Over the past few months, we have seen the world slowly getting back to “normal.” Of course, we realize that COVID-19 is still out there and not gone completely. However, many people are finally starting to return to a physical workplace after working remotely for the past couple of years. Some companies have given their staff the option of continuing to work from home for the time being or returning to the office. For example, we decided to become completely remote for MYOB staff in London, with new technologies added to support workflow, cybersecurity and communication.

Workplaces are reopening after more than two years of shutdowns, furloughs, daily screenings, quarantines, masks, vaccines, remote and hybrid work arrangements, and other COVID-related regulations and practices, but things have changed. Mask mandates have now been lifted in Ontario for everywhere except long-term care homes. Some businesses – particularly in the healthcare industry – request that patrons still mask up. Otherwise, it is a personal choice.

As they return, both employers and workers have concerns and questions about this “new normal” in terms of legal requirements and best practices. The Government of Ontario’s website provides guidance for Ontario’s workplaces to help develop a plan to protect workers, customers, and the public from COVID‑19. This information is helpful to know for businesses of all sizes. https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-workplace-health-safety

Ensuring a safe working environment is always a top priority. This now includes taking proactive precautions to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. What those steps should be in each workplace will be different. Measures could include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Requiring all workers to observe social distance by maintaining a distance of two metres apart.
  • Encouraging staff to clean their hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Allowing all workers to stay at home if they are ill or have any symptoms at all, rather than “pushing through” as we may have done in the past.
  • Urging staff to wear masks or face coverings if they are unable to practice social distance in elevators or on public transportation.
  • Screening workers prior to their return to work.

Other adjustments will be made once back at work, particularly around business etiquette. There will likely be fewer handshakes and more elbow bumps, for instance. The days of blowing out the candles on company birthday cakes are long gone. Potlucks may also be a thing of the past. Masks may no longer be mandatory, but everyone should show respect for their coworkers who do still choose to wear them.

Our social media manager, Emily Leye, talked to three people about their reactions to going back to work. Here’s what they had to say when asked, “How do YOU feel?

#1. I have thoughts on all sides – good, mixed and bad. I’m looking forward to seeing some coworkers again. It seems like since I’ve been working from home, I don’t talk to people nearly as much as before. I miss work events: potlucks, contests, social committee, chatting with coworkers. My job is great because of the people I work with and it’s not the same in a virtual environment. It can sometimes feel like working from home doesn’t offer the same separation and my home time and work times blend too much, compared to when I clock out and leave for the day. Knowing I can run to the other room and check an email or finish a task feels like a blessing and a curse; great that I can, but I almost wish I couldn’t. I love working from home though. I feel more productive because I have more flexibility. I don’t have to worry about traffic, gas, packing a lunch etc. I can still work if I feel well but might have a cold (i.e.: I wouldn’t want to spread germs to others but feel fine to work). I feel closer to my family and the work/life balance is much better now that it’s been a couple years and I’m comfortable with it. I would rather work from home, and I’m hesitant to go back in office. The cost of gas alone may actually limit me to working from home. That adds several hundred dollars to my monthly expenses since I live far from the office.

#2. We haven’t been mandated to go back. Basically, people have the option (for now). But I have no desire to go back to working in the office!! There are several reasons why I would prefer working remotely: social anxiety (after 2.5 years of being mostly isolated), long commute times (in a city that’s always under construction), the pandemic isn’t over so why expose myself to the office if I don’t have to, my productivity level is way higher at home where there are no interruptions, and going to the office just adds an additional layer of stress in my already chaotic life (with two kids under 5). I feel much happier after the morning rush to drop the kids off, knowing I can come home and work in peace and quiet.

#3. The adjustment either way was jarring. Being able to work from home actually aided in my productivity, having less distractions on the office and travel time to and from the office allowed me to get more done in my day. Once we learned that our jobs could be done from home, it was originally surprising that we were called back into the office when we were. We went from working from home 5 days a week to back to the “old routine” but with restrictions on how we worked due to COVID-19 and the waves that we were still experiencing. I still think it was easier to do our jobs from home, but at the same time, having the “normalcy” and “structure” helped with socializing and eventually my mental health too. I am feeling alright about it now, but I wish it was more of a hybrid approach now. Work in the office a few days a week, but also work from home on days when you don’t have anything pressing to do, that way we can still be physically distanced, maintain comfort, but also physically be there for our clients at the same time.

Over to you

Reconnecting and resilience are essential skills that are needed now more than ever to support your staff as they begin returning to work in environments that are rapidly changing. Coping with the unknowns, adjustments, and multiple changes is sure to be challenging. Are you currently making the switch back to working outside the home? Please feel free to share your experience with us.

Written by: Jennifer Hanford, MYOB Blogger