & Safety

  • To comply with legislation, employers want to make sure workers who work from home identify and correct hazards around their residences, such as tripping and fire hazards. To be more considerate, organizations can ensure workers are well-educated about home office ergonomics, technology fatigue, the psychological effects of being in isolation and setting up proper boundaries between work and home life.


  • The traditional “water cooler chit chat” or “conversing with someone over the cubicle” will not be feasible when working remotely. Businesses need to ensure messages get distributed effectively over computer and / or phone. Tailoring the communication methods to your audience and using a combination of different methods are strongly recommended. For instance, a local hospitality company uses a Facebook group to connect with their permanent and casual staff and uses Facebook Live for their Town Hall meetings. A local construction company has its managers text their teams to remind them to look on the company’s intranet for important updates.

  • Lack of team building and cultural cohesion are possible results of working remotely. That’s why some organizations purposefully hold virtual and in-person team events on a regular basis.

As human beings, we are social animals. Even though companies evaluate their need to downsize the office space, the office still provides a sense of organizational culture, community and belonging; a place for brainstorming and relationship building. Home may be a good working space for a limited time, or periodically. Companies will still need the office area to be tailored to the diverse needs of their workers. Nevertheless, as businesses explore leaner operational options, we will see more flexible work settings and more combination of in-person and remote working arrangements.


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