Will coronavirus kill the traditional office as we know it?

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, many Canadians continue to work from home because their workplaces don’t allow for a minimum of two metres (six feet) between employees — the physical-distancing guidelines recommended by public health.

The shift has majorly impacted organizations, and as a result, some — like Shopify — have decided to do away with the office completely.

Last week, the Canadian tech giant announced it will keep its offices closed until the end of 2021 to prepare for the company’s permanent work-for-home reality. When those offices do reopen, most employees will continue to work from home.

“Shopify is a digital by default company,” CEO Tobi Lutke tweeted. “Office centricity is over.”

Similarly, earlier this month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told his employees that offices would not reopen until at least September, and even then, whoever wants to work remotely can do so “indefinitely.”

Is this the beginning of a cultural turning point? Laurent Lapierre, professor of workplace behaviour and health at the University of Ottawa, thinks it’s possible, but we won’t know for sure until more companies make the same move.

“I think it’s going to take a lot more than just a few organizations (to say) you’re working from home … (but) that’s going to be, I would imagine, a hard sell for many employers and employees,” Lapierre said.

Whether a company without a central workspace can succeed is the ultimate question.

“There are many reasons to expect that forcing people to work from home more … than they would prefer can cause significant problems downstream,” Lapierre said.

He refers to the “transitional process” that occurs for most people when they physically move from their home to their work.

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“There’s this physical separation that occurs … and that transitional process helps you transition to your work person,” Lapierre said.

“You get to work and now you’re surrounded by all sorts of factors that give you cues relevant to work life.”

Those cues signal to the employee to talk about what’s going on at work, to get information relevant to the work and to feel a sense of connection to others, said Lapierre. When those cues are absent, often that sense of connection is lost, too.

Every employee is vastly different in terms of what they need from their employer to be productive and engaged, said Tina Dacin, professor of strategy and organizational behaviour at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. She also worries about those who don’t excel at working from home.

Balancing home life with work life — and drawing clear boundaries between the two — may also become very difficult, Lapierre said.

Although having family around can manage feelings of isolation, Lapierre said, it can also cause major distractions during business hours.

“(Family) can be a huge source of strength … and a source of distraction,” Lapierre said. “There’s an increased demand at home for some people, and that needs to be taken into consideration.”

New payment structure

There will also be many questions about creating home office spaces that are healthy and safe from an ergonomic standpoint. Who is responsible for doing so and who will foot the bill?

A robust home office has a “good desk and chair (in) a quiet space with a great headset and good lighting,” Dacin said. It should also have a strong internet connection.

According to Ng, some workplaces have started providing a “technology allowance” for employees to acquire these items.

“I suspect in the future, the reimbursement will depend on whether it is an employer or employee request to work from home,” Ng said. If an employer requires that the employee works from home, the employer should cover the costs.

Will it last forever?

Can a company permanently shift to remote-only work? Most experts don’t think so.

Ng predicts companies that try to move forward without a central workspace will struggle with “management and control.”

“There will (need to) be team huddles to develop connectedness and a new work culture,” Ng said.

Dacin is also skeptical — she foresees spending less time at the office, but she doesn’t think the physical space will disappear altogether.

“Some people are very good at working from home … and (other people) are actually really struggling,” Dacin said.

“While we may visit our offices less, our time together at the office may look very different (after the pandemic).”

Dacin is eager to see what companies like Shopify are going to do to keep employees engaged with the organization and passionate about their work.

“What (is the company) going to do to ensure they’re still connecting with me and reinforcing that I’m still adding value?” she said.

“The co-creation of expectations and deliverables is going to be really key.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Will we ever shake hands again?

In Canada, the handshake is a ubiquitous greeting.

It’s used to say hello, to introduce yourself to someone new or to signal a potential employer that you’re trustworthy, confident, and the right person for the job.

But in a world where the deadly COVID-19 remains a constant threat, is the handshake safe?

When the pandemic first began, the handshake was widely advised against by public health officials in Canada.

Although restrictions are beginning to lift across the country, people are still being asked to maintain a physical distance of two metres (or six feet) between themselves and others, making handshakes impossible.

From a public health perspective, Colin Furness at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health believes this should’ve happened years ago.

“Hands are a vehicle for spreading infection,” Furness said. “I sneeze in my hand, I then touch a doorknob, you touch the doorknob and then you touch your face, and boom — the infection has spread, even if we’ve never met.”

A handshake cuts out the extra step, making it even easier for germs to spread.

“A handshake supercharges that. You don’t even need the extra intermediary,” he said.

And the concern isn’t just spreading COVID-19 — handshakes assist in spreading influenza, the common cold and a number of other viruses.

“We use our hands for a lot. People often sneeze and cough into their hands,” Furness said.

“I’m not a germaphobe, but that behaviour makes me wince, and it’s made me wince long before COVID-19.”

Unfortunately, the handshake remains deeply embedded in our way of life.

