Employers still reluctant to formalize hybrid and remote working language in offer letters

Michael Artlety, Larkin Zaltko and Miguel Caducio work at their stations in HSBC’s new offices at 16 York Street in Toronto.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Veteran headhunter Elan Van Wyck recently persuaded employers to include a key term in offer letters to potential candidates: language around remote or hybrid work.

Mr Van Wyck, co-owner of Winchesters, a Toronto-based recruitment firm, says that over the past six months or so this has become one of the biggest sticking points for candidates looking for jobs in white collar. They just don’t want to go back to the office full time, and they want that on paper.

“These are people who have become accustomed to flexibility and say that in any new job they take on, they want to make sure they can only work two or three days in the office…forever,” did he declare. The Globe and Mail in a recent interview.

HSBC’s new offices in Toronto and Vancouver have been completely redesigned with hybrid working in mind.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

But employers, according to Mr Van Wyck and several lawyers and recruiters The Globe spoke to, still seem reluctant to formalize such arrangements in employment contracts, despite company policies that allow for a voluntary return to the office. or a permanent hybrid work setup.

“Bigger, more established employers are certainly very hesitant to put it in a contract. They might find out later that they need that person in the office five days a week, and then you have to change the terms of the employment contract quite significantly,” said Neena Gupta, partner at Gowlings WLG who specializes in labor and employment law. .

For most white-collar employers, the typical company policy regarding working from home over the past two years has always been subject to change, depending on the severity of COVID-19 infections in a particular jurisdiction. Some companies, largely US banks such as JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have publicly asked their employees to return to the office, with some exceptions.

But there is growing evidence that most workers have become accustomed to doing their jobs from the comfort of their homes and are not ready to give it up.

An Angus Reid poll conducted in March showed that more than half of Canadians currently working from home would look for a new job if asked to return to the office, while 23% said they would quit on the spot. It’s also worth noting that four in five of the 2,550 working adults surveyed said working from home was “good” or “awesome” and that it hadn’t affected their productivity.

An Amazon Canada poll of 1,600 Canadian office workers in February suggested that half of Canadian workers see working mostly or entirely remotely as their ideal scenario; only a quarter wanted to come back to the office most of the time.

“The fact that employers have company policies on working from home but are unwilling to put them in an offer letter suggests to me that things could change and go back to how they were when the pandemic will calm down,” Van Wyck said. .

According to Travis O’Rourke, president of recruitment giant Hays Specialist Recruitment, there seems to be a clear disconnect between what employers offer and what employees want when it comes to returning to the office. Based on his own clients, he said there were far more employees asking for remote work or minimal days in the office than employers willing to offer them permanently.

“But it’s an employee market right now. I think employers don’t want to engage in permanent remote or hybrid work right now because they might have more leverage on employees later on and they don’t want that years later. that you can’t bring someone back to the office,” Mr. O’Rourke said.

According to Ms. Gupta, an employer who breaks an employee’s contract or tries to change it in a way that causes the employee to leave would most likely face financial repercussions. “You are going to pay an employee a package in which you have invested not only money, but also time and training. That is why there is some hesitation, which makes sense.

HSBC’s new offices can accommodate more than 50% of staff.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

At HSBC Canada, which has approximately 5,300 employees across Canada, but primarily in Vancouver and Toronto, hybrid working is a permanent company policy. According to Kim Toews, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, bank employees can choose the number of days they want to return to the office and work with their immediate superiors on a schedule.

HSBC’s new offices in Toronto and Vancouver have even been completely redesigned in this spirit. There are open-plan offices, private pods, and an array of meeting rooms equipped with video conferencing technology.

Even if they don’t want everyone to come at once, “We want people to feel that the workplace is really welcoming,” Ms. Toews explained. The bank’s new offices can accommodate more than 50% of the staff. In Vancouver, HSBC has reached an agreement with coworking space WeWork in the unlikely situation where the office cannot accommodate all the workers present.

Still, it’s uncertain whether new hires will see definitive language on flexible working reflected in their employment contracts. Ms Toews said a likely outcome would be a letter of offer in which the potential employee agrees to their initial work period being remote, or hybrid, or whatever they prefer, and which will then be reviewed periodically. “An employee might have lost a manager’s trust to work remotely,” she said. as an example of why privileges might be revoked.

Kelly Blackett, head of human resources at Canadian Western Bank, said the company prioritizes flexible working (hybrid working is the current norm), but the bank does not include language around the policy. in employment contracts. “We have to be nimble and we don’t know what the future holds,” she said.

Being subject to the whims and demands of an employer is exactly what Nimar Bangash decided he needed to part with. In March, he quit his job as an investment fund specialist at AGF Investments Inc., a Toronto-based wealth management firm.

“My job has become increasingly demanding during the pandemic, and we are rewarded by getting more work,” he said. “AGF has been good in allowing us to work wherever we want, but you’re still chained to someone else.” Mr Bangash intends to start his own fintech business – designing an investment app – and will focus his efforts on fundraising for his project in the coming months.

If and when he becomes a successful business owner, he said his business philosophy will let employees work where they want, when they want, as long as they deliver the goods. “And yes, I’ll put that in writing,” he said.

HSBC employees can choose the number of days they want to be back in the office and work with their immediate supervisors on a schedule.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

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