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Canada’s second-largest insurer announced its flexible return-to-work plans on Wednesday.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Sun Life Financial Inc. says it will not require its 12,000 Canadian employees to return to the office as pandemic restrictions ease, instead allowing them flexibility to decide their own work arrangements.

Canada’s second-largest insurer announced its flexible return-to-work plans on Wednesday, saying employees “using client and business needs as a guide, will choose where they work at any given time based on the activities they need to complete.”

The company said employees will not be required to work from the office any minimum or maximum number of days each week.

In addition, Jacques Goulet, Sun Life Canada’s president, said that despite the “majority of employees” wanting the flexibility to choose whether they work from home or at the office, there are no plans to reduce Sun Life’s existing office footprint. The company plans to retain enough office space to accommodate 100 per cent of its staff.

“We think people and their team leaders can be the best judge of where they should be and where they should do their work,” he said in an interview.

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Sun Life’s plans offer an early look at a broad return-to-work strategy as companies across Canada develop their plans as vaccination rates continue to increase. Sun Life was already moving toward a more flexible work arrangement before the pandemic hit in early 2020, allowing some employees to work from home on occasion.

To help accommodate more remote work, Mr. Goulet said the insurer is investing in more virtual meeting equipment to integrate people who are working from home with team members sitting together in the office.

“Throughout the pandemic, our employees told us they found comfort in our encouragement to flex their day,” Mr. Goulet said. “At a time when many businesses struggled, Sun Life’s employee engagement in Canada increased significantly.”

Currently, only 2 per cent of Sun Life employees – those deemed “essential workers” – have been accessing office buildings.

The company has yet to decide on a specific date for employees to return to its 14 office locations across the country. Mr. Goulet says Sun Life will follow guidance from local government and health authorities based on provincial reopening guidelines.

When they do return, employees will be required to wear masks at all times – unless they are in a closed office space with a door, or eating a meal. Prior to the pandemic, employees were already using an online booking technology to reserve desks and meeting space, and will continue to do so in the future.

While the company is encouraging all employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, Mr. Goulet said it has not requested any vaccination information from employees, nor does it currently require a vaccination for those essential workers to enter the buildings.

Sun Life began a COVID-19 rapid-testing pilot project in May at its office in Waterloo, Ont., which it has since expanded to include its Montreal office. The initiative is being run in partnership with Toronto-based Creative Destruction Lab, a not-for-profit organization whose pilot projects for COVID-19 screening now include 12 workplaces across Canada.

It has yet to be determined whether rapid testing will be required when employees return to the office, Mr. Goulet said.

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