Let’s Get Real Episode 19: Is Hybrid Work Really a “New Way of Working?”

Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast

Written by Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • Is hybrid work really a “new way of working?”
  • Take care in choosing the right words to define your organization’s ways of working—branding matters!
  • There used to be a perception by managers that if employees were in the office, they were productive. How has this changed?
  • “High performance” for an employee is not just about output—it’s about a holistic list of factors.
  • Is it really possible to measure productivity?
  • What is the new skillset that successful hybrid managers require, now that everyone is in a different place?
  • Hybrid work and multi-tasking may even help employees to stay engaged and productive throughout the day
  • Having the right collaboration tech, but also teaching employees how to use it properly, is key for hybrid work
  • How does mentorship, learning, and innovation happen in a hybrid environment when people aren’t in the same space?
  • Is hybrid actually detrimental to your career?
  • Hybrid work has shown to be a positive factor in retention and job satisfaction for mothers, women, and those who are differently-abled
  • Now that hybrid is becoming more of a norm, the power has shifted to employees who don’t want to put up with mandated and controlled in-office days
  • How are demographic changes affecting employee retention?

If you liked today’s show, check out more episodes of the Let’s Get Real Podcast! This podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

Transcript

Sandra

Hey everyone, welcome to Let’s Get Real with Sandra and Friends, a workplace consortium podcast brought to you by Relogix. I’m excited to be sharing conversational musings about current events and how we envision the ever-changing world of work. I’m Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix. With 25 years of hands-on experience, I help value engineer global workplace portfolios and employee experiences by aligning workplace analytics with corporate real estate needs.

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future podcasts? Please drop me a line at [email protected].

This week I’m talking with a friend and ex-work colleague of mine, Dan Barham. With his years of experience in space planning, facilities management, portfolio optimization and guiding massive projects that include one of Canada’s first enterprise hybrid work programs, Dan has cemented his position as a Canadian thought leader in workplace strategy, scaled to organizations of all sectors and sizes. Dan is currently the Director of Workplace Strategy at Lemay. His passion for evolving workplace programs is focused on unlocking a company’s value across multiple fronts, from office footprints to the development of employee experiences that not only attract talent, but retain it as well.

Dan and I actually go back a couple of years, since worked together here in Toronto at Telus. Dan, welcome! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dan

Hi Sandra! I’m very happy to be here. I am a workplace strategist now at Lemay Architecture and Design, and people often ask, how do you become a strategist? My history is, as I like to put it, a collection of random jobs that ended up all rolling up to give a good information set. So, as you know, we worked together at Telus in the past, but I’ve basically done everything from college lecturing to serving tables to facilities management to portfolio assessment. And on our topic for today, I’ve done a lot of discussion and a lot of work around hybrid work over the last 10 years. Which, of course, thanks to the pandemic, suddenly became a very useful skillset to have.

Sandra

Thinking about hybrid work and the time that I came into Telus, the company had already transitioned into hybrid several years before that when you were already there. Can you tell us a little bit about what that whole project and experience was like?

Dan

It was interesting because I started off with hybrid as a real estate intern. I had gone to Concordia University’s Urban Planning program, and in their fourth year, part of what you do is a planning internship. A lot of my colleagues in school wanted to work with municipalities, not-for-profits, it was all about the various urbanist, academic things college students are into, about making cities better. I decided I didn’t want to go that route, I wanted something different, but I wasn’t quite sure what. I was an agent at that point in the call center, and that’s the point where my boss at the time said, why don’t you intern for the real estate team at Telus? I kind of went, corporate real estate? That’s cool! So I did.

Telus, being a big communications company, a national multi-region company, had a lot of footprint, a lot of acquired companies, and a pile of space that they knew wasn’t being used. A lot of times real estate teams have a knowledge, sort of, of what’s going on—you know how busy your spaces are, but even now, the tools are still developing. I’m sure you could give a lot of examples of that. But back then, there were no tools that existed for quantifying what was going on. There just wasn’t the maturity around that.

So I was commissioned to basically create an occupancy study for Telus in the city of Montreal, to answer the question, what is happening in our space? It wasn’t just, is it full, is it empty? I basically built a matrix that said, is someone on their phone, is someone using their desk, are they in a meeting? There were about six different options for each work point. And then I spent about six weeks going to all of the offices, five times a day, walking through with my binder and taking notes on what’s happening in the space.