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“Strictly from an animal standpoint, you have to approach (someone) within a vulnerable distance … It signals trust and rapport,” Furness said. “It’s really important, ritually and culturally.”

One place where the handshake is of the utmost importance: the workplace.

In the workplace

Handshakes are critical in a business setting, said Eddy Ng, professor of management at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

“When we meet someone for the first time, we assess that person by who reaches out their hands first, whether there is a delay in responding, how firm the grip is, palm up (or) down, one or two hands,” Ng said.

While all employees should feel comfortable saying “no” for the sake of hygiene, she believes people of colour, women and non-binary people are more likely to face repercussions or be labelled “unprofessional” if they refuse to shake hands with others.

It’s people traditionally associated with the workplace — namely, white men — who will need to sow the seeds of change, she says.

“How will they set the tone and manifest (these concerns) in their own actions?” Bryan said.

Employers should consider having frank discussions with employees about proper office etiquette moving forward, making it clear that the handshake is no longer expected and suggesting alternatives.

Bryan also recommends individuals have a “pre-thought-out sentence” that they can use to explain why they aren’t comfortable shaking hands.

“Explain that you have a high-risk individual in your family, for example, and say that you’re so pleased to meet them right now and then stop talking,” Bryan said. “Put the period there and look into their eyes.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

[email protected]

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No light at the end of the tunnel: What a summer camps shortage means for working moms

Yelena Goren says she checks the COVID-19 case count daily, looking for signs that the novel coronavirus pandemic is waning. But the light at the end of the tunnel has been hard to spot, she says.

“I’m just not seeing it right now.”

Since the beginning of the health emergency, the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based disability and employment lawyer has been managing her practice from home and simultaneously looking after her three children, one of whom has Type 1 diabetes, a condition that can lead to more severe symptoms of COVID-19.

For that reason, the family has been in strict self-isolation, according to Goren.

With her husband working full time, Goren says she is working evenings and weekends on her current caseload but hasn’t been able to take on any new clients, even as her competitors have been ramping up their marketing.

“This is the time to get the disability and employment files because so many people have been laid off,” she says.

But without a viable child-care option for her children this summer, Goren says she will likely have to stay in that holding pattern for several more months.

I was hoping they were going to go to camp over the summer,” she says. But with the virus still circulating, she adds, “I think it’s still too risky for us to consider.”

Many provincial governments across Canada are still evaluating whether to let summer camps open this summer and how. But no matter what they decide, many parents will likely find that camp is not an option this year.

Ontario, for one, has already announced the decision to cancel all overnight camps. But regardless of provincial rules, some camp operators have already given up on holding planned activities this summer, says Martha Friendly, a Toronto-based child-care expert who runs The Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

Also, the camps that do run may have fewer spots available due to physical distancing and heightened hygiene requirements, Friendly says.

Then there’s the question of whether families will feel it’s safe to send their children to camp. Summer camps aren’t subject to the strict provincial regulations that govern child-care centres, Friendly notes.

Friendly suggests that parents check their camp operator’s COVID-19 measures against the guidelines provinces have put in place for child-care centres. Even in places like Ontario, which has yet to reopen daycare and other child-care services, there are rules in places for centres that look after the children of essential workers, Friendly notes.

For Jacinda David, summer camp is a double conundrum. Not only is the mother of three wondering what to do with her children as the warm season approaches, but she is also waiting to know whether she’ll be able to operate her very own day camps.

Nanny shares, with two families pooling resources to hire a single nanny to watch their kids, is a way to bring down costs, says Friendly. Another option is looking for early childhood education students who may be available for summer work, she adds.

But child-care backups are out of reach financially for many parents, Friendly notes.

I’m very concerned about lower-income families just having no options,” she says.

The likely dearth of summer camps will also disproportionately impact women, Friendly adds.

While there are plenty of fathers who are also currently juggling work, child care and house chores, “women still are more responsible for making arrangements for their children,” she says.

For some families, it’s financial considerations dictating that women take on more of the child care.

Allison Venditti says it “didn’t feel like much of a choice” in her case.

While Venditti’s husband is still working full time, the mother of three says demand for her business has dropped.

Venditti, who runs Careerlove, a career coaching service for parents, calls herself “a huge advocate for working moms.”

But, she says,it’s hard for me to make the argument that I want to keep working full tilt.”

Venditti and her husband had to make decisions at the start of the lockdown about who would work when and who’d take care of the children. At the time, before the government announced various support programs for small business, the couple decided Venditti’s husband would keep up a regular work week and she would work evenings and weekends.

Many others faced similar choices, adds Venditti, who also runs the Facebook group Moms at Work.

There’s a deep discussion on many online groups about women’s careers being sidetracked,” she says.

But Venditti doesn’t see a solution for her family in the near term.

Sending her children to camps or her two-year-old to daycare feels “very uncomfortable,” she says, especially since her youngest child has a medical condition.

