The future of the South African office

A recent Business Day Dialogues LIVE discussion focused on what the future holds for the South African office.

In response to lockdown restrictions imposed in 2020 many organisations moved their staff to working from home. Even as restrictions have eased, some companies have opted to move permanently to remote working, while others have opted for a hybrid model between working from home and time in the office. In some quarters there is a reticence to returning to the office full time.

Clinical psychologist and the chair of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Dr Colinde Linde said most people soon started to miss human connections during the hard lockdown. Enforced social isolation has resulted in a mental health pandemic.

Working from home suits some people, she pointed out, while others prefer an office environment or a hybrid arrangement. The challenge, she said, is not everybody has the luxury of a dedicated space to work at home where they will not be interrupted.

Irrespective of where people choose to work, work-life balance will always be a challenge, she said.

Rob Kane, CEO of Boxwood Property Fund and a board member of the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA), said declining demand for office space has had a devastating impact on certain commercial property sector nodes, including Sandton and the Cape Town CBD. However, this was a trend that was apparent even before Covid and was merely exacerbated by the pandemic.

However, he believed the work from home honeymoon is over as more employees return to the office. Although the expectation is that the office market will ultimately shrink by around 20%, he said evidence indicates that office spaces will continue to exist. However, they will become less sterile and warmer environments than in the past.

Linda Trim is a director at Giant Leap, a company which helps companies get the best out of their people by creating award winning workspaces. Innovation, creativity and speed to market are all harder to achieve when staff are working remotely, she said.

According to research conducted by Giant Leap, more than 80% of employees want to get back into the office. However, she stressed that there is no one size fits all solution and that organisations need to find a middle ground that suits them. The future office, she predicted, will offer greater flexibility and less rigidity. Work spaces need to become spaces where people want to be, offering great coffee, ergonomic furniture, enticing meeting spaces and state of the art technology.

Professor Francois Viruly, associate professor at the University of Cape Town and a non-executive director of the Accelerate Property Fund, said the danger of looking at global trends where people are returning to the office more rapidly than locally, is that you lose the local context. He agreed that working from home suited some more than others but was less than ideal for first time workers who had not had the opportunity to pick up on workplace culture or to receive the necessary support.

What the pandemic has shown us, he said, is a trailer of the future and what is possible. However, in transitioning through these possibilities, there are uncertainties as we adapt to a new environment and a new normal.

By Masechaba Sefularo for EWN

While many continue with the new normal of working from home, an Ipsos survey has found that the phenomenon takes a toll on productivity and staff morale.

The online survey, which was conducted over two days, showed that companies risked losing competitiveness as productivity slumped due to working remotely.

While many said that they enjoyed working from home, they also said that they had to contend with far more distractions.

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents quizzed on how COVID-19 had affected their work-life said that they were spending more time on domestic chores and errands while 27% admitted that they were not disciplined enough to work from home.

The survey found that younger workers, between the ages of 18 and 28, were more adversely affected by working remotely.

Respondents also highlighted issues of trust, the absence of on-the-job training and a sense of isolation, which affected team cohesion and organisational culture.

 

Hybrid work is harder than it sounds

Workers in South Africa are at a crossroads as some people return to the office and while others choose to stay home making for a complex new working model that can be difficult to get right.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “The new hybrid workplace creates a host of challenges -one the biggest is that people working in offices will have a much richer exposure to people’s behaviours and knowledge at work than the remote people. They will have a shared experience that simply isn’t available to people outside the office.”

Trim notes that at the start of the pandemic, many office workers were all in a similar position. “But now as hybrid work becomes the norm, there is a growing communications divide between the in-office and remote people. During meetings for example, we’ve noticed a tendency for office people to direct their comments to each other instead of to their screens. They would tell inside jokes and forget to call on the remote people.”

What are the top 5 solutions to these challenges?

1.Fewer screens

During remote meetings it is difficult to assess eye contact and to follow the usual back and forth between people as they communicate, often using non verbal cues. It is very difficult to gauge one-to-one communication between people during remote meetings.

