In the old days, many employers served up one option for employees: work 9-to-5 in the office.

Then the pandemic hit. For the past 18 months and counting, office workers around the globe have worked everywhere from their beds to their balconies to their backyards and many have logged hours in between helping kids with remote schooling and virtual yoga classes.

As well, survey after survey is finding many white-collar staff intend to leave their job if they don’t have a say about when and where they work once the coronavirus pandemic is over — and employers are listening.

Read: Sun Life allowing staff to choose where they work post-pandemic

While Kraft Heinz Canada planned and introduced its flexible working program, Work Like an Owner, in the months before the coronavirus crisis, the global food and beverages company recognizes that offering staff flexibility post-pandemic will be key to attracting and retaining top talent.

“It was started shortly before the pandemic and, quite honestly, that’s because we recognized the value of providing our employees with flexibility and autonomy and managing their schedules,” says Tracy Fogale, the organization’s senior manager of compensation and benefits. “I think it helps attract, engage and retain talent for Kraft Heinz and there’s so many studies that demonstrate there’s benefits to overall well-being — you see the productivity and we’re seeing that here as well.”

By the numbers

54% of Canadian employees said they’d leave their company if their current flexibility in schedule and work location isn’t extended post-pandemic.

67% of survey respondents said they’d still prefer to control where and when they work, with respondents 1.4 times more likely to opt for having control over their working hours.

48% also said their company culture has improved since the beginning of the pandemic.

Source: EY Canada report, June 2021

Ingredients for success

The made-in-Canada program, which has since been rolled out globally, was designed to continually evolve through insight and feedback about what’s working and what needs to be tweaked.

It focuses on the tangible results produced by employees, not whether they’re sitting in a cubicle for eight hours a day, says Fogale. Employees are expected to first discuss the details of working anywhere, anytime with their manager to ensure their preference aligns with business needs and goals.

Read: Salesforce planning to switch to flex-work model post-pandemic

“When we were putting this together we realized that flexibility comes in many forms, so working anywhere, anytime and then flexibility with days. When I say work any hours, that really comes down to adjusting your time throughout the day — Is that changing your start and end times? Is that perhaps having to leave throughout the day to attend a doctor’s appointment or tend to a child at a doctor’s appointment?”

With two children at home, Fogale can attest firsthand to the benefits of the program. “It really motivates me and demonstrates the true passion that Kraft Heinz has for its employees, to be able to trust and allow employees to have that flexibility and autonomy to really manage their schedules because it’s about delivering the results.”

And she’s far from the only employee who’s found the merits of flexibility during the pandemic. According to a survey published by EY Canada in June, slightly more than half (54 per cent) of Canadian employees said they’d leave their employer if current flexibility in schedule and work location isn’t extended post-pandemic.

Read: Half of Canadians would leave job if flexibility isn’t extended post-pandemic: survey

“In Canada, we’ve noticed in surveys [we’ve done over the course of the pandemic] that they have about an eight per cent higher propensity to want to keep remote working,” says Darryl Wright, talent and future of work lead in people advisory services at EY Canada. “They’re quite comfortable working remotely so you can’t ignore the facts. You can’t ignore the data points.”

Kraft Heinz Canada is starting to plan for what working life will look like post-pandemic by keeping its pre-pandemic focus on encouraging employee’s to “think like owners” top of mind. “When we announced the program, it was very well received, but because this was a new program, [we saw] a majority of responses — there came enthusiasm, as well as skepticism and some pushback,” says Fogale. “Then COVID happened so, by default, we were pushed to living in this working-from-home model. Fortunately, we had a lot of this already in place. . . .

“Of course, there’s ever-changing environments and now that we’re starting to plan for return to office, the premise of our program doesn’t change. Employees own flexibility with their schedule and autonomy and it comes back to, how do we pivot and revisit that program to ensure that it remains relevant and meaningful to both Kraft Heinz and our employees?”

Perfecting the recipe

The right approach is balancing employees’ wants with employers’ needs, says Wright, noting employers must ask, ‘Who do we want to be as an organization going forward?’ and ‘How do we think differently about what’s best for our clients and shareholders and, more importantly, employees?’

Read: Employers prioritizing mental health, permanent hybrid work 1.5 years into pandemic

Indeed, Fogale says leadership at Kraft Heinz Canada is actively thinking about how its program will work as it starts planning for the post-pandemic future. But Wright warns there will be no quick shift back to the way things used to be after such a seismic once-in-a-century crisis, noting the old days of only offering employees the option of working 9-to-5 in a cubicle might be gone, but its replacement is yet to be established.

“Everyone thinks it’s going to be a quick fix of three to six months. I think we’re in it for the next year to two years, at least, where people get a sense of comfort, people get a sense of getting used to working back in the office and [remotely] because that’s going to take some time to get collaboration going properly. . . . I think [employers will be] taking a good one to two years of trial and error and just experimenting and loads of employee listening — that’s what’s going to have to happen.”

Melissa Dunne is the managing editor of Benefits Canada.