Hiring a babysitter or nanny on the family’s reduced income isn’t possible either, she adds.

“For people who rely on two incomes, the financial stress is crippling.”

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Should we cancel the wedding? Couples unsure as coronavirus pandemic drags on

For more than a year, Corey Cooper had the date of Sept. 26, 2020 etched in his mind.

It was the day he was meant to marry his girlfriend of three-and-a-half years, Erin, at a Vaughan, Ont., venue surrounded by loved ones, including their kids.

But a few days ago, Cooper and his fiancée decided to halt their wedding plans due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“With everything going on, we fear that even if things settle down, life will not go back to normal and people will be skeptical of large gatherings for some time,” he said.

“As Erin and I chose to be married the same weekend we first met, we would need to push the wedding a year in order to maintain the sentiment.”

Like Cooper, many couples are cancelling or postponing their weddings due to the pandemic. As Canadian health officials have closed places of worship, venues and restaurants, and banned large gatherings, brides and grooms have no choice but to hit pause on their big day.

Many March weddings were postponed or cancelled, and April, May and June weddings are almost all delayed, too.

On Tuesday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health encouraged residents to postpone weddings another “few months.”

“The biggest challenge for everyone has been the uncertainty,” said Jennifer Bergman, an Edmonton, Alta.-based wedding and event planner.

It’s an emotional time for couples, she said, and no one has concrete answers as to when things will go back to “normal.”

While news around the pandemic is rapidly changing, Bergman said some couples with September wedding dates are already making arrangements to postpone. She doesn’t think bans on large gatherings will lift any time soon, and people are being cautious.

“I’m very hopeful that we’ll still have September and October weddings, but I’m losing hope by the day,” she said.

Apart from throwing couples’ plans off course, the pandemic has been devastating for the wedding industry, including venues and vendors, Bergman said.

Events that would have happened this year are being pushed to next year, which means many vendors will be earning one year’s worth of revenue instead of two.

“If all of the 2020 weddings are now going to move to 2021 in the prime wedding season — the summer months — those are then taking up prime revenue-generating dates for many vendors,” Bergman explained.

“There is definitely going to be a financial impact on the industry. There already is.”

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Bergman said many vendors are encouraging couples to postpone, not cancel, in an effort to offset some losses. Most venues, photographers and planners want to make things work with couples, she said, and are willing to carry over deposits to new dates.

Cooper said he is in the midst of figuring out how to move forward with his venue, but doesn’t have a clear answer just yet. His vendors have been very understanding, he said, and are committed to working with him on his new wedding day.

Vendors, for the most part, have also been really accommodating for Ashley McGuire, an account director at a Toronto-based PR firm.

McGuire’s original wedding date was June 20 this year, but she and her partner pushed their wedding to June 19, 2021 due to COVID-19.

“Once the City of Toronto banned city-run events until June 30… it was clearer and clearer that a gathering of even 50 people would likely not be allowed by June 20,” she said.

“To add to this, my entire family is in the U.S. and there’s a lot of uncertainty around when the borders will open up.”

Travel restrictions are not only affecting wedding guests, they’re putting a wrench in pre-wedding activities, too.

For Sarah Tassielli, a Toronto-based bride, the coronavirus outbreak means her wedding and bachelorette party won’t be moving forward as planned. She was originally meant to tie the knot on June 13, but has pushed her date to early September — a date she hopes will still work.

Tassielli’s original bachelorette plans included a five-day trip to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico with 12 of her closest friends.

“This got cancelled around mid-March after the severity of COVID-19 became clear,” she said.

“We received airline credits for cancelling our flight (that have to be used within a 12-month period) and 80 per cent of our money back from the all-inclusive resort.”

Offering travel vouchers and not charging rebooking fees are common routes many airlines are taking, said Seth Kaplan, a D.C.-based airline analyst.

“Generally, all airlines are being more flexible than they are usually,” Kaplan said.

Still, he advises that couples hold off on rebooking trips until they have a better sense of when they can actually travel. Generally, he said, it’s harder to change a reservation once you’ve made it — especially when it comes to airlines that are currently only offering one-time changes.

“If you have a voucher that’s good for the rest of the year, I would say with not knowing what’s going to happen, you’re better off putting a note in your calendar for when it’s about to expire, and not yet booking a trip that you might not make.”

If you need to postpone your wedding, Bergman suggests seeing what future dates are available at your venue as soon as possible. Once you have options, you can go back to your original vendors and see if they’re free on your new tentative date.

Guests will likely be understanding about the need to postpone, Bergman said, and understand that some things are beyond your control.

This was McGuire’s experience, as she said all her loved ones are supportive of her decision to move her date.

“Everyone was really empathetic and understanding, which is nice,” she said.

“For right now, we’re just thankful everyone is healthy and safe and we know that next year’s celebration will be worth the wait.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness.

People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Source: Read Full Article