What was fascinating at that pre-hybrid point was, I uncovered that more than half of their space, half of the desks and workspaces in particular in the portfolio in the city of Montreal were empty at any given time. So, I took this study to the real estate leadership and rolled it all up in that nice academic way, and said, here’s what’s going on in your space. At least half of your workstations are empty at any given time, and the majority of what your team is doing is typically more collaborative and on the phone. And you have people who are fulltime employees who aren’t here. They’re working somewhere, as you know, but they’re not working in your office very often. So that ultimately formed the genesis, or the kernel, of what then became known as the Workstyles Program.

Sandra

Interesting. The experience that I’ve had was very similar. I started doing workplace strategy consulting in 2006 or 2007, around the time the stock market crashed. The whole “workstyles” concept started to emerge as well, where there were a lot of companies that all of a sudden had all of this excess space that they didn’t know what to do with, as a result of people losing their jobs. They realized they needed to figure out how to deal with all this extra space—to look at leases coming due, and a lot of issues similar to what we’re seeing now with the pandemic pushing people out of the office. It’s the same question of, now we’ve got all this extra real estate so how do we deal with this? One of the things that had emerged back then was this whole concept of desk-sharing, which is this whole workstyles concept of figuring out how people are using the space and then you have gearing ratio, as we often refer to it, so we can say a certain number of seats are used 20% of the time and therefore it has a gearing ratio of X, and another grouping of desks has a usage of 100% so obviously those seat are assigned. It’s that distribution of different types of spaces.

It’s interesting what you say about hybrid—you and I have spoken in the past, and we both know that hybrid is not new. This idea of “new ways of working” is not really new ways of working. People have been talking about it for 20+ years. It’s been referred to in different ways in the past, I know off the bat, obviously there’s flex, AWE, AWS…

Dan

If you go way back, it’s teleworking. “Liberated” is a new term. We called it mobile work for a long time at Telus, that was what we settled on for the pre-COVID term. It was funny though, I don’t know if you recall this moment in the pandemic, where mobile work was the term, and then suddenly mobile work was a “bad” term, and then it was hybrid, and now, who even knows if hybrid is the right term.

I find that funny too, because in one respect, people are arguing definitions of things they haven’t even defined, but on the other hand, it’s also important from a brand point of view when talking to your staff. Those names matter. We struggled for a long time, too, at Telus. One of our classifications was, are you an “at-home” worker? And we would have team members that would refuse to classify themselves as that. It didn’t matter that that was their behaviour, but they didn’t like the perception that they were an at-home worker. This speaks to what’s also going on with perception right now in the pandemic. So, we had to re-term that as “remote” or something else, because people just wouldn’t adopt the term.

To your point about “workstyles”—what most people don’t realise is that “workstyles” is Telus’ trademark term for their actual program. Of course, Workstyles the program is trademarked, but “work style”, as in “what is your work style”, is non-trademarked, and that’s become part of the vernacular. It’s been around so long, and that’s what you and I worked on. We’ve been doing hybrid so long that it’s not new.

I remember when we were the weirdos at a CoreNet conference or a training seminar. I remember once being in a leadership in corporate real estate seminar, and of course the instructor says, “what do you do if Bob shows up 10 minutes after work starts with his coffee in hand and he’s late! What do you do about that?” Everyone was talking about discipline, and I said, well, in our organization, if Bob’s doing his job, we don’t care. Why is attendance the metric? Why is Bob being there at 9 AM important if Bob is selling well?

You already saw this with certain organizations and in the past. If you were a high-performing salesperson and bringing in revenue, you could kind of get away with whatever, and the rules didn’t apply the same way. It’s interesting to ask ourselves, with hybrid now, is it that same kind of perspective? If you’re getting your work done, you’re delivering, does it matter what time you show up and where you are?

Sandra

I think what you say about high performance is true. There’s been a lot of conversation over the last 2 years about productivity.  But I always ask, ok, how did you measure productivity before the pandemic?

