RBC CEO says employees should be in the office more often

RBC CEO Dave McKay speaks at the annual meeting of the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto on April 6, 2017.Frank Jean/The Canadian Press

The chief executive of Canada’s largest bank is urging employees to return to the office more frequently, and says the bank should get more in-depth about working on the site.

In an internal memo to RY-T 89,000 Royal Bank of Canada employees Tuesday afternoon, CEO Dave McKay requested that they “meet often in person for business and collaboration” as the fall season approaches.

Mr. McKay acknowledged that flexible and blended work models are “here to stay” and that the office’s role in workers’ lives has changed as a result of the pandemic, but suggested This face-to-face interaction is a business necessity.

“For the hybrid to continue to operate effectively, we need to strike the right balance and be more reflective about when and how to organize on site,” he said.

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This is the first time this year, according to RBC, that Mr. McKay has addressed employees directly about returning to the office.

In justifying frequent office attendance, Mr. Mackay argued that technology cannot replicate the “energy, spontaneity, big ideas, or true sense of belonging” that comes from working together in person. He added that mentorship and skills development, two important parts of the bank’s culture, are challenging when done through video screens.

In a June interview with The Globe and Mail, RBC’s former director of human resources, Helena Gotschling, said the bank was serious about maintaining its flexible approach to returning to the office, I left it largely up to individual departments to decide how many days employees should make a week. “I would have loved the flexibility of not going to work every day,” she said at the time.

McKay’s memo did not specify a minimum number of days employees must work from offices, but RBC spokesman Rafael Ruffolo said the bank is now requiring most of its workers to do so two or three times a week by the end of September. When asked what percentage of RBC employees currently come to work at least once a week, he said the bank cannot share those details.

“For some regions and teams, these practices are already in place. For others, this approach will require adjustments,” said Mr. Ruffolo.

Most of Canada’s largest employers, including the Big Five, have mandated a partial return to offices for their employees starting in the spring of 2022. But many workers have made permanent lifestyle changes that make daily commuting difficult, and their employers have struggled to persuade them to travel. Foot traffic in the downtown core of most major Canadian cities – one measure of how many people are actually returning to the office – remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

According to July data from real estate firm Avison Young, there was a spike in foot traffic in the heart of six of Canada’s largest cities — including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — this summer compared to last summer. But the number of pedestrians remained 54.7 percent lower than it was in early March 2020, before the pandemic.

The latest data from Statistics Canada shows that in the past month there was a slight increase in the number of people who worked most of their working hours from home, from 23.8 percent in June to 24.2 percent in July. The agency attributed the rise to the high number of coronavirus cases.

In 2016, by comparison, only 4 percent of employees worked most of their working hours from home. When the pandemic first emerged in 2020, 30 percent of employees were mostly working remotely.

Other large employers are also pressing to return to personal work. On Monday, media reports said that The tech giant Apple told employees at the company’s California headquarters that they will have to return to the office three times a week starting in September. In May, Apple attempted to bring employees back to the office three days a week, but canceled that requirement after much opposition from workers.

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