Says Trim: “Our temptation when holding hybrid meetings is to have the in-person people get together in a room and each open their laptops. Instead, try to set up one camera that captures everyone in the room—their faces and bodies. This way, everyone gets access to the same nonverbal exchanges between the people in the room.”

2. Create turn-taking rules

When people first try hybrid meetings, the people present got into a quick flow of bouncing ideas off each other and drifted towards ignoring the remote participants. “People felt left out and unheard,” Trim notes.

Formal rules about turn-taking and calling on people are often now needed until everyone has had a chance to share. “Remote people are already at a disadvantage, so small behaviours that give them a voice are critical,” Trim advised.

3. Kill the chat box

The chat box on collaboration tools like Teams has the potential to create more than one narrative, as in-person and remote workers start to have separate sidebar conversations during meetings.

“When people have different understandings of who contributed and how others responded, you have fertile ground for conflict,” Trim warned.

For hybrid meetings, consider disabling the chat box. Encourage people to say what they think and ensure remote and in-person people follows the same guidelines for speaking up.

4. Prioritise in-person time for newcomers & independent workers

The two groups who may see the least value in coming to the office—newcomers without work friends and people who work independently—are ironically the most at risk for losing out by staying home. “Not only are these employees not as naturally integrated in social networks, but they also have fewer opportunities to showcase their ‘unseen’ work.

Encourage newcomers and independent workers to spend time at the office. And when they get there, don’t have them sit alone in a cubicle working.

5. When people come to work, give priority to social networking over just business

When bringing everyone together, the temptation is to do the work that feels a bit more difficult to handle remotely. Focusing purely on work, though, does little to close the communications and knowledge gap between remote and in-office people. “If you want to get the most bang for your buck, have people spend that precious in-person time networking.

Have one day a month where everyone comes to the office for an informal “happy hour” get-together. The goal is for the most isolated people to make small connections across their networks. Over time, they will build their network and learn how to better navigate the office,” Trim concludes.

 

Source: MyBroadband

Here are 10 steps before considering dismissing an employee for refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine:

1. Perform a Covid-19 risk assessment

This will determine whether a mandatory vaccination policy is necessary and to identify employees who work in situations where:

  • The risk of transmission is high due to the nature of their work.
  • The risk for severe Covid-19 or death is high due to an employee’s age or comorbidities.

2. Develop a vaccination plan or adjust your existing Covid-19 plan

3. Educate employees about vaccines and provide them with more information

Relevant information can be found in the vaccine FAQ section of the NICD’s website .

4. Assist employees with registering for vaccination on the EVDS portal

Registering on the health department’s Electronic Vaccination Database System (EVDS) allow South Africans to book a time and select the vaccination site where they would like to receive their vaccine.

5. Give employees paid time off to be vaccinated

If you implement a mandatory vaccination policy, you may not withhold pay or force employees to take leave without pay.

6. Place employees who suffer from vaccine side effects on paid leave

Employees who suffer from side effects after taking the vaccine should be given sick leave. If their sick leave is exhausted, they may qualify for further paid time off.

7. Keep employees informed on vaccination issues

This includes notifying them about:

  • The obligation to be vaccinated and by what date.
  • The right to refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds.
  • The opportunity to consult with a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official.

8. Counsel employees who refuse to be vaccinated on any constitutional grounds

Talk to employees and allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative if requested. Refer the employee for further medical evaluation if they refuse to be vaccinated based on a medical condition.

9. Explore alternative arrangements

Dismissal should only be a last resort. The employer should attempt to accommodate the employee in a position where they do not require the vaccine.

Possible options to consider include letting the employee:

  • Work off-site
  • Work from home
  • Work in isolation (at the workplace)
  • Work outside normal working hours
  • Work while wearing an N95 mask

10. Follow the correct procedure for dismissals

If all other options have been exhausted, Truter advised against disciplinary action. Instead, he said to deal with the dismissal as one of “operational requirements” or “incapacity”.

By Keymanthri Moodley, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Medicine and Director, The Centre for Medical Ethics & Law, Stellenbosch University. Published on IOL.