I remember when I was consulting, there was always a concern about productivity, and there’s this assumption that because people were physically in the office that they were more productive. About a year or so after I joined Telus, I remember this thing started to go around, this comparison of people in the office vs people not in the office, managers in the office vs managers not in the office, and this perception that if you were not in the office, you were more productive. That perception has pretty well maintained across most organisations and therefore, there’s this constant battle between “in is better”, “no, out is better”. And when you look at what’s transpired in the past few years and all the things that have been written about how much more productive people have been, or companies have been as a whole, there’s something to be said about productivity.

But it all comes back to the question, how do you actually measure productivity? It’s a very personal thing. High performance is not just about being in a place that supports how you work. It’s everything. It’s your mental state, it’s what’s going on at home, it’s a whole bunch of different factors that come into play. If all those things line up, that enables you to be productive. So, you can then do your work effectively versus having to deal with commuting, which sets you off a wrong path because you got your day off on the wrong foot.

Dan

You come in and spend the first half hour complaining about your commute! That’s quite fascinating.

I think, honestly, let’s be real (and maybe some business process people would disagree with me), but no one truly knows how to measure productivity. This is what I love about strategy: on one hand, you’ve got hard math and metrics that you can apply to certain things, but on the other hand, there’s an element of psychology and human behaviour. So it’s kind of funny to me that even at Telus, there was this whole idea that, “No, our staff need to be in the office with certain managers”. That was an idea that crept back in after launch, because at launch, the company was very clear: we’re doing this, get with the program. If you’re not going to get with the program, go find a new job. And I recall that there was a significant cohort, even at that time, of management staff who were against it. It’s like my dad, when computers showed up in the government. He was out of there. I don’t want to figure this out, I’m done.

At Telus you had that same thing, people were saying, I don’t know how to manage. We’re seeing so many leaders struggle with this right now. Honestly, in some respects it’s where a lot of organisations should focus on training leaders on how to do this. A lot of managers don’t know how to measure and make sure people are productive, because their measures have always been, “is Bob at his desk on time and does his work look good”? The work looking good is still important, but “desk on time” doesn’t really matter.

What’s fascinated me in my own journey of hybrid is realizing that some of my most productive and engaged times weren’t what you would think. I remember once you and I were in the same 6-hour workshop one day, facilitated by the Excellence Team. We were on the phone for 6 hours talking through a bunch of processes with the rest of the team. Conventional wisdom would say, Dan should be sitting at his desk paying attention. But I actually spent that entire workshop in my cabin, laying laminate floor while I was on the phone.

There’s research that supports this—I paid attention to the workshop the whole time. Laying laminate floor is a repetitive, boring task, it doesn’t take any mindset, so I was highly engaged and paid attention. Whereas if I’d have been sitting at my computer—what do you do in those workshops? You start checking your email, you start multitasking, you start doing other things, you stop paying attention. Unfortunately, I can’t give the reference right now, but there’s documented evidence that folding laundry, for example, if you’re on a call, or doing another simple task at the same time actually will dial you in more because it keeps you from getting distracted.

That’s what I find fascinating about productivity and hybrid work. Conventional wisdom, from when it was the only option, was that you have to be at your desk. But everyone’s run into that person who’s at the office all the time and doesn’t seem to get anything done. There’s even that gif or meme of the person sitting at their desk, resizing boxes, clickety clacking, moving things around, deleting things, and to a manager sitting across the room looking out of their office, she looks productive. She looks like she’s busy but she’s actually getting nothing done. I think that’s the really fascinating aspect of measuring productivity. Take the example of what happened at Telus—they implemented hybrid work, and the profitability of that company over the last decade speaks for itself. I lived through three different stock splits in the 10 years I was there during hybrid. And similarly, we look at the market data of what’s happened to countries during the pandemic, and profits are up everywhere. So by that measure, hybrid has worked, right?

But we also know, certain aspects aren’t great in a hybrid environment. Rather, companies don’t have the collaboration tools to make them great. I don’t think collaboration tech is always going to be a replacement for seeing someone in person every so often, and getting to know people. I’m a hybrid work evangelist who’s a big believer in still getting together every so often. But if you look at the stock reports of organizations everywhere, how can you say it’s not productive, not been good?

