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Getting Back to Work: What Could It Look Like?

Open Shop

Krista Kelly

What will our workplaces look like as our country re-opens for business? Expect change, stay positive, and be ready to adapt.

Thinking back to only a few short months ago, the atmosphere we came to expect of our current or potential workplaces was fairly predictable. Yes, there was certainly a vast scope of possible work environments, but a set of social and environmental norms were typically in place within specific industries and companies.

Fast-forward to today and these well-established workplace expectations have abruptly changed. Some are calling it the “new normal,” but what does that mean in terms of our workplaces? As businesses and companies begin to re-emerge from stay-at-home orders, what can we expect and how can we approach our roles most effectively?

Gradual Reopening

While everyone is eager to get back to some form of normalcy, do not expect doors to be flung open and employees to walk into work as if this was just a long vacation. Instead, anticipate that governments will lift restrictions incrementally and employers will analyze practical implications of reopening, working to create a safe environment for their employees and customers to return.

This also means that some employees within the same company may return to work before others as companies adjust staffing levels to meet a reduced demand and implement measures to increase social distancing such as having fewer employees on the premises at one time and keeping vulnerable populations at home. That being said, more cleaning and sanitizing may need to be performed, increasing certain work demands in some fields.

Remote vs. In-person Work

With many workers spending time working from home, the term “workplace” is starting to morph as our physical work location blends with the place we eat, sleep, and relax. In fact, approximately 4.7 million Canadians are working from home who had not done so before, resulting in approximately 40% of the entire country working from home.

As companies begin to re-open, this type of remote work will continue for some, while others will be asked to return to their physical workplace. As discussed above, expect the transition from at-home work to in-person work to be done in waves based on importance of physical presence on the job. Also, as employers who previously resisted work from home options experience successes and benefits of this style of work, some roles may experience a shift to more regular or permanent virtual work.

See the Remote Work Tips below to learn ways to keep your productivity and health up while working from home.

Shift or Hybrid Work

It is possible that rather than fully transitioning to an in-person workplace, employees may work in shifts even in offices that traditionally do not have shift work. This could mean having a morning and an afternoon shift or people coming in on alternating days of the week. It could also include a hybrid style of work which includes both in-person and virtual work depending if a task requires a worker to be physically present.

Increased Personal Space

In addition to the added room due to fewer employees and customers being allowed into the workplace at the same time, expect workplace floor plans to be analyzed and changed and barriers to be raised when possible to protect workers. This goes against the push for more open-concept or shared office spaces which has become the trend in recent years. Use of lunchrooms and congregational spaces may be reduced, directional arrows for foot traffic may be drawn up, and new seating arrangements may be employed.

Entrance Monitoring

As employees and customers begin to re-enter establishments, companies may up their efforts to monitor the health and safety of those who enter through various means, including providing temperature checks, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and wipes. Employers may also track those who enter the building to assist with contact tracing should someone become ill. Protocols will likely be put in place to guide individuals who feel sick.

Remote Work Tips

While remote work or work from home can be alluring for some, it also brings a new set of challenges. If you find yourself working from home, here are some tips to set you up for success.

Create a Distinct Workspace

As appealing as it might seem to conduct your business in front of your tv from the comforts of your couch, preparing a dedicated work station with proper lighting places all of your work needs at your fingertips for ease of use and puts you in the work mindset. According to David Zweig, professor of organizational behaviour, “Psychologically, this will help us create a divide of sorts between our work and family life and responsibilities.” Many have trouble “turning their work off” at night when working from home but creating a workstation where you can focus during work hours and then leave it behind can help.

Utilize Technology

Working from home tends to increase your reliance on technology and may require you to utilize new applications that may be unfamiliar to you. Some jobs can conduct the majority of their business by email, but for many, virtual video calls will become the norm. Whether using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, or another platform, try to get comfortable using it ahead of your first meeting and make sure you still dress and act professionally. Depending on your set up at home, headphones may be helpful. Take a look at our article on video interviewing for tips on presenting professionally in video chats.

Don’t Dwell on Small Issues

The quick and unexpected shift to virtual work comes with growing pains. While one might come to expect a perfectly professional set-up for a seasoned work-from-home veteran, many of us are working in makeshift home offices while cramped at home with family members who would normally be outside of the home as well.

While you want to avoid major blunders like a cringeworthy background toilet flush because you brought your virtual meeting to the bathroom with you, everyone is doing their best to make this massive transition, so let minor barks from dogs or cries from babies slide at this time.

Organizational psychologist Laura Hambley says, “Some of us have a spouse or a partner, some of us have children, pets – and it’s better to be up front about that and to share with others that our work conditions may not be perfect — and to make light of them… We’re all human and we’re trying to do the best in the circumstances, so we need to be kind and patient with one another right now.”

Connect with Your Colleagues Regularly

Many see their work as a major part of their social world and working from home can seem isolating at times. Check in with your coworkers and provide regular updates on your productivity to keep everyone informed. Develop a sense of what kind of check-ins are appropriate in your company, including how often and by what means (email, workplace chatrooms, virtual meetings, etc.), and ask your supervisor if you are unsure.

Don’t Forget About Your Health

Stand up, walk around, watch your posture, but most of all, check in on your own mental health. Sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer can slowly eat away at your physical and mental wellbeing. Check out these health tips while staying home during the COVID pandemic:


Krista Kelly is a Career Consultant in the office of Career Development & Experiential Learning.