As we roll into our second fall of this global pandemic, it seems that businesses in the Toronto area sit in one of two categories — those telling employees to fully (or partially) return to the work and those telling employees to continue working from home for the time being. 

Many large corporations — the big banks and other companies that occupy the downtown high rises — fall in the second camp. In fact, according to a recent Vitality Index, developed by commercial real estate company Avison Young, foot traffic in Toronto is still 85.8 per cent lower on average than it was before the pandemic, ranking our office activity 18th among 23 North American cities. 

Anecdotally, we’ve noticed that many of our small- to mid-sized clients are embracing the ‘new normal’ in the workplace faster than the large corporations, but that doesn’t make this new world any less complicated to navigate. There are business implications to continuing to work from home and there can also be consequences to returning to work, particularly if a business doesn’t take their health and safety obligations seriously.

What do we mean by this? Pandemic public health and safety measures are still in place for a reason. (One look at Alberta’s efforts during this fourth wave is a reminder that COVID-19 is not yet done with us.) If they are not properly followed, your business could face one of these scenarios: 

  • A COVID-19 outbreak and a forced workplace shutdown. The Delta variant is known to be highly transmissible; it doesn’t take much for it to whip around a place not following proper protocols. Even if you don’t get shut down, an outbreak is disruptive and could hamper your business’s productivity and bottom line, considering at the very least you would have a number of sick employees and others in close contact isolation.
  • Valued employees who choose to resign because they don’t feel safe in their workplace. Not only will your business be short-staffed during a labour shortage but it will also be facing unexpected hiring and onboarding costs.
  • Potential new hires declining a job offer because your business’s health and safety policies don’t meet their expectations. More and more, candidates are asking about COVID policies during their interview.

 As an owner-manager, you can avoid these scenarios, and the financial pitfalls that come with each of them, by following these protocols. While there is a cost to these measures, it is far less than the alternatives. 

  • Carefully reorganize the workplace to ensure employees have enough space to spread out. Consider adding signage to direct foot traffic and encourage frequent hand washing. Also remember to enforce current mask mandate rules.
  • Stock up on cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer and make sure it is all accessible. Consider also increasing the frequency of your cleaning service.
  • Have a sign-in sheet for contact tracing near the front entrance and ensure everyone passes health screening questions before signing.
  • Consider implementing a hybrid model to minimize crowding by having some employees at work some days, and others on other days.

 After 18 months of pandemic living, we all want to get back to normal. It will happen, but for now at least normal won’t look like it once did. Stay safe!