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Steve Lascos has had a hard time finding work in his specialized field close to where he lives in Hamilton, Ont. When a 90-minute commute for one job was getting longer because of increased traffic, he switched jobs. But a few years later when he was again looking to change jobs, the commute wasn’t a factor.

The pandemic and the shift to remote and hybrid work changed where Mr. Lascos would look for a job. About a year ago, the engineer accepted a job based in downtown Toronto – because even though the commute is three and a half hours round trip, he only does it a couple of days a month.

“The most positive impact from remote work came on the sleep side,” Mr. Lascos, now a principal engineer with Untether AI Inc., said. ”Waking up to an alarm every day, regardless of how well you slept, is not as effective as letting your body wake up when it’s had enough sleep. And, since you don’t have to budget for commuting time, you have the time in the morning to get a bit of extra sleep when needed.”

The pandemic changed the landscape of hybrid work, a term used to describe arrangements like Mr. Lascos’s, where workers spend some time in the office and work remotely the rest. At the end of last summer, 28 per cent of all Canadian workers and 47 per cent of professional services workers were hybrid, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada data by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

And research has found Mr. Lascos isn’t alone in feeling better rested as a hybrid worker – along with other health benefits. A recent report by IWG, a global operator of flexible workspaces, found these workers eat healthier, exercise more and drink less alcohol, too.

The company’s survey of 2,000 workers in Canada shows:

  • More than 70 per cent of hybrid workers now cook and eat healthier meals
  • Workers enjoy an extra 73 hours of sleep a year
  • Exercise over 40 minutes per week longer compared to before the pandemic
  • More than a quarter (27 per cent) said they have decreased their alcohol consumption

Overall, 82 per cent of respondents believe hybrid working has improved their quality of life and 66 per cent reported improved mental health and well-being.

“The data [from the report] really underscores the impact that hybrid working is having on the ability for people to live healthier lives, both mentally and physically,” said Dr. Sara Kayat, a U.K.-based physician who co-authored the report. “What really came through were the daily changes people had made during their hybrid week that added up to these bigger, positive shifts.”

Exercise, diet, sleep, stress management and social connections are five critical pillars responsible for overall health. Hybrid work allows employees to fortify the pillars and balance their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and social well-being, Dr. Kayat said.

Last year, global technology company Cisco surveyed 28,000 full-time employees worldwide and came to a similar conclusion. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents said remote and hybrid work had improved their overall well-being, while 79 per cent felt it improved their work-life balance. Half of respondents said it decreased their stress levels and 82 per cent said having the ability to work from anywhere made them happier.

One key element of the Cisco findings was that, while workers have embraced hybrid work arrangements, only around one in four employees said their company is prepared for a hybrid work future.

Employers must consider the benefits hybrid work offers while addressing what they perceive as the drawbacks around collaboration, clarity around expectations and burnout, said Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, chief executive officer of Disaster Avoidance Experts, a hybrid work consultancy and author of Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams.

Dr. Tsipursky suggests organizations:

  • Offer flexibility and allow workers to choose how much time they spend working remotely and working in the office.
  • Set clear expectations and boundaries for communication, work hours and performance. “Clarity in expectations can reduce stress, increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction,” he said.
  • Foster collaboration through technology to maintain strong communication and teamwork.
  • Measure performance by focusing on results and outcomes. Establish performance metrics that align with company goals and employee responsibilities, allowing for a fair assessment of remote and in-office employees.

And in the event employers choose to bring workers back to the office full-time, they must clearly communicate the benefits of the move to their staff, said Andrea Bartlett, vice-president of people at Humi, a Toronto company offering all-in-one HR, payroll, insurance and benefits software. Next, they must create adaptable policies that consider what works best for each team instead of mandating work as they did prepandemic.

“I believe a flexible and employee-centric approach is the best way to handle a return-to-office policy,” she said. “But first, it’s important employers communicate why in-office work is beneficial because employees need to understand the why as much as the what. This exercise must ultimately empower employees to choose their work environment and make them feel supported, valued and engaged.”

As for Mr. Lascos, he is using some of the time saved by commuting to spend it cooking with his wife, who has also moved from working in an office five days a week to a hybrid role.

My wife and I almost always have evening meals together now.’’

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