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How to plan for a safe return to the office


(Chansom Pantip/Adobe Stock)

With COVID-19 restrictions lifting, remote businesses are beginning to plan for a safe return to the office. There are a lot of factors to consider though, starting with the needs of employees, some of whom may prefer a hybrid model. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos, only 50 per cent of Canadians envision themselves working regularly in the office in 2022.

So how can you convince employees to come back to the office? What do employees want? Catherine Bergeron, health and safety team lead at Peninsula Canada, has the following advice for a smooth transition back to the office.

Involve employees in the decision

“Employees have been working remotely on and off for two years now so involving employees in the decision to go back into the office is important. This will make your employees feel valued, comfortable, and empowered when it comes to making these decisions. Although you should remember it is the employer’s right to make the decision to bring their employees back into the workplace”, says Bergeron.

Employee support

Many Canadians are still feeling the stress and anxiety because of the pandemic. This can potentially increase as worker’s return to the office.

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Train managers and supervisors to recognize when a staff member needs additional support. All employees need to be aware of the available resources they can access for help such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Another way to help is regular check-ins with your team.

Workers who claim they cannot physically come back to work because of anxiety issues should be dealt with in accordance with the employer’s accommodation process. They should be requested to submit a medical note with clear limitations. The goal is to understand if there is any way the employer can accommodate them with a better solution than segregating them at home. It could be accommodations such has providing a desk in a calmer space or a quiet room where they can go to relax.

Create a return-to-work plan

“To ensure a smooth transition all staff need to be aware and in the loop about the plan to return to work. This will be the most important part for a smooth return”, says Bergeron. Ensure to communicate the following with your employees:

  • Who is expected to return?
  • When they are expected to return
  • At what frequency are they expected to be there
  • Measures you are taking to keep them safe
  • Protocols they must follow (refer to your safety plan)
  • Person to talk to or ways to report any concerns or suggestion for a safer workplace.

If opting for a hybrid model, ensure to write down the details in a Remote Working Policy to avoid any misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

COVID-19 guidelines

Although restrictions are being lifted in Ontario and Alberta, businesses still need to have a COVID-19 response plan in place to protect their staff. Many companies are deciding what restrictions and guidelines they may want to keep in place even after restrictions such as mask mandates are lifted. Be open with employees and have discussions on what will help them feel safe. It’s important to remember that is it the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace.

Manage sick days

One of the main challenges employers have been faced with is an increase in sick days. Managing sick leave or other personal leaves of absence in the workplace is important for the growth of your business and for maintaining a strong organizational culture. As an employer, it is important to understand what rights your employees have and how to find a balance for a sick leave policy that fits your workplace culture. Make sure you have a policy in place that best reflects your business practices.

Build the hype

Offer free coffee, breakfast, or a lunch on the first day. Plan for an icebreaker or stretching session in the morning. Find a way to celebrate being together and to remind people there is value in seeing each other in person and not through a screen!

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