What was also fascinating was the tech company example. They found that their coders produced code faster and better, but problems started to occur when it came time to integrate the code together. I think that’s similar to what we’ve seen with hybrid work. If I need to knock out a report or do something focused by myself at home, it’s a no-brainer. I’m not distracted, and I don’t have to listen to Jane talk about how her dog got sick for 45 minutes and figure out how to get away from that. You don’t have to deal with those politics.

But in terms of being able to sit down and figure out how to put something together, hybrid sucks for that. Because it’s all formal meetings. You can’t really just sit and tease something out and have a free-wheeling discussion, because everyone feels like, I’m working from home, I need to be productive, so we can’t just sit around for an hour and chat. It’s that white space concept that’s actually just as important, because that’s how you innovate and come up with things.

Sandra

That’s a good point. It’s something that a lot of people struggle with. At our company now, Relogix, we use Slack. And we still use email obviously, and Teams, Skype, you name it. And my immediate team that reports to me, we use huddles. It’s 5-minute conversations, I’m available all the time if they want to have a quick conversation or have a question about something. It’s almost like you’re working shoulder-to-shoulder in the office.

The learning for me is the availability. If somebody has an issue, they’re working at home by themselves, they don’t have the resources to go and ask a question, so you need to be available as a manager. It’s funny, just recently I was thinking, in the office, people would have looked at that as being disruptive. If I’m going to tap you on the shoulder and bother you and you can’t get your work doe—it’s one of the reasons why you stay at home, so you can get work done. But that whole idea of serendipitous conversation, that whole thing that allows you to keep the communication going, to keep people together, to feel like you’re part of a larger team, part of a community, is really about making yourself available and feeling empowered to be able to reach out to virtually anyone in the organization.

Before, that would have been frowned upon, because you didn’t go into certain parts of the building, because you just didn’t. Now, it’s virtual so you could ask anybody a question and they can answer whenever. So, if you need something immediately, you go to your direct manager much like before, or you just work with other team members. That’s been a huge difference, at least from my experience, because prior to joining Relogix, it was typically email, Communicator, or whatever tools you were using. Nobody used cameras. We used to do virtual calls, but you were on the phone listening, and there wasn’t that element of it. That, I find, is not as good obviously as being in person, but it’s definitely better than just listening to someone. It’s nice to have that personal aspect of it, of being able to see someone.

Dan

It’s so funny that you say that though, because on the one hand you’re right—I’m the guy even now, in my new firm, if I have a question, I get up and I walk over to our regional director and I say, explain this to me. I’m new on the consulting side, I used to be on the client side. I think it’s interesting that you say that an organization has to have the appropriate collaboration tools in place, and I think importantly, has to set some norms and help their team understand how to use them. We’ve all seen multiple collab tools come and go and never be implemented properly, like e-rooms and things that may be great at the time but were never staff didn’t know how to use them so they didn’t get used. So, on the one hand I think you’re right, it is so much easier to reach out to somebody to say, hey, five minute ping. I like to say, “not urgent, but when you get a second let me know”. It’s sort of that asynchronous work, or it could be a live conversation if they’re available. You send a ping out and you get your answer back, because it’s not a big effort to go find somebody, now that there’s more of that digital know-how.

But on the other hand, I think what doesn’t work, or what folks are really struggling with, is knowing who the right person to ping is. We used to talk about institutional knowledge. Half of being at an enterprise organisation is just knowing, over time, if I need to find out something about this, I go talk to this person. If I need that, I go talk to that person. But if you’re a new employee, how does that work? Because generally speaking, most corporate directories don’t give any of that intel. You’re totally right—with the right norms, people are much more accessible, for not being in the same place. But on the other hand, as a new employee, how does an organisation facilitate that happening without having to sacrifice hybrid work?

Sandra

Our company has hired a lot of people during the pandemic from all over the place, a couple in the US, a couple of people in other parts of Canada, who never step foot in the office. So, first day on, it’s 100% virtual onboarding. What we do is we have a buddy system where you stay with the person, obviously not a live connection for the entire 8 days, but checking in, asking how it’s going, showing training videos, you’re open and available to questions. We have an intro where somebody comes on and we have a Teams call where everybody pops in for 5, 10 minutes to give a quick introduction. They tell a bit about themselves and learn about the new employee. So at least you can put a face to a name.

