Foot traffic is set to pick up on Bay Street as Manulife Financial Corp. is the second major financial institution to announce that its remote-working employees will return to offices in January.
Canada’s largest insurer said on Friday that Manulife in both the United States and Canada will reopen office buildings on Jan. 24 under a hybrid working arrangement. A majority of Manulife’s employees in North America will be required to be in the office three days a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and one flexible day.
Return-to-office policies have been a moving target throughout 2021 with Canada’s largest financial institutions repeatedly pushing back return dates as public-health guidance shifted and rising COVID-19 cases put cities back into various states of lockdown across the country.
Now, as vaccination rates continue to rise, organizations are beginning to reopen offices to employees after keeping them mostly empty – except for a subset of critical staff who stayed on-site – since March, 2020.
Manulife chief executive officer Roy Gori said in a memo that the company made the decision to reopen after discussions with medical experts, government officials and industry peers.
“We know some of you are excited to come back to the office, while some of you either have hesitations or have enjoyed the opportunity to work remotely full-time,” Mr. Gori said in a statement. “As we return, our goal is to balance the flexibility many of us have enjoyed as a silver lining to the pandemic with our amazing on-campus culture ... and enjoy the benefits of collaborating in-person.”
This week, Bank of Nova Scotia said it will begin a phased return-to-work plan for those employees in head office roles on Jan. 17. The bank has already been testing the waters: On Oct. 1, certain employees in the Greater Toronto Area were offered a return to the office under a voluntary hybrid working model.
Scotiabank spokesperson Clancy Zeifman said the bank’s broader return-to-the-office plans will be “staggered” for different groups with the “majority of head office employees” working in a hybrid model.
“Recognizing that one size does not fit all, different groups will have different considerations regarding which activities should be conducted in person and which can be done virtually,” he said in statement to The Globe and Mail.
Both Scotiabank and Manulife confirmed vaccinations will be required for employees to return to office towers. Manulife will provide COVID-19 testing for any colleague who is not fully vaccinated, which will be required twice weekly.
Late this summer, Canada’s largest banks and insurers announced policies that require employees to be vaccinated, or undergo rapid testing and other restrictions in some cases. They made their decision after an announcement by the federal government that urged federally regulated employers, such as banks and telecommunications companies, to require employees be vaccinated to work onsite.
Sun Life Financial Inc. was the first major Canadian company to announce return-to-work plans last July. The insurer began running a voluntary pilot project in September allowing a flexible work arrangement that does not require employees to work any minimum or maximum number of days in the office. The company has yet to announce a companywide return-to-work policy.
Canada’s largest bank, Royal Bank of Canada, still has most of its 61,000 employees in the country working from home. The bank continues to take a “gradual” approach to returning to the office, according to spokesperson Rafael Ruffolo, and will give employees at least four weeks’ notice before requiring them to return.
“Many have begun returning or are preparing to return over the coming weeks and months, as conditions allow, and many of those are in hybrid work arrangements, where applicable,” Mr. Ruffolo said, in a statement.
A Toronto-Dominion Bank spokesperson said the bank continues to “monitor” the pandemic and does not expect a broader return to TD locations before 2022. A Bank of Montreal spokesperson said its return-to-office timeline will differ for “certain groups, teams and geographies, as some employees have returned to the office this past June while others began this fall.”