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B.C. employers, business owners navigate the new hybrid work norm

Three to four days per week is most acceptable for employers and employees, according to experts
A recent survey published by Robert Half shows that 85 per cent of respondents are interested in hybrid or fully remote positions | Helen King/The Image Bank/Getty Images

These days, an important part of recruitment consultant Henry Goldbeck’s work is telling clients to offer hybrid-work flexibility when they publish a job ad.

“Almost all candidates want some type of flexibility. What we find is that employers who do not offer some type of hybrid flexibility really limit their options in terms of candidates,” said Goldbeck, president of Vancouver-based Goldbeck Recruiting.

“For a lot of candidates, hybrid work is a deal breaker”

A recent survey published by recruiting firm Robert Half shows that 85 per cent of respondents are interested in hybrid or fully remote positions, and one-quarter say they would accept a salary reduction to be able to work remotely all the time.

Goldbeck said that employers are trying to bring more employees back into the office to foster a sense of community, even while employees want more flexibility. Most, he says, have found a sweet spot.

“Three to four days in the office and one to two days from home is the most common. Even one day hybrid – it makes a difference to candidates to have the flexibility,” said Goldbeck.

“Every company is different. Some companies say it cannot be Monday or Friday because they don’t want people just to take an extra-long weekend. And some want everybody in the office together on certain days.”

Colin Rose, founder of Rose Agency, a boutique marketing agency based in Chinatown, was forced to embrace the hybrid-work model after the pandemic.

His pre-pandemic office-based team of eight is now a team of four in the office three days a week – usually on the same days – with the rest working on web development remotely.

“It has worked out well for us – people wanted to be out of their houses, come to the office, be around people. They were just feeling a little bit isolated,” said Rose.

“We probably have more office space than we need but we’re on a lease, and it’s fine.”

Some companies are not as lucky as Rose when it comes to encouraging employees to return to the office for at least three days a week. As a result, incentives for doing so have become more common.

“Creating flexible policies that accommodate individuals and that allow employers to be as inclusive as possible is key,” said Sheh Shojaee from Chartered Professionals in Human Resources British Columbia & Yukon.

“The more flexible the model, the easier it will be to get employees back to the office and retain them,”

Shojaee said working parents, for example, may need greater flexibility than what is afforded by a nine-to-five work week. Some companies offer to offset costs associated with child care, which is “a huge incentive” for working parents.

“Another important incentive, especially considering the rising costs associated with commuting to work, is subsidies for employees and managers that are put towards transit, parking and-or fuel,” she added.

Some companies have gone a step further and become more creative in attracting workers to return to the office, according to Colliers International, which is working with building managers to develop “over 100 activities” for employees.

“We’re looking at different ideas that really enhance the desire for people to go in.… One example was recently we had free manicures and shoe shining for the workers in a building, and it was a huge success. They definitely enticed to people to come in,” said John Duda, president of Colliers Real Estate Management Services.

Other incentives, according to Duda, include food trucks, DIY flower bouquets, food giveaways, beer tasting and pet grooming events, and facilities such as grocery delivery lockers, bike repair stations and urban gardens at the workplace.

“We got a tremendous amount of positive feedback from not only the [businesses] in the building, but also the community in and around the building,” said Duda.

Even with more companies working to draw workers back to the office, foot traffic in Vancouver’s downtown core remains below what it was before the pandemic. For businesses that rely heavily on traffic from downtown workers, it is a reality they need to adjust to.

Business groups such as the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (Downtown Van), a non-profit organization that represents 7,000 businesses and property owners in downtown Vancouver, are also implementing initiatives to entice workers to come back to the office.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but foot traffic downtown during the week is not increasing at the same rate as it is on weekends, and this can’t help but hurt businesses that rely on office workers,” said Jane Talbot, interim president and CEO of Downtown Van.

“While it is better for business than a strict work-from-home policy, the reduced number of office workers downtown affects the Monday-Friday daytime economy.”

As for what can be done, Talbot said this is “a collective effort.”

“We know workers are more likely to go to the office if something fun and unique takes place.… So at Downtown Van, we’re planning a summer of activities that will promote a vibrant and fun community experience,” said Talbot.

“We’re also sponsoring a series of festivals and events designed to do the same.”

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