AIMCo CEO condemns removal of telecommuting option

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The CEO of one of Canada’s largest institutional investors didn’t mince words Wednesday when he talked about the recent push by some business leaders to order employees back into the office full time.

“I’m amazed, frankly, at how many tone-deaf, white male CEOs are saying, ‘You need to get back to the office.’ I think they’re asking for a fight with their employees,” said Evan Siddall, head of Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo) and former CEO of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“I think there’s been a relatively permanent shift.”

Siddall made the comments Wednesday during an interview in Calgary, where he attended the grand opening of AIMCo’s new office in that city.

AIMCo – which is responsible for the investments of pension, endowment and sovereign wealth funds in Alberta with $163.8 billion of assets under management at the end of last year – has approximately 600 employees in offices in Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, London , Great Britain , and Luxembourg.

Since the lifting of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, these employees have been able to decide within their individual teams how often they want to come into the physical office – and the company suggests that two days a week is the “starting point” for that conversation, but no fixed rules about it.

“Our philosophy at AIMCo is that we are all adults,” Siddall said. “Where you do this work doesn’t matter. There are some orthodoxies around culture where people say, ‘you can only maintain a culture if people are in the office full time.’ I just don’t agree with that.”

For Canada’s white-collar workers and employers, the pandemic was a year-long experiment in flexible telecommuting.

This September has pitted some bosses and workers against each other, with a renewed push by some companies to get employees back into office buildings.

And instead of the voluntary return-to-the-office guidelines that characterized earlier points in the pandemic, many employers are now requiring office attendance through company policies.

Those policies don’t make sense at a time when companies are still struggling with persistent labor shortages, high turnover rates and the much-publicized “shutdown” phenomenon, Siddall said.

“Our revenue — by the way, it’s higher than it’s been because of COVID — but we’re outperforming our peers because we have a different offering for employees. So they stay,” he said.

“We think it’s actually made us an employer of choice and it’s allowed us to recruit some great people that we wouldn’t have been able to recruit otherwise.”

Siddall said he is keenly aware that different demographics have different needs and preferences for where they do their work. Immigrant and culturally diverse populations, for example, have a greater tendency for older family members to age in place in their homes, while young families face particular challenges related to child care.

“Large family units or if you have aging parents or young children … it’s a different lifestyle and now we can welcome those people and expand our talent pool,” he said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 21, 2022.

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