Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of Canadian benefits plan members say they’re extremely or very satisfied with working from home, according to the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

It found levels of extreme or very high satisfaction were highest among those who also felt most productive working from home (89 per cent) and who were in excellent or very good mental health (80 per cent). Roughly a quarter (23 per cent) of plan members were somewhat satisfied about working from home, leaving just five per cent who weren’t satisfied.

Read: 51% of U.S. hybrid, remote workers would quit their jobs if mandated to return to office: survey

Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of plan members said they worked at home at least some of the time in the last year, while 30 per cent said they can’t work at home and seven per cent said they can but didn’t. Among those who can work at home, 54 per cent reported doing so more often than they did before the coronavirus pandemic, down from 63 per cent in the 2021 survey.

Plan sponsors estimated 58 per cent of their workforce worked at home in the past year, unchanged from 2021. They also estimated employees who could work at home did so about 65 per cent of the time in the past year, which aligns closely with the result from plan members (67 per cent).

“We’re in the pilot stage of our return to a hybrid office and it will be a test in patience for everyone,” said Rita Apa, chief human resources officer at McCarthy Tétrault LLP and an advisory board member, in the report. “We’ve embarked on a ‘great reconnection’ campaign to engage our people and provide a toolkit of best practices to support a successful return. Employers need to be very intentional about creating the right conditions and the right value proposition, so employees realize the physical office continues to have a purpose.”

Read: Survey finds 78% of Canadian employees prefer working from home

Regardless of their workplace setting, more than half (59 per cent) of plan members reported feeling less connected to their co-workers and their organization over the past year, down from 66 per cent in 2021. Those who can work at home (63 per cent) were more likely than those who can’t work at home (50 per cent) to say they feel less connected.

Plan sponsors with employees who have been working from home said they’d prefer these employees do so, on average, 56 per cent of the time, which was less than what they estimate their employees currently do (65 per cent). Plan sponsors would also prefer that, on average, 19 per cent of their employees work from home almost exclusively, less than the proportion who currently do (31 per cent).

More than a third (35 per cent) of plan sponsors and 26 per cent of plan members said they prefer a return to a pre-pandemic workplace with almost all employees onsite. By comparison, 23 per cent of plan members and just 10 per cent of plan sponsors would like a fully remote working arrangement for all employees.

Read: Head to head: Should employers worry about time theft with remote workers?

Regarding hybrid work environments, 56 per cent of plan spon­sors indicated their organization would primarily determine how time is divided between onsite and remote work, while 44 per cent said this would be determined by employees.

“It’s not surprising that plan sponsors want their employees to return to the workplace,” said Carlee Bartholomew, regional vice-president at RBC Insurance and an advisory board member, in the report. “We’ve found that one of the main reasons is because it’s hard to foster workplace culture when a significant number of employees are home-based. It’s really difficult to build relationships virtually. It’s even more difficult to identify employees who need help.”

The survey also found 39 per cent of plan members said they’re most productive working from home, while 38 per cent said they’re most productive in the workplace and 24 per cent said they’re equally productive working from home or onsite. Plan members working for organizations with 1,000 or more employees (47 per cent) were more likely to feel most productive working at home, as were those whose overall health is poor (48 per cent).

Read: 61% of Canadian employers using hybrid work model: survey

Among plan sponsors, 38 per cent said employees are most productive at home, up from 31 per cent last year, while 32 per cent felt employees are most productive at the workplace, down significantly from 45 per cent in 2021.

Among large employers, 37 per cent said they believe employees can be equally productive working from home or onsite, while 34 per cent said employee productivity is highest while working from home and 29 per cent said productivity peaks when employees work onsite. Meanwhile, 44 per cent of small employers felt employees are most productive working from home, followed by working onsite (39 per cent) and working in either setting (17 per cent).

Three-quarters (76 per cent) of plan sponsors described a hybrid or virtual workspace as an extremely (20 per cent) or somewhat (56 per cent) positive development for their organization. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) said it was neither positive nor negative, with just one per cent saying it was negative. And more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of plan sponsors said they’re concerned about the impact on attraction and retention if they mandate employees back to the workplace, up from 52 per cent a year ago.

Read: Vista using clear objectives, communication to maintain productivity in remote work environment