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Hybrid working forces small businesses to make tough choices

Tutors who are part of Chantale Alvaer’s Quebec company, SOS Profs, want to continue working remotely, even though many parents want their children to return to in-person tutoring sessions.Adil Boukind/The Globe and Mail

As small business owners enter the third summer of COVID-19, new challenges continue to present themselves. With well-honed security protocols, the hurdle this season is managing the expectations of a workforce that increasingly wants the ability to work remotely.

Chantale Alvaer, founder of the Quebec tutoring company SOS Profs, is developing a new system for her team of 207 tutors. Matching tutors with families who live in the same neighborhood has always been a logistical challenge for the company, so when COVID-19 forced students and tutors indoors, virtual tutoring solved many challenges and offered a welcome solution. Now, parents are done with online learning and want tutoring to be done in person again. But not the tutors.

“The guardians absolutely do not want to go back,” says Ms. Alvaer. “We surveyed 145 guardian respondents, and 47% would choose not to come to work, even with a gas inducement. Seventy-five percent of tutors think we should also charge for travel time. These additional costs would make tutoring a luxury service.

Technically, Ms Alvaer’s business is one of many that can be run in a remote or hybrid style – which Statistics Canada reports is possible for 40% of jobs nationwide. The same report showed that in 2020, about 60% of Canadian employers expected at least some of their staff to continue working remotely after the pandemic. Now, for small businesses like Alvaer’s, the challenge is to find a hybrid structure that meets both worker and business needs.

“Once size doesn’t fit all when it comes to structuring hybrid workplaces, you’ll struggle to attract and retain quality people if you force people to come into an office every days,” says Phil Simon, author of Project Management in the Hybrid Workplace. Mr. Simon has spent years helping organizations develop workplace standards and deploy the right software for effective collaboration.

“There is this feeling that we have an opportunity to reclaim our lives. We like work to revolve around our personal life now, and we don’t want to give it up. Despite this, the Society for Human Resource Management found that seven out of 10 managers are more comfortable with in-person work environments. It’s just what they’re used to.

Simon says issues such as bias against employees who don’t come into the office as often as their peers are a risk for hybrid teams.

“Proximity bias is a huge problem, where you tend to say that the person who shows up in person is the hardest worker,” says Simon. “The feeling is that when we don’t see someone, we don’t trust them as much. Especially for new hires who don’t already have the social capital in a company, it’s debatable whether someone the boss can’t see is actually working.

Mr. Simon says that although remote working has added a lot of complexity to simple tasks, small businesses may have an advantage over larger companies when it comes to making hybrid setups work.

“The data suggests that an escalating set of issues is what ultimately slows businesses down the most. With a small business, you likely have an intuitive sense of your team’s issues or whether a project with one client does not go well.It is much more difficult with groups of 150 people and more.

For Dorothy Eng, executive director of the nonprofit Code for Canada, hybrid working is a long-standing practice. Its core staff had to be on duty two days a week before the pandemic hit, but they worked remotely with partners across the country. Once safe again, they reopened their office in 2020. Acceptance of the return offer was low among staff.

“We set up the infrastructure so that people could register to enter the office, but due to the layout of our office, there could only be one person in each room,” recalls Ms Eng. “The final decision was made after conducting several surveys to understand what the staff needed, and the data indicated that most of them wanted to do either hybrid or remote first, so we just took the leap. and went fully remote in January 2022.”

The move was not without its challenges, even for a team used to working outside the confines of an office.

“In a distant world, you must throw your old assumptions out the window. There are communication problems, for example. Things can easily get lost in translation when you’re on camera. So we often rehearse things and make sure active listening is happening, but it’s something we’re still learning to navigate.

Ms Eng says the organization has benefited from a wider pool of talent since leaving her brick-and-mortar office, and she feels better able to forge connections across the country than she does. did when the company had a base in Toronto. Still, adding an office to their operations is something the organization is willing to consider in the future.

“Ultimately, we want to optimize for people to do their best work under conditions that suit them, so we will continue to meet the needs we hear from our talent pool. However, right now we have working parents, people recovering from the pandemic, and as a working parent myself with so many obligations, I am always looking for flexibility. I’m lucky that everyone I work with is in the same boat.

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