40% of employers to recall staff to workplace when restrictions ease: survey

Only eight per cent of Canadian employers said they’re fully prepared to reopen their workplaces when provincial governments lift restrictions, according to a new survey by the Conference Board of Canada.

The survey found a further 39 per cent of respondents said they’re nearly prepared and almost half (48 per cent) said they’re somewhat prepared.

While few employers are ready for a reopen, 40 per cent said they’ll be recalling their employees to the physical workspace once restrictions start to lift. For transportation and warehousing organizations, 58 per cent said remote workers would need to return to the workplace, while roughly half of organizations in educational services, health care and social assistance said the same.

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However, 30 per cent of survey respondents said even as restrictions ease, they’ll require employees to continue full-time remote work. About a quarter (27 per cent) said they’ll leave it up to employees to make the choice.

The vast majority (96 per cent) of employers said employees with a high risk of developing a severe illness if they contracted the coronavirus will be exempt from returning to the workplace, while 86 per cent said those with caregiving responsibilities will also be exempt. Other factors warranting an exemption include having household members with a high risk of severe illness from the coronavirus (84 per cent), household members with high-risk jobs related to the pandemic (60 per cent), not feeling comfortable returning (51 per cent) and an inability to commute with physical distancing measures still in place (50 per cent).

More than half (55 per cent) of employers bringing back employees said they’re doing so in phases, with a further 16 per cent saying those measures were already in place. Some 39 per cent said they’ll restrict the number of people onsite, while 25 per cent said they’ve already done so. Controlling onsite movement will also be a popular measure as 61 per cent of survey respondents said they’ve implemented it or are in the process of doing so.

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Looking at what safety measures will be in place in the workplace, nearly all (99 per cent) respondents said they’re already ensuring the cleanliness of work surfaces or will soon do so, followed by making extra hand-washing facilities or hand sanitizer available (96 per cent), limiting business travel (92 per cent), spacing out employees (89 per cent) limiting face-to-face meetings (87 per cent) and providing personal protective equipment (75 per cent).

More than half (57 per cent) said they’ve implemented or are putting in place coronavirus-related safety training and a further 37 per cent are considering it. Floor markings (55 per cent) and installing physical barriers (55 per cent) are also popular moves. If organizations experience a site outbreak or there’s a second wave of the pandemic, nearly a third (28 per cent) of employers said they already have a plan for a workplace re-exit and 62 per cent are developing one.

“For employees returning to workplaces, safety will be paramount. The virus will likely find loopholes in safety measures we put in place,” said Allison Cowan, director of human capital at the Conference Board of Canada, in a press release. “Employers will need to continually adapt and this could include bringing employees back and then having to close workplaces again.”

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Looking at the future of work, employers indicated they’re much more open to remote work than before the pandemic. While just nine per cent said they had as many remote employees as possible before the pandemic, nearly half (48 per cent) said that will be their post-pandemic strategy. A further 40 per cent said they’ll have a hybrid of in-person and remote employees, whereas just one in five (19 per cent) said they had that strategy previously. Just six per cent said they’ll have as few remote employees as possible, down from 40 per cent pre-pandemic and only one per cent said no remote work will be permitted, down from 22 per cent previously.