Governments, businesses in national capital region start mapping out timelines for return to work

A return to office life is on the horizon, as infections from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 decline, big businesses are preparing to welcome back their employees in the national capital region in the coming months.

For many businesses across Canada, during the peak of the pandemic, sending staff home to work remotely became customary. Andrew Dagenais was one of those workers, at one of those companies, and he enjoyed the perks.

“About six months into COVID when everything was going on I was home for about four months,” Dagenais says. “When you’re off at five, you’re off at five and you don’t have any commute and save on gas so that part is amazing.”

Now, Dagenais has returned to the office and says while it wasn’t always apparent, there are some reminders of its benefit.

“The socialization alone,” he says. “And some sense of norm too. I mean just stopping at Tim Horton’s on the way in, those are things you don’t think of that you miss.”

Lisa Pepper, community manager with Co-Workly, says that in recent weeks there has been an increase in demand for the shared office space the company rents out to individuals.

“Definitely people are feeling a little stir crazy what we hear typically is that some people are okay with working from home but not all the time,” Pepper says. “People are starting to rethink their work day and how they work and what works best for them and one of the small things that we don’t even think about when we work from home is that there is no one watching over you. Knowing that you are sitting next to someone who is working and is focusing it encourages you to work and focus, and at Co-Workouts there is a big mix of skill sets so there is a lot of networking and innovation and idea sharing that can happen.”

As Omicron fears fade away, major companies are motivated to have their workers return.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce plans to bring Canadian staff who have been working remotely back to the office starting March 21. Most of the company’s Canadian employees who are now working remotely will return to the office on a hybrid basis, said Sandy Sharman, group head of people, culture and brand, in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Our hybrid model will allow our team to benefit from the flexibility and productivity that can be achieved from working remotely, while blending that with the benefits of in-person work with colleagues to further build culture and collaboration,” said Sharman.

National Bank of Canada will allow its offices to be filled to 50 per cent of capacity starting Feb. 28 at the latest, said a spokesperson with the institution, adding that the company will adapt its hybrid model more broadly in April.

In Quebec, provincial office buildings will soon be filled, as well as it municipal counterparts as the city of Gatineau opens offices later this month. 

However the federal government has yet to release a timeline on its employees return and in Ottawa, it makes up the largest workforce in the city, pushing around 150,000 workers.

All those empty buildings can mean empty pockets for the industries that rely on government staff.

“It’s imperative that big companies bring their employees back the office,” says Michelle Groulx, executive director at Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas. “They are essentially the supporters of the smaller businesses that surround them and the smaller businesses rely on them so they are key part of the economy.”

Dagenais is happy to be back at work in the office, but also enjoys the flexibility of his employers to be able to work from home if needed.

“It’s been pretty seamless so I can’t see it being an issue and it’s nice to be able to know that the option is there.”