In recent months, the question of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination or limitations on those who choose not to be vaccinated has become a hot topic. In many countries, healthcare professionals and care home workers in facilities for the aged or disabled must be vaccinated as an occupational requirement. They are duty bound to accept a vaccine because of their non-negotiable pledge to avoid harm to patients, colleagues and their own families.

Other occupational groups who work in proximity to the public or in large indoor venues also have a responsibility to adhere to a mandatory vaccine policy. Likewise, barring medical contra-indications, civil society has a reciprocal duty to accept vaccinations to protect healthcare and other essential workers.

Where specific policies enforcing vaccination do not exist, other measures are being used to encourage vaccination or to nudge the unvaccinated. Incentives are being provided in some contexts for those who opt for vaccines. These include monetary incentives or food vouchers, retail discounts and lower life or medical insurance premiums.

Less attractive measures are being implemented in other settings, such as weekly Covid-19 testing for the unvaccinated. Some countries are restricting access to venues like cinemas, nightclubs, concert halls and indoor restaurants.

Travel regulations are tightening up globally. Vaccine passports are increasingly being required for international flights. And in a minority of places, among them Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, fines of up to $357 are levelled against those who refuse vaccinations.

Paradoxically, throughout the pandemic, the voices of those clamouring for individual rights and civil liberties have rung loudly and abrasively, constantly attempting to crowd out calls for the common good and public interest, constantly attempting to overpower calls for herd immunity via Covid-19 vaccines.

South Africa, too, is grappling with the question of vaccine mandates. As a bioethicist, I have no doubt: ethically, vaccine mandates are justifiable on multiple levels, based on the common good and a public health ethics framework.

This framework, which has been outlined by researchers, is based on the principles of solidarity, effectiveness, efficiency, proportionality and transparency. It intends to achieve three things in a public health emergency. First, to save lives. Second, to use limited resources efficiently. And, finally, to create social cohesion in the public interest and to build public trust.

It is no longer a matter of whether vaccine mandates should be introduced in South Africa, but when. The country’s Constitution and several pieces of legislation provide for this, in certain circumstances and with several factors taken into account.

Policy and principle

In 1985, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council adopted the Siracusa principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These principles are now firmly enshrined in international human rights law and standards. They require that any restriction on human rights must be based on law.

These principles are reflected in Section 36 of the South African Constitution, which deals with the limitation of rights. The National Health Act No. 61 of 2003 also applies – it contains regulations relating to notifiable medical conditions. So too does the Disaster Management Act.

Restrictions on individual rights imposed via vaccination are not arbitrary. South African law requires that they be based on a legitimate objective and must be strictly necessary for the achievement of the policy objective.

In the case of Covid-19, the objective of preventing transmission of infection is unambiguously in the public interest. The least restrictive and intrusive means must be used and the burden of justifying a limitation of human rights lies with the South African government.

The South African Bill of Rights (section 36) specifies that any limitation must be “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom”. It also requires that the restriction be proportional to the purpose of the limitation. So the bigger the risk to public health, the larger the restriction may be on individual rights.

Most importantly, such restrictions must be based on scientific evidence. They should not be arbitrary, discriminatory or unreasonable. Billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally and have demonstrated good safety data, with protection from severe disease and death in most cases.

Serious side effects have been experienced only by a minority with underlying risk factors. The majority of deaths in the United States currently are occurring among the unvaccinated. A similar trend has been noted in South Africa. Given this data, mandatory vaccination satisfies the requirement for being reasonable.

It is clear that, based on its existing legal framework, South Africa can legitimately introduce a mandatory vaccination policy for specific occupational environments and leisure activities.

Section 23 of the Constitution, for instance, states that “everyone has the right to fair labour practices”. A mandatory vaccine policy could be regarded as a fair labour practice – it prevents harm to all. Everyone has a right to a safe working environment. Employees who are vaccinated may legitimately object to having unvaccinated employees in their working environment.

The Disaster Management Act Covid-19 regulations are important to highlight. Specifically, regulation 14(3) states that any person “who intentionally exposes another person to Covid-19 may be prosecuted for an offence, including assault, attempted murder or murder.”

