CALGARY -- A Canmore realtor says a multi-million dollar home that recently changed hands is signalling a real shift in where employees want to live as remote work continues but as the province reopens, many businesses could be calling back their staff.

Karen Fawcett, with RE/MAX Professionals, says the property sold for $4.2 million, making it one of the highest-priced homes to be sold in the town over the past 10 years.

The luxury home is just one of the property that's recently sparked an "exponential growth" in the Canmore market, she says.

According to the Calgary Real Estate Board's May housing statistics, Canmore experienced a 188 per cent increase in year-over-year sales.

The benchmark price of a home in the community also jumped by 18.5 per cent from May 2020 to $897,400.

One of the driving forces of that increase in sales is the flexibility of working from home offered by a number of employers.

"While I have fielded national and international calls regarding properties in Canmore, the greatest interest continues to be buyers from Alberta, and most specifically Calgary due to the close proximity," Fawcett said.

"Many of my clients have chosen to sell their Calgary homes to move full-time to Canmore with the flexibility of working from home now a precedent not previously enjoyed by full-time employees."

RETURN TO WORK POLICIES NEEDED: HR FIRM

However, as the province is reopening, workers may be called back into the office and that could result in many businesses needing to come up with strategies to ease that transition.

"It is possible that not all workers will be on board," says Andrew Caldwell, advisory team lead with HR consultant Peninsula Canada. "Some will have gotten used to working remotely and not having to commute, while others may be concerned about coming back to the workplace for safety reasons."

Employees do have rights to refuse work, he says, but there is a process to investigate claims and that includes a responsibility for the employer to "mitigate the hazards."

If workers are still not satisfied with the situation, then the province's Occupational Health and Safety agency can become involved.

"An inspector will then be sent to the workplace to evaluate the hazards. They may either order the employee back to work or point out what the employer needs to do to make the workplace safer," Caldwell says.

However, there are situations where remote work should be considered as an option for certain employees. Those include workers who possess disabilities or conditions that could make them susceptible to COVID-19 infection.

"Accommodations might include allowing the employee to continue working remotely or implementing additional measures to further protect them, such as giving them a separate workstation or work that won’t bring them into contact with others."

Remote work

'TRANSPARENT AND COMPASSIONATE'

Caldwell says that businesses will need to prepare themselves for any kind of resentment or "low morale" that could result from employees needing to shift back into the office.

He suggests employers provide as much support as possible to workers. For example, those who need to have extra time to arrange for childcare or caregiving responsibilities should be directed on how to apply for appropriate leave entitlements and access vacation time.

"To prevent and resolve this feeling among staff, employers should be transparent and compassionate," he says.

"Explaining why going back to in-person work is necessary for the business, and why some staff might continue working remotely while others go back can help employees understand the reasoning behind this change."