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Three of Canada’s largest banks are planning to keep most of their employees working remotely until the spring, pushing back plans to get back to offices amid a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal Bank of Montreal each told employees that most people currently working remotely should expect to do so until at least April. CIBC made the decision in light of the “latest health authority guidance,” said Sandy Sharman, CIBC’s head of people, culture and brand, in a memo sent to the bank’s staff on Wednesday.

BMO told staff on Wednesday it doesn’t expect any broad-based changes to its current work-from-home arrangements “any sooner than April” unless specific business needs arise, a spokesperson said.

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And on Nov. 16, Toronto-Dominion Bank’s Toronto-Dominion Bank executive vice-president of human resources, Kenn Lalonde, sent a memo to employees across the bank predicting that a large-scale return to TD’s offices is “not likely until at least the spring.”

TD and CIBC have promised at least four weeks notice before any plans to return employees to the office take effect, to give staff time to plan. “The situation remains very fluid, with different conditions across our footprint,” Mr. Lalonde said in his memo. “Therefore, there’s no easy answer to the question: When will I return to the workplace?”

The three banks are some of the largest companies to extend their remote working arrangements until next spring, although each has many staff that have been working on-site in critical roles at branches, data centres and some offices. The widespread shift to remote work has added implications for CIBC, which is in the midst of building and designing its new headquarters, CIBC Square, which is expected to house about 14,000 employees in downtown Toronto when it is finished.

“With the majority of our team members working from home seamlessly, we have the flexibility to align our decisions and timing around our long-term real estate plans, including CIBC Square and the guidance we receive from local governments and public health authorities,” Ms. Sharman said in her note to staff.

Promising results from clinical trials of vaccines have boosted optimism that companies may be able to return to more normal working conditions sometime next year. But “we recognize that even in a best-case scenario, we’re at least a few months away from a broadly available vaccine,” Mr. Lalonde said.

Early this week, Ontario’s government imposed stricter lockdown measures on Toronto and the nearby Peel region, where COVID-19 cases are surging, asking businesses to urge employees to work from home when possible.

CIBC, TD and other major banks including Royal Bank of Canada had previously advised that most staff were expected to keep working remotely until the new year, at the earliest. RBC has also promised to give at least four weeks notice before returning staff to work.

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On Nov. 12, RBC urged any staff in the Greater Toronto Area who were working on-site, and who are able to work remotely, to go back to working from home starting on Nov. 16. The bank also delayed a program that allowed employees in the GTA to come into offices to retrieve personal items.

Canadian authorities are assessing COVID-19 vaccine candidates while trials are underway, speeding up any eventual approval for wide use. But science reporter Ivan Semeniuk says it’s likely high-risk people will be prioritized for receiving any vaccine first, with some possibly getting it as early as the first part of 2021. The Globe and Mail

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