Now obviously, we’re a small company, so having 50 people on a screen is not as big of a deal. Imagine doing that with 40,000 people—probably not as effective, right? But I think again, we’re talking about the manager’s role and how you navigate or help your employees navigate that. Mentorship and learning are things that we’re hearing are going to be challenging in this new hybrid environment. That was something I always found effective, when you have a manager who can direct you to the right person, based on whatever it is you’re trying to do or problem you’re trying to solve. Whereas before, the manager was just asking, is that person sitting at their desk and is therefore productive? It’s about being able to help people in a slightly different way.

Dan

I’ve been starting to realize, because of my career trajectory, having worked mostly in hybrid environments, I don’t actually know a different way very well. I graduated from school, I went overseas, I did a little time in contact centers when I came back in a traditional management style, where you had to be on queue, you were measured.

But realistically speaking, do you need to have a face-to-face conversation with your manager? Or could you do exactly what we’re doing? None of my best leaders ever lived in the same city as me. Early career it was a manager named Cheryl Pardon based out of Burnaby—we probably saw each other face-to-face a grand total of four times in the entire four years that I worked for her. Our boss at Telus, Mary, it was the same thing—all the time I worked with her, we probably only got together in person a grand total of 10 times. So, the template that I follow from some of the good managers is: reaching out to the staff and pro-actively checking in, making sure that they know you’re there. This is not rocket science.

I think the other aspect that I find so funny is, is hybrid detrimental to your career? I could be an edge case, but I went from contact center agent to director in 10 years in a hybrid environment. I don’t think it’s bad. But then again, you do need to have leaders and that’s where I started to template myself as I became a manager of teams. I was having regular check-ins where you’re not just talking about work, you’re saying, how are you doing? How can I proactively support your career?

Again, I guess there are different views on how you do this as a leader, but I also was very specific in saying, my job as your leader is to support you and build a culture where you feel supported. It’s not just about are you getting all the work things done. It was also about making sure that I understand what was going on in their lives: oh, you have a thing that just blew up? Let me help you. I could say, ok, life’s happened, and with hybrid, you can go take care of that. Maybe you’re working from some other location, but I’m also checking in to make sure that you’re feeling supported and connected and connecting you to the right people.

We’ve all heard that COVID has just exposed all the problems, exposed all the bad management techniques. But on the other hand, I think COVID and hybrid work really encourages you, with the right support from an organization. Remote work requires you to be more deliberate, more engaged, to be better at it, and can actually lead to better management and leadership in my opinion.

Sandra

I wanted to share a couple things about your edge-case experience, the fact that you’ve worked hybrid most of your career—I have actually worked both as an employee, as a manager, prior to this whole idea of working flex for several years. I started working in 1988 in corporate, and it was 100% in-office. There was no such thing back then of flexible work. But then I became a mom and flexibility came to be to my advantage. You hear a lot of people saying now—or maybe it’s propaganda because there’s some other agenda of trying to get people back—that there’s a proximity bias, especially for women, in the sense that you can’t advance if you’re working from home.

I think that’s hogwash. I’ve done it! Maybe if you’re waiting for the employer that you’re working for to give it to you, and that doesn’t happen, fine. So, you move on. There’s plenty of other employers that will support that kind of work. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to take a pay cut or that you’re mandated to go to the office a certain number of days. You basically can find a work setting that fits into your way of living that makes you a more productive, more successful person, that then just increases your value overall. That’s what I find, as you go from job to job, and people look at your habits and what you’ve accomplished, and you did all that without being in an office? Yeah, it’s not that big of a deal!

Dan

100%, and I think that’s a big shift too. I honestly believe to a certain extent, that belief that you have to have the facetime to get recognized and to excel in your career, that’s a bias from the old way. As a future member of this cohort, as an older white man, the way you impress me is by coming in, doing that traditional thing, being front and center, occupying the conversation, all of these things. But the reality is, to your point, and we both saw this at Telus, that when it becomes about your deliverables, in order for hybrid to work, it’s deliverable space performance.

That’s the big magic for most knowledge worker roles: are you getting the work done and is it quality work? That’s what everything boils down to, because you’re not in the office, kissing my behind. You’re just delivering based on your output. Which, in a capitalist society, we should love that it’s all about outputs! But again, it’s that old school mindset versus a new way of looking at work.