No luxury of time

Going forward, improving health literacy is a critical prerequisite to enhance vaccine acceptance. It must be accelerated and expanded rapidly to reach all communities.

However, there is no luxury of time during a public health emergency to engage in prolonged community education efforts. In parallel with counselling, and vaccine literacy efforts, mandatory vaccine policies in high-risk environments are indispensable.

 

Nearly 18 months after we left the office, businesses should not simply try to pick up where they left off and hope people return to the workplace environment as it was before.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “There are no precedents to follow in the aftermath of a global pandemic. Giant Leap has devised a list of 7 ‘must do’ actions that corporations, large and small, should consider when attracting new employees and welcoming back old staff, in light of unfamiliar working reality.”

Have a clear idea of who needs to be present in the office

Do you really need an in-office presence to order supplies or make cold calls? Smart business have learned that productivity is not a function of location; many job functions are location independent. “Identifying groups that can re-enter the workplace in phased stages is critical, based on the impact of location on the job function,” says Trim.

Begin to make the workplace ‘work ready’

In keeping with the primary goal of promoting a seamless transition back into the workplace, what needs must you address? Dedicated spaces for phone conversations? Expanded access to Wi-Fi? White Boards and erasable markers? A primed, well-prepared workplace evokes the feeling of homecoming as an alternative to yet another upheaval in the normal routine of life.

Creatively repurpose under-utilised space

The key to repurposing space is to ensure that it still benefits your company in its new incarnation. “For example, the addition of a coffee bar, ping-pong, day car or fitness room may seem like the perfect choice for repurposing empty space. It’s easy, inexpensive employee-centred fix,” says Trim.

Consider a workplace in the absence of assigned offices and/or dedicated seating

“The traditional office model of mazes of assigned workspaces has run its course and will be discarded in favour of a looser, more utilitarian work environment,” Trim notes.

“For anyone over the age of 40, this will likely be the most disruptive change they will encounter, while for those younger than 30, this will be welcomed as an engaging, community oriented working environment.” Strategies designed to allay anxieties, and promote acceptance, will require corporate investment and in-house promotion to accelerate acceptance and usage and promote well-being.

Create on-demand workplace services

In the absence of a full time onsite workforce, you no longer need a fully stocked canteen to feed employees that have opted for remote work settings. The same principle applies to workstations, conference rooms and lounging areas and parking garages. “The focus should be on adjusting workplace solutions for employees from an ‘on-site’ suite of services to ‘on-demand’ services,” Trim adds.

Make employee wellbeing a top priority

Employee wellbeing is a vital element for companies that want to attract and maintain top talent. A new generation of millennials entering the workforce seek companies that offer the right environment and values. “These workers need a workplace environment that is energising, engaging, and connected to the broader corporate community. Wellbeing is a theme that cuts across multiple aspects (safety, health, morale) of the workplace.

“Wellbeing is of paramount interest to executives today. The benefits of any post-pandemic workplace strategy must equally apply to all employees, regardless of income, education, or location,” Trim concludes.

Without open-plan offices and rush-hour crowds to contend with, the shift to remote work during a pandemic seemed to suggest we are more in control of our environment and particularly our health – but our work from home habits are probably really gross.

“The home office has a lot more bacteria than work offices do,” says Linda Trim, Director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design consultancies.

“In the office, companies hire cleaners to clean floors and desks and all other work surfaces, often at the end of every day.

“But at home, many of us have developed habits that are, at best, not the healthiest, and at worst simply gross. We make phone calls from the bathroom. We let clutter pile up on our desks. We work from bed while balancing our coffee mug and muffin.”

While some of these habits are fairly benign, but not all.

Dust mites and other allergens can accumulate in a messy home, triggering coughs and a runny nose. Contaminated surfaces can transmit pathogens. Working from bed can cause sleep disruptions as well as aches and pains and other woes.

Certain habits also can act like super-spreaders of microbes.

Cellphones are one of the worst offenders. And when you consider where your phone goes in a typical day, that’s no surprise. A survey by American telecommunications giant Verizon Communications Inc found that 90% of users admit to carrying their smartphones into the bathroom.

