A woman working from home, wearing a headset and having a video call from her couch

Even pre-pandemic, several factors were starting to chip away at the traditional office model. Technological advancements enabled telecommuting and remote work through ever-more sophisticated cloud computing and video conferencing platforms. Attitudes towards workplace culture have been shifting, with a growing emphasis on work-life balance and employee wellness—propelled even more by new generations entering the workforce.

The ongoing conversation about on-site vs. remote can at times be heated. Many executives pushed for strong return-to-office (RTO) mandates as pandemic restrictions lessened, and as some teams complied and returned to the office, others pushed back strongly. In some cases, RTO policies have continued in full force, while other employers have given up on trying to get workers back to the office. Many have settled into comfortable hybrid models, and some are rethinking the design of their office space to work better for the current iteration of their team.

What we know for sure is the discussion around work location and flexibility is not going anywhere anytime soon. Opinions will continue to vary and shift, specific employers will have their unique needs and policies, and candidate expectations will impact which organizations attract top talent.

Remote Work in Canada

According to Statistics Canada, after rising to about 40% in April 2020, the percentage of Canadians working most of their hours from home in a given week fell to about 20% in November 2023. In contrast, only about 7% of Canadians worked most of the time from home in May 2016. One report found in 2023 that as global job postings featuring the keywords ‘remote work’ and ‘work from home’ declined year-over-year, ‘hybrid work’ increased by 29%.

Pros & Cons of Each Model

As Indeed discusses, there are pros and cons to each model. Many studies have focused on evaluating worker productivity under each model, while others examine different factors, often more difficult to measure, such as accessibility, diversity and happiness.

Pros of working in an office:

  • You may find fewer distractions during meetings
  • More opportunities for collaboration, mentorship and fast decision-making
  • Some employees may experience improved work-life balance with a physical separation between work and home
  • Some employees may find they focus better in a office than at home
  • There are certain jobs that just cannot realistically be performed remotely (manufacturing, retail, etc.)

Pros of working from home:

  • Provides more flexibility, allowing employees to structure their day in ways that best suit their energy and concentration levels
  • For jobs requiring a lot of ‘heads down’ solo work (writing, coding, data analysis, etc.) it can be easier to work from home without interruptions from colleagues or the noise of an office
  • Can reduce expenses for the company (rent, utilities, supplies, cleaning, security) and for employees (transportation, food, clothing)
  • When done well, has been shown to increase productivity, decrease anxiety and increase independence
  • Teams can find creative ways to connect, even remotely

Although some of our clients have found onboarding can be easier in-person, we provide tips for successful onboarding on-site as well as remotely in our Onboarding Guide.

What is most important is figuring out what works best for each team!

Job Interviews and Offer Negotiations

The discussion about on-site vs. remote frequently comes up during the hiring process, in particular during job interviews or at the offer stage.

When there is an otherwise strong match between a company and candidate, but location is a sticking point, there’s still an opportunity to come to an arrangement that works for both parties. For this to work, both candidate and employer need to consider the other side’s perspective. Approach the conversation with empathy and an openness to understand why the other person might be pushing for a particular work arrangement.

Here are some points to discuss to help get a sense of the other person’s perspective and potentially reach a win-win:

  • What are the requirements of the role?
  • Does the nature of the position make it necessary to be on-site for all or part of the job?
  • Can the job be done as effectively remotely?
  • Is a hybrid model possible?
  • Are there internal equity/fairness concerns that the employer has to factor in?
  • Why is the candidate looking for remote or hybrid?
  • Did the candidate work remotely in their previous role?
  • What flexibility is the candidate looking for and are there other ways to offer that? (for example, perhaps they would be fine with fully on-site work if they had flexible start/end times or were allowed a longer lunch break)
  • If remote/hybrid is not possible initially, could it be after the candidate is trained and performing comfortably in the role?
  • How much of a sticking point is this for either party? Is either ready to walk away based on the outcome of this particular item?

Remember if you are working with a recruiter, they will help you navigate job offers and negotiations! Candidates and employers should be clear and transparent with their recruiter about expectations, preferences and must-haves, so the recruiter can help get to the best outcome for both sides.

Making Changes to Your Policies

If your organization currently has a policy of fully on-site, ask yourself whether that policy might be a barrier to hiring and retention. Have your workers asked for remote or hybrid? Have candidates turned down your job offers due to a requirement to work on-site? What are your competitors doing?

It could be that the nature of your business, industry or team works best with a fully on-site model; however, if your organization is considering a shift to remote or hybrid, ensure you check the legality of any policies you plan to implement.

The Future of Work is Flexible

Overall, it seems like the future of work will be more flexible, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution for organizations or workers. A mix of remote, on-site and hybrid workplaces will likely continue to be the norm. Nuanced discussions around various types of flexibility and understanding what employees are seeking will help companies attract and retain top talent. Aside from location flexibility, this can included compressed work weeks, flexible start and end times, flexible break times and lengths, flexible or unlimited vacation policies, part-time work or job sharing, gradual retirements or leaves and sabbaticals.