Skip to content

Only 11 per cent of employees expect to return to the office

In a shocking new survey, 62 per cent of Metro Vancouver office workers say they would quit their job if their employer required them to stop working from home
Office space may remain underused in Metro Vancouver, according to a recent Glacier Media/Research Co. survey. | CBRE

In March 2021, Research Co. and Glacier Media took the pulse of British Columbia’s workers to gauge their expectations about the future of the office. We were curious to see if the enjoyment many felt about turning their kitchen table into an office during the pandemic would lead them to seek opportunities where commuting would no longer be necessary.

In our latest survey, conducted January 6 and 7 2022, we continue to see more than half of the province’s workforce (54 per cent) stating that they have had to labour from their home and away from their usual office. Again, those aged 18 to 34 are more likely to say they have been away from the workplace (65 per cent) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (52 per cent) and aged 55 and over (45 per cent).

The emergence of the Omicron variant has affected the views of employed British Columbians. The hopeful idea of being able to chat around the water cooler again has given way to a larger proportion of people who would work from home consistently if they are offered the chance.

Some elements of office life are not expected to return in the same form. About two in five employed British Columbians say they do not think they will see more in-person staff meetings (43 per cent), travel between offices (39 per cent) and in-person business development meetings (38 per cent) once the pandemic is over. Businesses may be realizing that the virtual tools that the pandemic compelled them to use can still be part of daily operations.

If anything, employed British Columbians are more likely to think that the components of their job that were not present in 2019 will remain once COVID-19 effectively ends. Almost half (46 per cent) believe they will continue to rely more on virtual communications between offices, and similar proportions expect more virtual staff meetings held through audio or video conferencing (45 per cent) and more virtual business development meetings (also 45 per cent).

A significant number of employees remain in the dark about the future. Our survey shows that 38 per cent of British Columbians who are away from their workplace have not heard anything from their employer about post-pandemic plans to either return to the office or carry on working from home. This proportion rises to 46 per cent among those in the lowest income bracket.

One matter that has not seen a dramatic shift is the expectation that the home office will still be available when the pandemic is officially behind us. In the latest survey, only 11 per cent of employed British Columbians who have worked or are currently working from home expect a full return to the office, up one point since February. More than two in five (41 per cent, up eight points) believe they will be able to work from home once or twice a week, while one-third (34 per cent, down four points) think their home will continue to be their office three days a week or more.

Employers were already put on notice last year about the possibility of their workforce leaving to pursue gigs that afford them more freedom to work from home. These feelings have become more prevalent as the pandemic continues. This month, almost three in five British Columbian “home workers” (58 per cent) acknowledge that they are likely to leave their current post if their supervisors do not allow them to work from home as much as they want to, up nine points since February and reaching 62 per cent across Metro Vancouver.

We also see an increase in the propensity of home workers to seek a different job in their own metropolitan area (64 per cent, up eight points), for a different company headquartered in British Columbia (57 per cent, up three points) and even for a business located in another Canadian province (45 per cent, up six points). The challenge for human resources departments has not subsided with time. If anything, as the weeks working from home have turned into months, more people—especially the youngest adults – are ready to envision a future where a paycheque can be earned without commutes.

­ – Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on January 6 and January 7 among 700 adults who work in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.