“Even in a meticulously clean bathroom, if you’re picking up and putting down your phone before washing your hands, nasty bugs can attach to the screen and cover,” Trim notes.

So can you prevent your space at home from becoming the proverbial petri dish? Here’s Giant Leap’s top tips:

Keep pets away from your computer

Given how much time you’re spending at home, it’s only natural that your pets will want to take up residence on or near where you are working. But allowing your cat to crawl over your keyboard, for example, can lead to buildup of fur, or even traces of Kitty Litter.

Ensure adequate ventilation

Opening a window to let in fresh air is ideal. Also consider getting an air purifier than can screen out most microbes. Trim adds. “Better ventilation leads to a 60% improvement in cognitive performance.”

Removing shoes when entering a home makes sense for those working from home, too – especially since we track in a lot of pesticides and chemicals from the street.

Use the right cleaning products

Cleaning surfaces with soap and water first, then use a disinfectant. Alcohol-based wipes might be better for electronics. Use paper towels when cleaning. The worst object in the home is a sponge or dish cloth; things grow in it.

Avoid eating at your desk

Having food on your desk can breed bacteria.And there is another, less obvious risk posed by deskside meals. “You’re sitting in the same position as when you’re working and that increases the chance you’ll develop repetitive strain injuries,” Trim warned.

Deep clean
Thoroughly clean your computer, desk and other equipment once or twice a week. Give extra attention to your mouse, keyboard and other objects that are touched frequently. You also can upgrade to a washable keyboard with added antimicrobial protection.

Don’t let papers or other detritus pile up

It’s really important to put things away at the end of the day. “Not only can the clutter harbour bacteria, but it can increase our stress levels without our even realising it,” Trim concludes.

By Thandazani Ngwenya, client executive at 21st Century

There is a lot of research about the varied needs and world views of different generations. In this article, a working millennial discusses how work looks through his eyes and what has changed in comparison to how his parents did it.

The age of instant gratification

I am in month three of the world of work, in my first job and an excited employee. As a millennial, flexibility, accessibility, ease and instant gratification are part of our ‘genetic make-up’.

The very first work experience

Technology and its advancements are very familiar to me. Growing up in the digital age meant that a large portion of my relationships, both personal and professional, were established online. My career, in terms of how I positioned myself, was conducted on a virtual basis; for instance, via LinkedIn, and unlike my parents’ era, I was not confined to physically having to deliver my CV. My job search was made easier by access to technology.

This is an element that I have come to associate with my current world of work, where seeking and starting work during the global pandemic meant that relationships were established on a virtual basis. I met the majority of my colleagues via platforms like Zoom and Microsoft teams. The relationships were not difficult to establish or maintain. In fact, I believe these circumstances made people more accessible at all levels of the organisation, including management.

Being raised in the digital age made me accustomed to a life that is characterised by access, increased usability, and to a degree, instant gratification. These are characteristics and expectations I have brought to my workspace.

Was it different to what you expected? In what way?

It was VERY different! I grew up observing not only my parents but extended family and their friends, donning three-piece suits for interviews, having to physically submit CVs to HR representatives and attending activities such as interviews and onboarding/orientation in person to outline a few elements.

Transitioning from university into the real world with that as the basis for how I have come to see the working world was quickly displaced by technological advancements and the COVID pandemic. For starters, my interview was conducted virtually, and I had attended a funeral on the same day, which prompted me to conduct my interview from a car in a different province than that of my prospective place of employment.

This scenario embodies my attributes as a millennial. It was convenient, easy (not bound to the traditional brick and mortar confines) and allowed for flexibility. When I got the job, my orientation into the organisation followed a similarly flexible path. It was conducted both virtually and in person. And because of the remote element, I had the opportunity to form relationships with some of my colleagues that I would not have ordinarily had access to.

The hierarchical divide I expected was not the same as how previous generations described it. The channels of access were opened immensely, with immediate access to executives and management.

My outputs were within my control, as if I had become the CEO of my own enterprise, motivated to produce work and achieve optimal results, not because of constant supervision but because I was driven. For me, I believe this is an important responsibility when flexibility and an excess in freedom is introduced.

