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Panelists Talk Post-Pandemic Hybrid Work At Chamber Event

By Sam Macdonald Nov 21, 2022 | 10:27 AM


What can employers do for those who want to continue working remotely, and how do they fit into the workplace of the future?

That question was the topic of conversation for a panel of five businesswomen during the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton’s Workforce of the Future event last week.

Moderator Danielle Pieroni, a public relations manager with CPA New Brunswick, led the panel, posing a variety of questions relating to hybrid work and its place in a post-pandemic world.

Panelists covered a broad range of topics at the Nov. 17 discussion, from company culture and adapting to people staying part of the remote work culture, to the differences in what people of each generation want in a job.

Collaborative Spaces

Geneviève Laforge said that her employer, Assomption Vie, has been trying to figure out how to bring people back into the office, finding a balance between more wide-open collaborative workspaces and private offices.

“We’ve created a committee and we’re analyzing data. We’re looking at what other companies are doing,” Laforge said.

“Definitely, we want to build more collaborative spaces, while keeping some private spaces, because people are very attached to their closed offices. But, if you’re only going into the office two days a week, we’re not going to have this big private office for you.
But, to look at those wide-open spaces, I don’t know how employees can work there five days a week and really be productive.”

On the topic of maintaining team connection and productivity with remote and hybrid work, Anita Swamy, the VP of operations with Medavie Blue Cross, said that when the pandemic first started Blue Cross saw peak at-home productivity.

“We saw people putting in discretionary time and outcomes that were remarkable. And then, as the pandemic wasn’t two-weeks-long anymore, things started to come a little bit down,” Swamy said.

“That’s when culture started to be really, really important.”

Swamy, one of four panelists, said Medavie Blue Cross discovered employees thrived on small things like conversations in the hallway and going to lunch with co-workers – and that the way to cultivate that was strong communication between employees and the CEO and president.

“We’ve gotten ourselves not only back to that productivity space, but many teams have higher productivity because people are choosing flexibility that suits them,” she said.

“That’s what we’re seeing when we give people the opportunity to choose what’s best.”


Myriane Ouellette, the CEO of O Stratégies, offered a counterpoint.

“I challenge an organization saying that productivity from home dropped after a couple of weeks of the pandemic. Have you looked at your culture before?” she asked.

Ouellette stressed “the power of meetings” that can be found in a work culture where people can speak their mind and feel engaged in business – and the need to support staff that go through “transformational changes” like moving to a work-from-home or hybrid work model.

She noted that her company differentiates between regular morning check-ins and larger formal meetings.

She said the way to get to that point, in the context of a hybrid work model is to purposely support a change from the in-office format.

“It’s going to be okay at first, and then you’re going to see a drop of productivity because people don’t have systems or processes to support working online,” Ouellette said.

“Working online is different. It’s about having much more intentional dialogues about how we’re doing and being able to have some moments with those water cooler chats that are intentionally created so that we’re able to create space for dialogue and build organizational culture.”

Swamy noted that, often, people come into the office physically to work. She said Medavie Blue Cross has experimented with “hoteling” workstations for employees who frequent the office fewer than three times a week.

While that was helpful, Swamy said being set apart from people with more permanent workstations can hurt collaboration – and that a goal for Medavie Blue Cross is to figure out how to encourage that collaboration they sought with “hoteling” stations.

Michelle Duffie, a human resources manager with the Lounsbury Group and panelist, was direct when she weighed in on the future of work-from-home or hybrid work arrangements, post-pandemic.

“We don’t work from home. You cannot fix a car from home, our mechanics can’t work from home and our salespeople can’t work from home,” she said.

She noted that a small number of people can work from home, herself included, “When you’ve ten percent of your workforce that can work from home and you work in HR, you don’t work at home – you work at the office.”

When the pandemic hit, Duffie told her fellow panelists that they had to lay off much of their staff.

Duffie said companies like Lounsbury “cringe” at phrases like flexible and remote work, and as one of the few who could work from home, she found herself tired and missing her coworkers.

Duffie noted staff with Lounsbury group tried to bridge the communication gap across its 13 locations with an app – a measure that proved a failure, when about 25 of the more than 400 employees working for the company never used it.

“We thought, ‘this is going to be the best thing because everyone has a smartphone,’ and when we did it, all I heard was ‘another username and password?’

“They hated it. We can admit when something was wrong and we’re not going to invest any more time in it and we cut it off. I’m happy we try,” she said.

What worked for Lounsbury Group employer was flexibility, said Duffy.

Offering more sick time use, differential hours for employees, depending on their personal needs, an increase in allotment in the company insurance plan toward mental health and not counting time off because of COVID-19 as absenteeism worked to help the company weather the pandemic.

“But we still have to come to work,” Duffie said, adding that in many recent interviews, she’s found a rising trend of people who specifically want to leave home to work.

She noted that Lounsbury Group focuses on what it can offer employees, to make them want to go into work.

“What we do promote is we work Monday to Friday, nine-to-five and no nights and weekends,” she added.

The panel, hosted at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Beausejour, was one of several hosted by the chamber and 3+ Economic Development Corp, discussing how to address the province’s labour shortage as part of the Southeast Labour Market Partnership.

At the event, the chamber and 3+ also unveiled three “tool kits” designed to help employers foster diversity, equity and inclusion, create a flexible workplace and recruit and retain employees.

Sam Macdonald is a Reporter for Huddle Today, a content-sharing partner of Acadia Broadcasting. 


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