Sweta Regmi remembers working from home being hard.

If you had asked her when she worked at the call centre, she would have had a question of her own.

Do you think you are crazy? Regmi said that he was laughing at the distant memory.

Today, her former colleagues at the call centre have been working from home because of the Pandemic-era pivot to more flexible work.

The proportion of Canadians who work from home most of the time is decreasing, as the protective lid on public health restrictions is pulled back and businesses are more confident in bringing their people back to the office.

It’s setting up tension with employees who don’t want to go back to the way things were, but who will have to change if that’s what they must do.

A shifting landscape?

According to Statistics Canada, nearly one in five employed Canadians were still working from home as of May.

It’s not as high as it was in January, but it’s not as high as it was in the first year of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rising fuel prices are just one cost that office staff returning to the workplace will face following an extended period of working from home during the pandemic. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

For two years, Ruel Tria has been working at home.

Tria, an operations supervisor who did all of his work in a Toronto office before the Pandemic, said that his business allowed that.

His workplace has sent out surveys to employees asking if they had any concerns about returning to the office.

Tria has been saving money while working at home as well as the time he used to commute.

“My concern is the rising fuel costs that are making the lives of commuters more expensive,” Tria said, noting that that’s just one cost that’s making the lives of commuters more expensive.

According to Nita Chhinzer, an associate professor of human resources in the department of management at the University of Guelph, there are a number of reasons employees don’t want to return to the office.

WATCH | Varying attitudes on heading back to the office: Nita Chhinzer, an associate professor of human resources at the University of Guelph, talks to CBC’s Canada Tonight about issues employers are wrestling with as they try to bring staff back to the office after an extended period of working from home during the pandemic.

“Maybe someone moved away from the city, or maybe they sold the car, or maybe they don’t want to do the commute anymore, or they’re realizing that the work politics and drama isn’t of interest to them anymore,” he said.

She said there are differing views among people on what works best for them, and that’s something employers have to wrestle with.

The challenge for employers is how to provide flexibility but still create an environment where they can bring people together and recreate the pulse of the workplace He said that.

People aren’t where they used to be

Cities are feeling the effects of fewer people going to the office.

Foot traffic in the downtown office core remains far below pre-pandemic levels despite the return to the office.

The proportion of Canadians who are working from home most of the time is decreasing, as the protective lid of public health restrictions is pulled back and businesses grow more confident about bringing staff back to the office. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Economic Blueprint Institute’s vice-president said the city’s rate of recovery has been influenced by the lengthy Pandemic restrictions.

People in the Toronto region worked from home for a long time.

There is a correlation between how long a jurisdiction was locked down and the return of office trajectory. Toronto is a good example.

Mark Rose, chief executive of Avison Young, told the Globe and Mail that a full, across-the-board return to the office is likely five years away.

Flexibility a key draw for some

Out on the East Coast, Paige Black is working in a new job that allows her to work from her home in North Carolina.

She left her last job because it was no longer the same option.

WATCH | Not everyone wants to go back: One in three Canadians say they would consider looking for a new job if their employer forced them back into the office and nearly a quarter would quit immediately, a new CBC News and Angus Reid survey suggests.

Black used to work in the same office as Tria. Initially, the non-profit professional didn’t like working from home.

She found that more flexible work gave her more control over her day-to-day life.

She said that she felt like she had more time back.

Sweta Regmi, the founder and CEO of Teachndo Career Consultancy in Sudbury, Ont., says that for some employees, the ability to have flexible work is a ‘priceless’ perk. (Submitted by Sweta Regmi)

It’s hard to beat that kind of flexibility for Black and many others.

“Flexibility is priceless,” said Regmi, the career consultant, summing up its worth to workers.

Embracing flexibility

There’s a recognition that flexibility is here to stay at some large organizations in Canada.

The Canada Life Assurance Company wants to support both its people and different working styles.

The Canada Life Assurance Company says it has made changes to its main campuses and some of its regional offices, in a bid to provide more updated meeting facilities and more modern meeting areas for its employees. (Submitted by Liz Kulyk)

Colleen Bailey Moffitt, the company’s senior vice-president of human resources, said in an email that the company’s approach to returning to the office is empowering their 11,000 employees to do their best work wherever they are.

Canada Life is committed to supporting a hybrid, flexible way of working and recognizes its teams and people have different needs, according to Bailey Moffitt. It makes it possible for leaders to decide which work style works best for their team.

The insurance giant has invested in meeting rooms and common spaces over the past two years to make them more welcoming to staff.

As the long-term needs of their businesses have become apparent, other large employers have made similar investments to facilities.

The federal government is paying attention to the broader shift in how people are working.

The Treasury Board of Canada secretariat said that federal public servants proved their ability to adapt to new ways of working both on-site and remotely while delivering results for Canadians.

More and more employees are making their way into work sites on a regular basis, even though the board doesn’t have government-wide data on the proportion of federal servants working on-site versus a remote setup.

The board said that the experience of the past two years will help guide the government in developing “flexible, hybrid workforce models as part of how and where public servants work in the future.”