Work from home? Or back to the office? This B.C. tech firm has a post-pandemic fix

Traction on Demand, founded by Greg Malpass, plans to create a "third space" for employees by teaming up with local businesses.

Credit: Courtesy of Traction on Demand

Traction on Demand CEO Greg Malpass

Traction on Demand, founded by Greg Malpass, plans to create a “third space” for employees by teaming up with local businesses

Itching to get back to the office or enjoying the commute from bed to your at-home workstation? Traction on Demand might have the perfect in-between for employees who want to ditch the loungewear and start interacting with the outside world again.

Feedback from the team at the Burnaby-based company, a Salesforce consulting and application development specialist, revealed that staff like working from home because it gives them flexibility and focus. But they also want to connect with each other in-person.

“So we went out and started thinking about, What does the future of work look like for us?” founder and CEO Greg Malpass tells BCBusiness.

Traction employees aren’t the only ones looking for a different kind of office. Now that the pandemic has given people a taste of remote work, they aren’t ready to let it go. A recent survey showed that almost 70 percent of Canadians who plan to keep telecommuting post-pandemic would like the option of a “third space”—somewhere besides home or the office with a dedicated workspace, such as a café, bar, hotel or retailer. Thirty percent also said they’d be willing to pay for such a setup.

Traction, which recently hired its 1,000th employee, has seven offices worldwide, in Canada, the U.S., India and Australia. Like many businesses, it shut down all of its locations last March. Since then, the company has realized that virtual meetings don’t tend to stimulate the same ingenuity that comes from in-person interactions.

“People want the opportunity to walk by a conversation and perhaps make a connection that they didn’t expect to make that day,” Malpass says.

See you at The Shop

To meet Traction’s need for onboarding and group meetings, Malpass created the concept of The Centre, a 10,000-square-foot space that would aim to create community by letting people collaborate in-person, socialize and attend staff events. For employees who need them, The Centre would provide full-time workspaces too.

Malpass also came up with The Shop, which reflects people’s desire to stay close to home while working flexible hours. The concept: to give Tractionites (as employees are dubbed) a third space to converge and work, his company will join forces with businesses such as bike shops, breweries and cafés in communities where staff are concentrated. Malpass plans to help offset those partners’ operational costs in return for letting Traction use a portion of their back offices as workspaces when foot traffic is low.

Traction, which plans to launch The Centre and The Shop this year, will use an online system that allows people to reserve spaces in their desired location. Using data gathered from employees, the company can suggest where people may want to work on any given day, based on who else will be there, to maximize productivity. Tractionites would be expected to use The Shop one to three days a week to stay connected and boost creativity.

For staff who choose to work from home the rest of the time, Traction plans to put the money it saves from the Shop format toward offsetting WFH expenses such as hydro or internet bills. “We’re not looking to save money on space,” Malpass says. “We’re looking to spend the same amount but make sure that it’s way better than it ever was before.”

Ranked one of Canada’s best places to work, Traction is a certified B Corporation. Its slogan, “People before process and technology,” prioritizes employee happiness and recognizes the value of work-life balance.

“It’s never been just about business,” Malpass explains. “Business and life have to operate in harmony. And as you start looking at that you start realizing, well, a lot of the constructs that we have in place aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the people we’re trying to represent.”

Big changes for small towns

By transforming where many of us can do our jobs, the pandemic has given people more options when it comes to affordable housing and lifestyles. Employees at Traction and other companies are using their flexible work arrangements to pull up stakes.

“We’re seeing a steady migration of our team that are moving from major urban centres to those smaller communities where there’s affordability and they can leverage the fact that they can do their work from virtually anywhere,” Malpass says.

The CEO, who’s from a smaller community himself, aims to make jobs accessible to people who can’t or don’t want to move to the city. Recognizing that Vancouver was drawing much of the talent from elsewhere in the province, Traction launched its Small Town Initiative in 2018 to help decentralize the tech sector’s economic benefits.

That effort started with his hometown of Nelson, where the company opened a 10,000-square-foot office in 2019. Traction is looking to open other locations throughout B.C.

Seeing the potential for growth and positive change, Malpass isn’t afraid to challenge conventional ways of doing things. “Just because it made sense doesn’t mean it makes sense.”