Will you be requiring employees to disclose vaccination status before returning to the office? Will you be mandating at least a partial return to the workplace? These are among the difficult decisions to be made - and reconsidered - as employers begin to roll out plans for bringing employees back.
Flexibility, leadership and ongoing communications remain core elements of effective return-to-worksite strategies, advises Candace Giesbrecht, director of the Remote Performance Academy at B.C.-based Teamit, and Jason Fleming, principal of Maxton Human Resources, a Toronto human resources consulting firm specializing in crisis management. CapriCMW connected with the two of them to discuss the future of work.
It may be best to hold off on mandating any return to the work until October or even later in the fall, depending on how the situation unfolds in the remainder of this month. “September will create an interesting dynamic between two competing forces. On the one hand, many people with kids returning to school will be able to go back to the workplace because there will be more predictability in their schedule. On the other hand, the mass return to school could trigger more cases during the fourth wave of COVID-19, which may lead to the return to a mostly remote work environment,” explains Fleming.
To that end, he stresses that employers should determine ahead of time what specifically will trigger a return to fully remote work. “A lot of employers have not included that scenario in their return-to-work plans. We can’t just assume that this action will no longer be required.”
“Employers are feeling the pressure to make permanent decisions. It’s too soon for that because there are still too many unknowns,” adds Giesbrecht. “If an employee feels their health and safety are threatened they will not be able to tap into their best functioning. The more leeway and flexibility from employers the better at this point.”
Both stress that such flexibility is advisable not only to respond more effectively to changes in health and safety measures, but also to allow the time to test, evaluate and improve upon hybrid work models, which appear to be here to stay. Survey after survey confirms Canadians’ desire to continue to work from home at least some of the time (see highlights at the end of this article).
In fact, now is the time to change the way we look at work spaces, urges Giesbrecht. Even before the pandemic, the focus on place overshadowed the more important pieces of people and process. “This is an opportunity to turn our thinking around and start with the work that needs to be done and then consider how the work space, whether in a traditional office or at home, can serve the people and processes.” For example, a physical, shared workplace is helpful for collaboration, mentoring and training.
“I am encouraging companies to identify what I call ‘work sprints,’ or short-term projects or goals to experiment with and learn from new ways of working,” says Giesbrecht.
When considering possibilities for a hybrid workforce, it may be worthwhile to keep in mind that about 40% of Canadian employees can potentially work entirely from home and another 10% could work partly from home, according to a study on labour laws published in July by the Fraser Institute.
Here are additional considerations from Giesbrecht and Fleming, along with compiled highlights from recent Canadian survey data:
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