Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The pandemic has created new opportunities for many workplaces.

 

The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘flexible’ have become commonplace as companies and businesses formulate plans for their staff to return to a work environment that’s going to be far different than the one many left when the pandemic first struck in March of last year.

But that return won’t come without its challenges.

 

“We’re seeing a ton of anxiety out there right now as more and more employers start thinking of having people come back to the office,” says Frank Newman, who operates Newman HR. 

 

A survey conducted by KMPG Canada in the spring as vaccinations began to ramp up showed that 81% of Canadian workers were worried their employers and managers were not equipped to handle a return to work properly, and nearly two thirds of those surveyed wanted to go back to their workplaces but COVID-19 remained their core reason for reluctance. In fact, 68% said that working alongside colleagues who may be sick or asymptomatic was a top concern.

 

People have gotten very comfortable and generally quite productive working at home,” says Frank, adding the comforts of home and no commuting have become big draws for many. “I would say people are 90% to 95% as productive as they were working in the office. But clearly, we’re missing some of those creative exchange of ideas that come from sitting next to someone or from random conversations.”

 

In effort to quell the concerns of returning employees, he has been recommending to clients they create an open dialogue with their team to identify their worries or fears.

 

“It’s a little like when an employee returns from a maternity or parental leave. We just assume everything is the same but what we don’t realize is that they have undergone a bit of profound psychological change and I think we kind of had that experience working at home,” says Frank. “Companies have to try and understand what might have happened in employees’ lives while they were away. Some of us may have had loss and some of us may have had catastrophic things happen.”

 

Therefore, he says employers need to create or enhance their Employee Assistance Plans, especially around access to counselling, financial or legal supports – not just health, RRSPs and dental benefits. 

 

“I think more companies have recognized how stressed people have been,” says Frank, noting some employees may be reluctant to access these supports fearing word may spread in the workplace. “These programs are run with the highest sense of ethics in place in terms that nothing gets shared, even with your HR department. There shouldn’t be any fear about utilizing an EAP program if you have one.”

 

As well, he says vaccination policies are a huge concern and appear to be ‘all over the map’ in some workplaces and stressed that whatever stance a company takes regarding its own policy, it should be clearly defined for the employees.

 

“You want to make sure you’re talking about why you’re doing a policy, regardless of what it is because people need to know,” says Frank. “We want to keep people feeling safe at work.”

 

He says optimism appears high right now regarding bringing workers back and expects to see even more people return starting in January.

 

“I’ve got clients in virtually every sector. And the most challenging time right now is in the restaurant and food services industry,” says Frank, explaining vaccination passports and the fact fewer people have been dining out are continuing factors hitting this industry hard.

 

Also, he says workplaces with an office and a production/manufacturing component also may see the natural divide between the two widen since the office workers likely were allowed to work from home during the pandemic.

 

“Companies have to be thoughtful about how they show appreciation to those people who’ve been at the workplace every day,” he says, adding celebrating the return of employees in a positive way would also be beneficial. “I like the idea of giving something tangible, like a gift card perhaps.”

 

Frank says connections must be cultivated as people return to their offices.

 

“What we’ve learned from this whole process is that finding ways to connect with people is so important,” he says.

 

For more information, visit Newman Human Resources or contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352.

 

Things for employers to consider as outlined by the Harvard Business Review:

 

Do:  

  • Ask - anonymously, if necessary – how people are feeling about returning to the office so you can respond directly to their concerns

  • Allow people to experiment with different ways of working so the shift to in-person or hybrid work doesn’t feel sudden. 

  • Continue to be compassionate — to your team members, and to yourself.

 

Don’t:  

  • Assume people are going to tell you that they’re feeling anxious

  • Neglect to make clear why in-person or hybrid work is beneficial to employees (not just to the company).

  • Make promises you can’t keep, such as assuring people their careers won’t be impacted by working from home or that they can do so indefinitely.

 

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Like many other business leaders, Valet Car Wash’s Mike Black found himself forced to make some hard decisions when COVID-19 struck.

 

“As things started to close down and we started to navigate our way through this as a business, we had to layoff about 100 employees which is something we’ve never done in 30 years,” he says, referring to the business he began building on Eagle Street North back in 1990 which has now grown to include eight additional locations.

 

Luckily, he was able to continue to operate portions of his business with a reduced workforce. However, not all wanted to continue working due to personal reasons, which Mike says was a difficult choice for them to make.

 

 

“We respected and understood that,” he says, adding those who did continue to work would be instrumental in keeping the business going. 

 

Mike decided some action was needed to recognize these employees.

 

“I said to my managers, ‘I will make sure the employees that stuck through this and allowed us to keep our doors open and still have a business when the other employees come back will be compensated and I will figure out away to thank them’,” he says.

It was at this point he says came his ‘aha moment’ and devised a plan.

 

“We used the wage subsidy (CEWS) to pay every employee who worked from March 16 to May 3 and a special COVID compensation ‘bonus’ of $4 per hour on top of their regular hourly rate,” he says, adding he did not reduce their regular wages. “We calculated all their hours worked during that time period x4 and whatever that amount came to, we purchased gift cards of their choosing.”

 

Mike says the employees could select up to three different cards, with the only stipulation being they could not be VISA or MasterCard gift cards.

 

“I wanted to give them something that helped the economy at the same time,” he says. “It really wouldn’t do much good if it just sat in a bank account.”

 

Approximately 50 employees utilized the cards in a variety of ways. For example, Mike says one purchased new beds for her children, another a new couch for her living room, and another who is studying photography bought a new camera. As well, another purchased a variety of foods from Zehrs to create a special meal and treats, something that employee had not done in months since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“It’s been great to hear those stories,” says Mike, adding these purchases are a great way to stimulate the whole economy. “It works the whole supply chain.”

 

He describes it as a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

 

“The employees are happy, and it’s kept us in business,” says Mike. “When you have multiple locations, you really depend on your staff.”

 

Valet Car Wash Cambridge is located at 2396 Eagle St. N. (behind Greg Vann Nissan), or visit washmycar.ca for more information. 

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