I have come to understand the culture of my new company, and see that it is likely I would have experienced a non-hierarchical entity in any event. But I have been impressed at the adaptability and strength of relationships and culture, particularly at this early stage of my employment.

As days roll into nights, into weeks, months, years… we are prone to changes at the core of our existence as humans, having to adapt as life evolves. Society at large is not immune to this evolution and the world of work is vastly different from the way it was introduced to me from a spectator’s point of view.

What does it all mean?

Flexibility in today’s world of work for me is indicative of an ability to structure my life in the way that I see fit. For instance, I have been able to dabble in online courses in between my breaks, learning new skills on YouTube or just spend time reading a book.

A flexible work structure takes away the notion of surveillance, and with that, an ability to accurately measure productivity in its traditional sense. As a millennial, I feel like a CEO of my own job, where flexibility has given me the ability to take responsibility and become the ‘boss’ of myself. My pay is influenced by everything I do every day; my job satisfaction is up to me; my learning and development is in my own hands.

Accessibility as an element of my ‘genetic make-up’ is experienced in the way that the communication lines between myself, my superiors and my colleagues have opened up, replacing the hierarchy I expected with a harmonious openness and access to other team members.

Vaccines and the workplace

By Kate Collier, Shane Johnson, Heather Mudau for Webber Wentzel

The Minister of Employment and Labour has issued a revised Covid-19 Direction on Health and Safety in the Workplace. The Direction was signed by the Minister on 28 May 2021. In line with the previous versions of this Direction, it applies to all workplaces except mines, ships, boats or cranes and any other workplace which is regulated by a different direction on health and safety.

The provisions in the previous Direction (gazetted on 1 October 2020) largely remain intact in this Direction. The latest amendments largely provide regulations relating to Covid-19 vaccines and guidelines for employers who are considering mandatory vaccination of their employees. We summarise the key clauses of the Direction for employers below.

Definition of “Covid-19 vaccines”
The Direction defines “Covid-19 vaccines” as:

“a vaccine that has been scientifically evaluated and recommended by the WHO and approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to be effective in preventing severe disease and death, and likely to reduce SARS-CoV-2 viral transmission in order to contribute to herd immunity”

Employers must ensure that they comply with the provisions of the Direction discussed below.

Administrative measures
The employer must take steps to generate awareness and educate employees on the Covid-19 vaccine, including information on the:

  • benefits of the vaccine
  • contra-indications for vaccination
  • nature and risk of any serious side-effects (eg severe allergic reactions)

To compile this information, the Direction refers employers to the Frequently Asked Questions section on the National Institute of Health website.

In addition to awareness and education around the Covid-19 vaccine, employers must also provide administrative support to employees to register on the Electronic Vaccine Data System Registration Portal for Covid-19.

Employers must also provide employees with paid time off to have the vaccination on the allocated date and time. The employee will be required to provide the employer with proof of vaccination, particularly when it is scheduled to take place during working hours.

Symptom screening
The Direction confirms that the isolation procedures applicable to employees who present with Covid-19 symptoms at work does not apply to employees who present with symptoms for one to three days after having the Covid-19 vaccination.

If an employee is unable to work after having had the Covid-19 vaccine due to side-effects, the employee should be placed on paid sick leave. The employer may accept a Covid-19 vaccination certificate as proof of illness instead of a medical certificate.

Employers who are considering mandatory vaccinations for employees must comply with the following provisions of the Direction.

Risk assessment and plans for protective measures
Clause 3(1)(ii) of the Direction provides that the employer must undertake a risk assessment within 21 days of the commencement of the direction to determine if it intends to make vaccination mandatory. If the employer does intend to make vaccination mandatory, it must then identify which employees must be vaccinated considering risk of transmission due to the nature of their work or risk of severe Covid-19 disease due to age or co-morbidities. Clause 3(3)(c) makes it clear that even if vaccination is mandatory, such a policy will only be enforceable “as and when Covid-19 vaccines become available”.

After conducting the risk assessment, the employer must clearly formulate a plan (or amend an existing plan) that outlines the measures it intends to implement on mandatory vaccination of employees.

