Your People

The people in your firm are your most important asset. So, let’s start with them.

What to ask

The pandemic has been a time of continual change, and any return to the office will require adjustment. Your plan needs to work for your people. If you know their individual circumstances and create a plan to incorporate them, your people are more likely to support the changes and be motivated in their return to the office.

Through individual or department meetings or surveys, you may wish to find out:

  • Any health considerations or high-risk factors that need consideration when returning to the office. You can anticipate that your 70+-year old partners and anyone with an auto-immune condition will need a different plan, as will younger people who live with higher-risk individuals.
  • What caregiver/parenting responsibilities do people have and what do they need? Continuing to work from home or adjusting in-office hours might work for those whose children aren’t in school.
  • How do your people get to the office? Mass public transit? Do they have access to a car? Could they drive if they had access to parking?
  • What would help people get their work done? Some may need to be back in the office earlier in order to increase and improve their work product, which could also improve their mental health.
  • Who are the key people who need to return to the office as soon as possible? A high-performing lawyer who works most effectively in the office? Staff members that require supervision or are under performance management? A bookkeeper whose operations rely on paper?
  • Are there any elements of the work from home routine that your people would like to retain going forward?

With this information, you can now move on to other considerations to support your people in their return to the office. However, be conscious of privacy laws when collecting, using, disclosing, and retaining personal information.

In-office schedules

Anyone who can effectively work remotely should continue to do so until further notice.

For staff returning to the office, you may wish to revise their working days or times by implementing:

  • shift work (e.g. 6am – 2pm, 10am – 6; 2pm – 10pm);
  • alternating schedules (e.g. Group One: Monday, Wednesday, Friday; Group Two: Tuesday, Thursday); or
  • staggered arrivals and departures to minimize the number of people entering and exiting the office at the same time.

Many staff will have worked from home effectively during the last few months. Can this be a “new normal” for some?

Managing the changes

Expect that your people may feel anxious, stressed or fearful about returning to the office. Clearly communicating what you have done and what you expect from your people will assist to establish a sense of trust within your workforce. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Develop clear communications such as “Frequently Asked Questions,” safety etiquette guides, office protocols, etc. in posters, e-mails or webpages. There are available resources from Health Canada or the Center for Disease Control.
  • Assign back-to-the-office ambassadors who can answer questions, conduct tours and provide instructions for using the newly re-configured office space.
  • Designate leaders to monitor the wellbeing of staff and any changes in office culture (such as a human-resources lead, office manager, student or associate director or managing partner).
  • Be clear about your expectations. Let your staff know that some of these measures are temporary and to be prepared for adjustments. Empower staff to take responsibility for those tasks within their control.
  • Create a COVID-19 taskforce with some key personnel that can keep researching and updating your firm or organization’s protocols.
  • Encourage your people to continue to prioritise their mental health. Highlight any Employee Assistance Program in place to address COVID-19 related issues and take advantage of the CBA Wellness programs and resources available.

Health policies and protocols

It is important for your existing health policies and protocols to be updated so that they align with any transitional or long-term arrangements supporting your return to the office. You may wish to consider the following questions:

  • How will you adjust policies to address:
    • requests for staff to monitor symptoms or check temperatures prior to attending the office?
    • employees with children at home because there is no school or daycare available?
    • conscientious objectors who don't feel comfortable coming to the office?
    • employees with family members/close friends that are symptomatic or diagnosed?
    • employees who are caregivers or have family members who are immunocompromised?
    • employees who are showing signs of infection, but which could be a common cold or allergies?
  • Do you have contractors who are not covered by your policies? What happens if they start showing symptoms, have close family members who have tested positive, are immunocompromised, etc.?
  • What happens if your leadership team is affected by the virus? Consider keeping key partners isolated from one other to reduce the risk of having them affected by the virus at the same time.
  • What is your protocol if one of your people tests positive? Communicate the procedure so they are ready to comply immediately.
  • Do you have the ability to contact trace third parties that have been in contact with one of your people who tests positive?
  • Do you have an area where your people/clients can be isolated and exited if they show symptoms at the office?

Other policies

As you make your return to the office plan, don’t forget to update your supporting policies:

  • Working from Home
  • Care days/sick leave
  • Vacations from Work (any changes to “carry-over” policies or approval procedures?)
  • Travel for Work

Consider adding a note to your employee communications, such as "All policy changes and adaptations are made with consideration for employees' well-being, to the best of our knowledge, as of the date of implementation."

Be upfront and communicate delays or changes in normal processes:

  • Recruiting/hiring
  • Performance management
  • Awards & recognition