OSPE Research Confirms: Organizations that think they can restore the workplace to before COVID-19 are mistaken

During the past year, OSPE received funding from Future Skills Centre to manage research on ‘The Uneven Impact of Working-at-Home on Recent Graduates, Women, and Newcomers’. Prism Economics and Analysis developed a survey distributed to OSPE members, conducted focus groups of OSPE members, and interviewed engineering employers to document how engineering work has changed since the outbreak and global pandemic of COVID-19.

The key finding is: The engineering workplace will not be returning to how it looked before March 2020.

Of 1243 survey respondents, prior to COVID-19, 25.8% worked from home at least part of the time. During the pandemic, this proportion rose to 97.0%. The experience of working from home has had a significant impact on the preferences of engineering professionals. Regardless of age, gender, or immigration status, two-thirds of engineering professionals want to continue working from home for three days or more. Only 9.2% of survey participants prefer to return to the office full-time.

Furthermore, around two-thirds of those that want at least a partial work-from-home option also report that whether they remain with their current employer will depend on their employer implementing a hybrid model that allows for working-from-home. The survey results indicate that companies and organizations that opt for a complete return to the office risk a spike in engineering staff turnover.

Indeed, in focus groups, a typical comment was ‘I would accept a hybrid model with two or three days in the office. But, if I had to return to the office full-time, I would quit.’

The survey supports the view that shifting to at least a partial working-from-home policy holds out the potential to increase the productivity of engineering professionals if carried out appropriately. This was verified by focus groups with engineers who indicated the elimination of commuting time was an important source of productivity gain.

Both engineering professionals and engineering employers, however, also highlighted drawbacks to working from home. Foremost among these was the sense that teams that connect only remotely are less effective at brainstorming and less innovative. A typical observation was ‘Productivity increased, but creativity declined’.

Another troubling outcome of working from home is there was a broad consensus among both engineering employers and engineering professionals that the shift to working from home was associated with a decline in mentoring of early-career engineers and of newcomers who have little Canadian work experience.

Despite some downsides, companies who insist on returning to full-time office work will suffer a loss of engineering talent and serious difficulties in replacing that talent. The challenge for management and organizations is not how to get back to where they were before COVID-19. Rather, the challenge is to define what the future of engineering work and engineering workplaces will look like. Organizations that succeed will attract and retain talent. Those that do not adapt will face chronic hiring and retention problems.

Sandro Perruzza, OSPE CEO, concludes, “The insights raised in these reports provide great opportunities for employers to cater workplace solutions to meet the needs of their workforce, but also identify some challenges with engaging and empowering employees. At OSPE, we plan on developing solutions to meet these new challenges and assist our members to adapt to the changing workplace environment.

To read or download all reports conducted for this research, please visit here.

“New Barriers in Engineering and Technology Jobs: The Uneven Impact of Working-at-Home on Recent Graduates, Women, and Newcomers” project is funded by the Government of Canada’s
Future Skills Centre.
“Nouvelles barrières d’accès aux emplois en ingénierie et en technologie: les répercussions inégales du travail à domicile” est financé par le Centre des Compétences futures du gouvernement du Canada.

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