The plan must include the following elements –

The identification of the employees who will be subject to vaccination

The process by which the obligations under the Direction will be complied with by the employer

Whether the employer is planning to make it mandatory for identified employees to be vaccinated
If the employer decides to make vaccination mandatory for employees, its mandatory vaccination policy must state that employees will be notified of the following:

  • the obligation to be vaccinated once the vaccine becomes available
  • their right to refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds
  • their opportunity to consult a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated on any constitutional or medical grounds, the employer should take the following steps:

  • counsel the employee and, if requested, allow the employee to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, worker
  • representative or trade union official
  • refer the employee for further medical evaluation if there is a medical contraindication for vaccination
  • if necessary, take steps to reasonably accommodate the employee in a position that does not require the employee to be vaccinated.

Source: Forbes Communications Council

One of my favourite TikTok trends in recent weeks has been a series of posts where content creators list their “guidelines for return to the workplace” for employers. The tongue-in-cheek clips list some of the creature comforts that employees may or may not have become used to while working remotely over the last year, such as “business casual attire will now include sweatpants” or “it will now be acceptable to have a glass of wine by my computer throughout the day.”

I don’t anticipate that many organisations will give the okay for employees to swap coffee pots for carafes of merlot or sport joggers instead of slacks as offices reopen, but the humorous series of clips does raise a very real challenge. While the product and outcomes may be the same, the experience of working at home is very different from working in an office. It’s not just about having a different monitor or a different chair. The physical energy involved and the mental approach to work is different. In some ways, it’s much easier; in some ways, it’s more difficult.

While there are many employers that have declared their intentions for ongoing remote work scenarios, many other organisations are planning to bring employees back into a shared, physical office space sometime in the coming months as the Covid-19 vaccine gains adoption and we approach herd immunity. (It is worth noting that I believe this decision should be 100% up to each organisation based on their own unique needs and working arrangements. This article is not meant to advocate for or against in-person or remote work.)

This transition is one I experienced firsthand earlier in my career on two occasions. While I was working for two different PR agencies, my employers opted to close our existing offices for several months while staff worked in a completely remote environment. (In one case, this was due to a move, and in the other, it was for a building renovation.) Transitioning back to an in-office environment was not easy, but we followed a few key strategies that helped ease the shift. I believe these tactics can also help employees and leadership weather the coming transition as we return to the office.

Talk about your re-entry plan
Organisations should conduct thoughtful outreach to employees to lay out specific expectations for how and when employees will return to the office. In addition, it will make sense to use a phased approach in many cases where some employees rejoin the physical office immediately while others — perhaps those with small children who are still unable to return to school or those who are still at risk due to the virus — wait a bit longer. In this scenario, individual employees should connect with their managers to discuss their own personal re-entry plan.

Try to ramp up rather than dive in
We’ve all experienced the different types of energy we need when we’re working in our office as opposed to working from home. The reasons for this range from the added commute time to the energy required to engage in-person and the lack of creature comforts of home. (Even if the food is the same, eating lunch on my couch is more relaxing than eating at my desk or in the staff lounge.) Just like you would with any other physical demand on your body, be prepared for a few days of adjustment. Talk with your supervisor about ramping up. Maybe you could work in-office one day per week for a couple of weeks, then two or three, and then a full week.

Start adjusting your routine even while you are at home
When kids go back to school after summer vacation, many parents start incorporating elements of the new school routine during the final weeks of the break. Wake up when classes start. Practice eating breakfast by a certain time. Ween off of extra screen time. The same applies to reentering the office. When your employer starts discussing reentry, try to consider how you will need to adjust your schedule and start incorporating those elements into your routine now. Set your alarm earlier to account for your commute. Practice meal prepping and packing a lunch instead of just hitting the fridge. If you have been enjoying a lunchtime workout, consider where your workout will fit into your day once you go back to the office. Think through the little changes that may disrupt your flow and how you can adapt to them now.

Returning to the workplace, and all of the activities that we have missed out on over the last year due to the virus, could be a fun and exciting experience. By taking a thoughtful approach, we can help reduce our own anxiety, as well as the anxiety of our team, and create a smooth re-entry.

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