Toronto company moves to hybrid model

‘Everybody is trying to grapple with what they need for workspace’

Toronto company moves to hybrid model
The old offices of Active International in Toronto.

Many workplaces are adapting to the COVID-19 world and one media assets company in Ontario has fully embraced a new hybrid model.

Active International has made the decision to move to a smaller office, in a smaller municipality, and allow its workforce to decide where to work on any given day. The company relocated its office from Toronto to Markham, Ont., which is just north of the city, and embraced the opportunity as the lease nears termination at the end of December.

“It’s actually closer to our clients, versus downtown Toronto where traditional media agencies have been housed; our clients are located in the 905 [area code]. We have a smaller and more economical footprint than where we were,” says Andrew Bulmer, president and managing director for Active Canada in Toronto. “Everybody is trying to grapple with what they need for future workspace.”

In the new year, the employee-owned company will enable its workers to move to a “more of an open concept and hot-desking and breakout rooms for collaboration,” says Bulmer.

“We’re able to slash our costs in half from our prior footprints. It’s a bit of luck to be honest that we had the opportunity to make a clean start and we found a great location.”

Active benefited from serendipity when the pandemic hit as it began to explore new options, he says.

“A lot of my peers that run media agencies have an expensive location in downtown Toronto that they’re stuck with, and people are anxious to take public transportation to get there. It’s a big cost.”

So far, the 44-person workforce has reacted positively to the move, according to Bulmer.

“Everybody understood that it was a great business decision that adjusted our costs. We had implemented a work-flex environment in the past, so it allowed us to seamlessly work remotely from home when the pandemic began without missing a beat. We had our employees already set up [with] the ability to buy media and do their roles at home. Finding a hybrid space that is more suited to a hybrid workplace, they all got it, and thinking like owners, they really appreciated that.”

Andrew Bulmer

The new hybrid model will also allow Active to expand its horizons in terms of recruiting, says Bulmer.

“It will allow people to attract talent from across Ontario, from across Canada, from across the world, and that you’re not anchored to the talent that’s within driving distance to your office and you’re open to the talent that is in your industry. It’s those companies that are embarking on this, they’re going to have a more engaged, appreciative and talented workforce. It’s a competitive advantage the way we’re approaching it.”

Back in July, the Conference Board of Canada decided to close its doors permanently, with the workforce going fully remote.

Boosting engagement

And while Active employees have adjusted well to the new situation, they miss each other.

“They’re very much looking forward in the new year to spend more face-time together in a safe way in this office,” he says. “We’re missing that personal connection which has definitely been the hardest internally but we’ve done a lot of things to accommodate getting together.”

To maintain employee engagement, the company has held various virtual parties such as a pumpkin-carving contest and it plans on holding a big holiday celebration as well employing Uber Eats to feed employees.

“We’re going to have a virtual holiday party in a couple of weeks. We can’t do our traditional get-together but we’re going to do an online celebration with some food and beverage and gift exchange and song, and we’re going to announce some charitable donations that we’re making in the community. We’re keeping up our traditions in an online way,” says Bulmer.

Focus on training

As well, after getting acclimated with the new business reality, the company is moving forward in its future plans.

“We’ve had a lot of online training this year around leadership, around skill development in the media industry, around diversity inclusion; key topics in the world today and in the workplace,” he says.

“In the beginning, it was all about making sure that we understood the business footing and that the business is OK. But over time, we’ve eventually gotten back to training and development and talking about career paths, and focusing on the future. People are hopeful and want that confidence in the future."

With so many workers at home, training is key to cybersecurity, says one expert.

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