Shift toward teleworking is irreversible: Desjardins CEO

“We will never go back” to how things were before, says Guy Cormier, head of North America’s biggest financial services co-operative.

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Working from home is here to stay, according to the head of North America’s biggest financial services co-operative.

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“We will never go back. We will never again have 50,000 employees who physically work in the office at the same time, whether it’s in our branches, in Toronto, in Vancouver, in Lévis or in Montreal,” Mouvement Desjardins chief executive Guy Cormier said in a recent interview.

Teleworking “changes everything with regards to employee management, talent attraction and the experience people live. I’m profoundly convinced that the world of work will come out of the pandemic forever changed.”

Like other major employers in Quebec, Desjardins has started bringing office employees back a few days a week since the provincial government dropped the compulsory work-from-home directive — part of a gradual removal of pandemic restrictions announced Feb. 8. From now on, Quebec is recommending employers implement a “hybrid” system that will see workers split their time between the home office and the real office.

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Desjardins staffers in functions such as human resources and communications began returning to the workplace on a part-time basis March 14.

While some employers have adopted blanket back-to-work requirements, Quebec’s largest credit union is letting individual departments set their own guidelines.

“Out of more than 50,000 employees across Canada, we have member service representatives, actuaries, fiscal planners, account executives, investment bankers. That’s not the same job, so we can’t impose a one-size-fits all model for everyone,” Cormier said.

As a result, “we’ve asked our managers to talk to their employees to look at what the best system would be. There are some people at Desjardins who are going to work from home five days a week. In some cases, they won’t be coming into the office anymore. Others will have a 4-1 formula. It’s very flexible.”

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The next few months will help managers at Desjardins devise the best possible formula, Cormier adds.

“It’s not yet clear what the hybrid model is going to look like,” he said. “It’s going to keep evolving.”

Desjardins had more than 53,000 employees at the start of 2022, a net increase of about 4,000 full-time positions from the year-earlier figure. The co-operative hired about 20,000 people last year, in large part to replace retiring employees, Cormier said.

In addition to changing the workplace, COVID-19 has helped to spread co-operative values such as solidarity, Cormier believes.

“People are sticking together more because of the pandemic,” he said. “Look at the growing importance of local purchasing. As a financial co-operative, we’re already in tune with this reality. Our account collection centre is in Jonquière. It’s not in India. It creates jobs in Jonquière. Our student service centre, with about 100 people, is in Gaspé. We could have put it elsewhere in the world, but we kept it in Quebec because we believe that this concept of local purchasing, of proximity is important.”

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