We saw this at the phone company, too, that hybrid work and remote work actually kept a lot of mothers around. We scored very high on the work life balance report, which basically checks to see, is our company hospitable to minorities, to women, and to mothers. The ability to do hybrid work always came back and kept getting pointed to. If my kid gets sick for a week, I don’t have to take a week of vacation, I can be in the house. Because half the time they’re sick in bed sleeping and I just need to go support them, I don’t need to be there all the time, but I need to be next to them to make sure they’re ok and to not have to spend $10,000 on childcare at the time. That equation of frankly choosing between, to a certain extent, childcare and being present at home, becomes a different equation because you can be home, so you don’t have to pay for those things. And that means you don’t have to necessarily leave the workforce.

Another thing I found fascinating in some of the reports was people around people with disabilities, like a vision impairment. For example, there was a story from someone who worked at a finance company, and she was nearsighted. She was talking about how hybrid actually was an equalizer for her because in the office, everyone saw her desk with her oversized screen and her having to get really close. So every day, her team members were reminded that she was differently abled, because the physical manifestation was sitting right on her desk. As a result, she was often treated differently. She could feel it in her interactions, feel it in her work assignments, etc.

Then the pandemic hits, she takes all that stuff home, and all her team members see is her on screen. They don’t see the oversized screen, they don’t see the fact that she’s a little bit closer to it. She noticed that people started forgetting that she was differently abled. Then, as a result, there were more opportunities coming her way, because her boss over time just, for lack of a better word, forgot and treated her like everyone else. So that’s where I think it’s fascinating that sometimes hybrid is actually the opposite, because people are tribal. People in groups are jerks, sometimes. And you can feed off of what happens in front of you, but when you don’t see it, suddenly it becomes about: does this person do good work? And if they do, I want to keep using them.

Sandra

I think those are excellent points from a diversity and inclusion point of view, and giving people access to good, challenging opportunities. Everybody benefits. But there’s also the dark side to that as well. I haven’t experienced it myself, I don’t know anybody personally, but I’ve read articles where the opposite of that happens. There’s bullying and all kinds of stuff that happens because, again, how do you manage a virtual environment? I think that’s something that in due time, will be addressed and managed. We’ve kind of all been thrown at this at the same time and we’ve got to sink or swim, figure it out. And you would hope that it’s a very small percentage of people that are doing that.

Dan

Something I want to amend to that is the question, did that problematic behaviour actually not occur pre-hybrid? Did it not occur in the office? Online bullying is obviously still an issue, but one of the things I always look at when people want to critique or list the benefits of hybrid in the office is: did it occur in the office before? And if it occurred in the office before, it’s not a hybrid problem, it’s a management and organizational problem. Hybrid doesn’t matter.

The other thing we haven’t talked about yet is how hybrid and then COVID and employment demand has unlocked and moved the power to the employee. If you’re in a crappy work environment, you’re looking for a new one that’s better. We have that flexibility. So, I would argue that even if everyone went back to the office right now, you would still need to fix those cultural problems that for years, have been sort of left to linger because everyone was just grateful to have a job.

Whereas now, we knew that up until recently, people were saying, make my office more like tech. It was the gold standard. Now it’s coming out that in these most high-end, most glorious offices, they’re uncovering toxic culture and so many culture issues. Tech also has the highest resignation rate right now. I think it was the Harvard Business Review that raised a study that said their resignation rate is higher than health care right now. Health care! The job that is the most brutal job to be having in COVID. So, suddenly, to me that also calls into question, was it really such a glorious office with the beer and ping pong?

Yes, I think staff like those things, everyone likes the stuff that you can get in these new amenity-based offices, but ultimately now, we’re starting to realize that you can’t just buy off culture with a ping pong table and free beer. You’ve actually got to do the work, because this whole industry that did it for years but unfortunately has let a lot of misogyny and toxic culture go on, because it was only about whether your outputs were good or not. It’s suddenly blowing up in a lot of their faces.

Sandra

I think the other part to that is the trade-off. We definitely see it in the tech industry for sure. I was reading an article on the weekend that was talking about how before, the trade off was, we’re going to give you all of these amenities, but in the end you’re going to have to take a pay cut. That only goes so far. Once the novelty wears off, you’re off to the next thing.

