It’s now been over a year since the pandemic hit Canada and changed the way in which we live and work. Over half of the global workforce has been working from home since the spring of 2020. Whatever you choose to call it – teleworking, telecommuting, or remote working – it has become the rule rather than the exception for office workers. And, it’s likely to remain that way until at least the summer of 2021, when the majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the government (hopefully!) gives offices the green light to re-open.
The pandemic has created a huge shift in the way we define the workplace. Teleworking has become normalized, and, thanks to an abundance of new and improved videoconferencing and collaboration platforms, most companies haven’t skipped a beat in terms of productivity. Employees are enjoying the added efficiency and flexibility, while employers get to save money on office rent and furniture. However, it’s not all rosy: Having employees working remotely can take a huge toll on corporate social interactions and communications.
A recent survey conducted by Slack of 4,700 knowledge workers found that only 12% want to return to full-time office work after the pandemic, while 72% want a hybrid remote-office model moving forward. The ability to choose seems to lead to greater job satisfaction, lower stress, and higher productivity.
Perhaps a flexible, hybrid workplace model is going to be the way of the future. Or, perhaps it will only be a transitional step toward a more traditional, in-person workplace model. We have no way of knowing exactly what the “new normal” will look like or how long it will take us to get there. But, what we do know is that the pandemic will change the way in which we communicate in the workplace.
One thing is certain: Internal communications will be more important than ever
The return to in-person working is likely to be gradual and partial. Some employees will want to race back into the office, some will be more cautious, and some may never want to return at all. Whatever the case may be, employers need to start thinking about how to make the transition as smooth as possible, so they come across as prepared, efficient, fair, and flexible.
Clear, concise, and consistent communications with employees are going to be key. As soon as the government gives workers the thumbs-up to head back to the office, employers should be ready to answer all of their questions, which are likely to fall into these categories:
What are my options?
- When will our office re-open?
- Am I obliged to work from the office full-time?
- Can I work part-time from home, part-time from the office?
- What are the conditions for working from home?
What new measures will be in place at the office to avoid the risk COVID-19 infection?
- Is there a limit to how many people can be in the office on the same day? If so, will a schedule or roster be put in place?
- Will there be enhanced cleaning of all shared spaces in the office?
- Have there been any improvements to the air filtration system at the office?
- How will the elevators work? How many people can use them at the same time?
- Will we still be obliged to sanitize our hands frequently? If so, who will supply the sanitizer?
- Will we still be obliged to wear masks when we’re not sitting at our desk / workstation? If so, what kind of masks will we be obliged to wear, and who will supply them?
- Will we work at the same place as before, or are the workspaces more spread out?
- What about lunch time: Will we have access to the communal kitchen, and do we have to eat at our desk / workstation?
- How will in-person meetings work? How many people can sit together in a meeting room?
- Are clients and suppliers allowed to come into the office for meetings? If so, how will that work?
What happens if I need to get vaccinated or tested, or if I need to self-isolate?
- Will I be obliged to stay home if I have any signs of COVID-19 infection? If so, will I have to use sick days?
- Under what conditions will I be obliged to get tested for COVID-19?
- Will I be given paid time off to get tested or vaccinated, if I have to do so during work hours?
- Will I be forced to take vacation days, sick days, personal days, or unpaid leave if I have to stay home to self-isolate or to take care of a child who must self-isolate?
- I have chosen to not get vaccinated; will I be treated differently?
Before reopening their office doors, employers should send an email to all of their employees addressing these issues and detailing the policies and procedures that have been put into place. Employers should also consider following-up the email with a videoconference or webcast, during which leadership would welcome employees back, explain the policies and procedures, and answer questions.
The situation will probably continue to evolve over several months, and communicating new policies and procedures regularly and consistently – by email, in person and by videoconference – is going to be critical to making employees feel safe, informed, and appreciated.
If you need communications advice, we’re here
The pandemic has provided us with a unique opportunity to redefine the concept of the workplace and to rethink the important role that communications play within it.
If you’ re an employer, and you and your team are not feeling equipped to take on the post-pandemic communications challenge yourselves, you should consider contacting a public relations firm, like Avenue. Providing strategic communications advice is our specialty, and we can come up with a plan that’s specifically suited to your needs.