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The Return to Work Strategy

COVID-19 has been called one of the most difficult global economic situations since World War II. There will be new carnage to address and repair particularly for small businesses across the country. It has also been an opportunity for organizations to embrace sizable technological transformation.

As our country returns to work, companies are beginning to build their "Return to Work Strategy". In this article, we review key considerations for discussion.

A Crisis Impact Team

Assigning a Crisis Impact Team to communicate new safety protocols, respond to general concerns, and mitigate ongoing risk factors is a proactive measure in maintaining cultural balance and business continuity in the first few months of your office opening.

This team may be comprised of cross-function staff volunteers and have access to a support network of HR representatives, legal counsel (where available), OH&S experts and any other subject matter experts (SME's) that can assist with the trickier policy, compliance, health and privacy related questions and concerns.

A 1-800 number, and/or anonymous message board can also be setup as a confidential outlet for employees of the organization to voice questions and concerns.

Industry Specific Guidelines

Employers will be faced with new and evolving regulatory obligations based on their industry and location. In most cases, their work spaces will need to be restructured in order to meet a number of these. There is a significant amount of planning that will go into changing the way the environment is organized including the possible setup of polycarbonate screens for customer facing roles, the placement and distance allowed between individual team members, acceptable behaviour in common areas, and ensuring that hand sanitizing stations and personal protective equipment ('PPE') are easily accessible.

Communication Strategy

Team members should be encouraged to come forward with any feedback and/or concerns that they may have in physically returning to the workplace. Open two-way communication will be key.

The communication strategy will include the who, what - the content, why - the purpose, where - what form and when or how often. It will be equally important to ensure alignment with the vision and strategic approach of the leadership team and shareholders.

Ongoing feedback and satisfaction surveys including content related specifically to employee health and wellness will help keep your finger on the pulse of your workforce and lines of communication open.

Cleaning & Cleanliness Protocols

In a survey posted by Benefits Canada this month, 73% of employees want better cleaning protocols in place and 68% want fewer in-person meetings and training sessions post pandemic.

The Crisis Impact Team partnered with the company's joint safety committee can investigate, document, implement and monitor that all regulatory protocols are met.

Whether or not in-person meetings and training is required for the length of time and frequency they were perceived to be prior to the COVID-19 crisis can also be reviewed and reconsidered.

A Phased Approach

Many organizations are considering a phased approach in the timing of the return of different work groups. This can assist in limiting the number of workers at the same location at any one time and ensure that any required regulatory social distancing protocols are met.

Which work groups or individuals should be considered in the first phase(s)? How can we guarantee a common perception of equity in these decisions? What does the phased approach of your industry partners look like? For those team members that aren't included in the first phases of selected groups returning to the physical office, will they be allowed to stop in to use network devices such as scanners and printers if necessary?

The Future of Remote Work

We can expect an increase of employees requesting to continue to work from home now that they have adjusted to it and feel that it works better for them. In the same survey posted by Benefits Canada this month, 85% of Canadian workers want the option to keep working from home after COVID-19.

Whether or not your company would be open to this should be discussed and agreed to in advance and employee equity considered. There may be special consideration for physician supported accommodation requests.

Business Continuity & Contingency Planning

There is no doubt, there will be fresh discussions at the Executive level around "workforce readiness" if a similar outbreak were to reoccur. This is a perfect opportunity for companies to dust off and rebuild their old contingency plan.

Have your staff had the right technology to be able to work remotely throughout the pandemic? Are your files stored electronically and saved on a shared server that can be accessed on the cloud or through a VPN by remote teams? Do you still depend on paper, printers and fax machines? A completed gaps analysis will be helpful in planning for a future crisis.

Technological Upgrades & Implementation Projects

COVID-19 has driven wide-spread digital transformation in organizations across the globe. Many organizations had adopted and adapted to digital transformation and remote work prior to the pandemic. These companies have had a strategic advantage over their competition in recent months.

How has your virtual private network ('VPN') held up throughout the pandemic, does it require an upgrade? Should new technology be introduced such as Slack, Zoom or other conferencing and web or cloud based services? Do you have an emergency response team assigned and able to address technological concerns for your newly remote workforce?

Some technology companies like DLGL have launched new health crisis management modules to their existing HCM system that can help businesses track pandemic related trends in the workplace. This in an effort to track, assess and reduce any potential health threats to its workforce and its customers.

Health & Safety Compliance

Health & Safety policies and best practices may be reviewed and revised in order to compliment all public health orders and restrictions in place for your business. Up to date policies, clear expectations and subsequent consequences of non-compliance will assist in protecting the health and safety of staff and the business in a potential claim situation.

Your joint Health & Safety committee will also be prepared to complete workplace hazard assessments where employees refuse unsafe work due to fear of being exposed to potential carriers of the virus.

Managing Mental Health in the Workplace

There is likely to be an aftershock of anxiety and stress even when we open our doors back up, at least for some team members. Many team members will be excited to be back, feel refreshed and ready to return to their weekly routine.

Other team members will struggle to return to the "new normal". They may be riddled with concern and anxiety and should be approached with compassion and empathy.

It will be important to ensure that the proper resources are made available to them. The anxiety and stress experienced by staff, if ignored, could potentially drive an increase in staff absences, disability claims, turnover and an eroded culture.

If you have an EAP plan and/or coverage for psychology services embedded in your group benefits plan it can act as an excellent resource for your workforce. Low cost EAP plans are a great way to provide a variety of essential support services to employees struggling in any kind of crisis.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has also posted a resource hub on their website for Canadians who are experiencing distress -

For more information related to adding an EAP plan to and/or a review of your existing group benefits, contact us directly for a variety of excellent customized options

OutsourceHR is a Canadian HR Consulting and Recruitment firm. Follow OutsourceHR on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn today for employment updates.


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