How flexible back-to-work plans could tap the talents of workers facing employment barriers

Experts said a focus on hybrid and remote back-to-work models would attract a new pool of candidates that might have been frozen out of the employment market.

Hybrid and remote back-to-work models could attract a new pool of candidates potentially frozen out of market 

Calgary's downtown saw a lot of workers leave to work from home during the pandemic. As health restrictions are loosened or lifted, experts say hybrid or work-from-home models offer opportunities for employees and employers. (Jeff McIntosh/TheCanadian Press)

Kevin McNichol has been helping Albertans find secure work for three years. 

McNichol is the CEO of Prospect Human Services, a company with a focus on assisting people with disabilities and other employment barriers. 

He says the not-for-profit organisation has already noticed more opportunities for its clients as the pandemic meant more people could work from home.

"The nature of work is changing," McNichol said. "It's involving a keyboard and monitors and speakers and headphones and engaging remote work sites, and I think those are some of the huge advantages that are coming." 

During the pandemic, many companies had to adjust to operating without having employees in the office. Forty per cent of the labour force is working from home, according to a January report from Statistics Canada.

As pandemic restrictions are loosened or lifted, many companies are now considering what their workplace will look like in the future and how much time employees will be needed in the office.

A new report from Deloitte Canada looks at the policy implications of hybrid models and how they will create and sustain economic growth that inclusive of more Canadians.

One expert says hybrid and remote models of work increase talent pools and could help address the national labour shortage.  (Southworks/Shutterstock)

"If you can imagine a future where people can work coast to coast to coast and find more jobs that you would have traditionally found in urban centres in 2019, we're going to end up with a healthier economy overall, a better distribution of work," said Stephen Harrington, a partner at Deloitte and author of the report. 

The report also pointed out that hybrid models could be hugely beneficial to people who face barriers when working a 9-to-5 grind for a variety of reasons, including geography, disability and, in some cases, gender. 

'Long habit to break'

Harrington says the hybrid and remote models don't work in every industry, but there are sectors that could shift to this policy as restrictions continue to ease, and employers are implementing back to work plans. 

"It's not going to be easy because that way of working was in place from 1926 to now when we first thought of the five-day work week, we started piling people into offices. That's a really long habit to break," Harrington said. 

Shesta Babar, a director in KPMG Canada's people and change practice, says three-quarters of the 2,000 people surveyed last May reported wanting a hybrid model for their workplace. 

A hybrid model is one where employees would spend some time working remotely and at the office.

But 81 per cent were worried bosses were not prepared to manage the hybrid dynamic.

Babar says hybrid and remote models increase talent pools and could help address the national labour shortage. 

She adds a lot of organisations are engaging in dialogue with their employees to figure out what that looks like. 

"You may not get it right in the first round, but there has to be appetite for the fact that every three to six months you take stock of how things are going and adapt to your workforce needs as well as your own business needs," Babar said. 

McNichol is already adapting by implementing a hybrid model at Prospect Human Services, offering flexibility to employees. 

He says there is no single answer to what is the best workplace environment for people facing barriers, knowing each person is unique in their needs. But he says there's opportunities for both employees and employers.

"A happy employee is a productive employee and an effective employee so this just gives employers more tools and more ability to help create an environment where employees can find their success."