With working from home no longer mandatory, Quebec employers, staff brace for major change

The debate regarding the pros and cons of working from home is likely far from over, even as the province does away with the rule for mandatory remote work.

Quebec scraps rule requiring remote work, as it continues to lift COVID-19 restrictions

Gillian Aitken is a project co-ordinator at the Association of Canadian Studies, where staff are gradually returning to work in office. Employees will work three days at the office, and two days at home. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

The daily routines of countless Quebecers could soon be upended, with the province no longer requiring people to work from home and employers getting ready to welcome back staff who grew accustomed to working in their pyjamas over the last two years.

But even if remote work — for people who were able to do it — is no longer mandatory as of Monday, don't expect Quebec's workforce to instantly flock back to the office.

Monica Dedich, who works as a senior manager for content and communications for Lighthouse Labs, a tech education company, says she's in no rush to trade her desk at home for one at the office and will be sticking with remote work for now.

"On a day to day, frankly, I don't feel like I'm missing out," she said when describing the upside of working from home compared to the traditional office.

"It works great for me and my young family's schedules, so for me it's actually a lot easier to have this opportunity to continue."

Mandatory work from home is one of several pandemic rules being phased out this week as the Quebec government moves forward with its plan to lift most COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March.

Monica Dedich, a senior manager for content and communications, says she's in no rush to work from an office, preferring to stay at her desk at home. (Submitted by Monica Dedich)

After working remotely for most of the last two years, getting reacquainted with daily commutes will be a struggle for many employees in Quebec, according to Marianne Plamondon, a lawyer who specialized in labour law.

"Most workers got used to working from home, working from their cottages, and they've come to like it," she said.

"Employers sort of don't have the choice to go toward a formula that's more hybrid. The full return, five days a week, 40 hours per week at work, is difficult to impose when employees managed to maintain their productivity all while doing telework."

Dedich acknowledges that working from home wasn't always a smooth process, because of how she initially tried to juggle work with home chores.

"The lines are less blurred for me now," she said. 

"I'm more aware of the fact that, you know, you are working. You're working pretty intensely, pretty hard every day for your job. You don't need to juggle everything."

3 days in office, 2 at home

Employees at the Association of Canadian Studies will begin to work three days per week from the organization's downtown office. They will continue working from home two days a week.

Those days will be of their choosing, said Gillian Aitken, a project co-ordinator with the association.

Aitken says that decision was about finding a compromise that would allow people to continue working from home at times if they chose, while also pushing for more in-person collaboration.

"I'm productive in both places," she said, while adding that alternating between home and the office can help maximize productivity.

"I think that at home I can do more focused work, but I don't want to that all the time," she said.

Many Quebecers who have been working from home are now allowed to go back to their offices as of Monday. (Radio-Canada)

'What's been very hard for me is the logging off'

As far as Laurence Pierre-Toussaint is concerned, there's nothing like being in an office setting interacting with colleagues.

With remote work no longer being mandatory, she plans to alternate between working from home and the office.

Like many Quebecers, she's enjoyed working in her pyjamas. But the perks of remote work basically stop there, she said, and she's looking forward to being back in an office setting.

"You get to see your colleagues, you get to be able to exchange with them and not have to use Teams or Zoom and I'm really, really looking forward to this," said Pierre-Toussaint, who works for Frontier College.

One of her biggest challenges working from home, she said, was resisting the urge to do work before and after her scheduled hours.

"What's been very hard for me is the logging off. I feel like I'm always on," she said.

"That separation between home life and work life has been a little tougher for me even though we've been doing this for two years."

With files from Rowan Kennedy, CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Radio-Canada