The other part also is just the brand affinity. Lots of people wanted to work for these big branded companies, so they could say hey, I got a job with company XYS, look at me! And then you get in there and it’s not at all like what you thought it would be. That’s probably why there was a lot of churn before. The pandemic has certainly highlighted this.

We’ve all seen the articles about Facebook and Apple and Google, companies that have made huge investments in their real estate, trying to bring people back in. And people aren’t having it. You can mandate all you want.

I was talking to my husband on the weekend about control. Isn’t it interesting how companies approach the whole idea of work as, they’re going to mandate that you come in 3 or 4 days a week, and their expectation is that to work here, you have to abide by this. But really, the person who’s in control is the employee, because they’ll just say, I don’t need your job, I can go find a job somewhere else that’s better suited to me. So, who really is in control here? There’s this perception that it’s the company sets the rules and policy, and for you to work here, you need to follow these. Well, that might have applied before, when everybody was expected to work in the office and it was only a small percentage that allowed people flexibility. Now you’ve completely turned it on its head, so good luck trying to mandate to bring people back into the office, because there are a lot of other companies that don’t expect that of me.

Dan

Frankly, it’s the perfect storm of that flip. 100%, Sandra. You’ve hit on something really specific. Sometimes when I talk to folks about hybrid, there’s a denial. There’s a whole level of denial as to whether this will work, whether it’s temporary, whatever else. Pre-COVID, if COVID hadn’t hit, we already knew there was going to be a looming retirement boom. Baby boomers were going to retire, there were already going to be some demographic aspects that were going to shift demand for labour and talent. I remember even three or four years ago hearing, just wait a few more years and suddenly you’ll be at the top of the cohort and there’ll be a lot more demand.

But then layer in with this COVID, and let’s be blunt—people have died, so there are fewer workers in the pool. COVID has also created this scenario where up until last week, a lot of people’s investments did really well, a lot of people were in excellent financial situations. I talked about my dad leaving the government when computers showed up. So now, all these people who were already a few years from retirement, their investments are doing well, suddenly the whole way they work is changing and a whole bunch of people are saying, I’m out of here, I’m cashing out, I don’t need to stay. That’s created even more of a gap in terms of roles.

So, suddenly now, you have all these jobs. I think the last report I read a couple weeks ago is that there are 1 million empty jobs in Canada right now. A million! So, combine that with the pandemic giving everyone this existential crisis, asking themselves, do I like what I’m doing? Do I like where it is? Now, suddenly, hybrid’s saying, ok, maybe you don’t like where you are, but you could work for anyone because everyone’s offering hybrid.

We saw this in our former organization. Because we were the only organization out of a few that offered hybrid, we had an average tenure rate of 13.5 years. Unheard of, for it to be that long! Now, I think even our old organization is seeing that, suddenly you can go work anywhere hybrid. It’s not a differentiator anymore so. Again, how do you attract and retain when you have a workforce that is highly mobile and portable? Because I could work for basically anybody, almost in the world, that offers hybrid.

Sandra

That’s very, very true, even in the two and a half years that I’ve been working at Relogix, I’ve had a couple of opportunities from the US that landed in my lap that would have never been an option if it hadn’t been for hybrid and companies being open to hiring people in other places. So, it certainly opens doors, it changes your perspective on employability and what happens if things change. Maybe I’m not as worried as I maybe would have been beforehand.

It’s fascinating times, and a really, really great conversation, we could probably go on for another hour!

Dan

I want to say, Sandra, thank you very much for having me on your podcast. It’s always great to chat with you, just in general, because there are so many good topics. But thank you for having me today.

Sandra

You’re welcome! Thanks, Dan.

About the Author

Colour headshot image of Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Strategy, Relogix
Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Sandra has both a deep and wide understanding of Corporate Real Estate and Technology. With over 25 years hands-on experience she is able to apply non-traditional approaches to extract deep learning from the most unsuspecting places in order to drive strategy. She has developed an appreciation for always challenging the status quo to provoke and encourage new ways of thinking that drive continuous improvement and innovation. Sandra believes square pegs can fit into round holes and that the real ‘misfits’ are those environments that fail to adapt. Her expertise ranges broadly from CRE Portfolio Research, Analytics & Insights, Workforce Planning, Space & Occupancy Planning & Workplace Strategy.