Ever since this extraordinary WFH period began two months ago, the question of when—and how—Canadians will return to work has loomed large.
While a recent survey from Abacus Data found that an estimated one in five Canadians are now working from home, nearly all of the employees working in Canadian agencies have been WFH since the crisis began.
With government leaders talking about reopening the economy, there has been growing discussion about what return to work might look like. But it is a tricky issue, encompassing everything from employee health and safety to legal rights, to ensuring an adequate supply chain is in place for crucial items like personal protective equipment.
Scott Knox, president and CEO of the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA), says that successfully managing the return to work will be one of the biggest challenges for Canadian agency leaders this year.
“It is the most important issue,” he says bluntly. “Whether this is an agency workplace thing or a retail opening thing, we have to take these steps really carefully. The last thing we want to do is come out of lockdown and find that [COVID-19 cases] are going up.”
The ICA announced this week that it put together a Return to Work task force, with a stated goal of creating a framework for what back to work could look like for Canadian agencies. It is being led by Knox and the ICA’s executive vice-president of agency operations, Leah Power, but the ICA is asking for leaders from both member and non-member agencies to participate.
“We need to make sure we’re touching every part of the sector and then we can coordinate better,” says Knox of the importance of opening up the task force to the entire industry. “It’s just too important that we all get this right, because our travel out of the lockdown will only be as successful as the weakest link.”
The Task Force will use information pulled from an extensive network of leading sources including the World Health Organization, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (specifically its Canadian Business Resilience Network), various federal government entities including the departments of Innovation, Science & Economic Development,
Heritage and Health Canada.
The network also includes various advertising bodies around the world, including the ACA in Canada along with the 4As, the U.K.’s Chartered Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, Australia’s Communications Council and the China Advertising Association.
Among the task force’s first orders of business is coordinating an industry-wide survey of agency employees to better understand their attitudes towards returning to work, anxieties etc. The survey is being deployed Thursday (May 7), with data shared in a report to agencies and discussed at the ICA’s various agency leadership meetings.
There have been myriad scenarios put forth for going back to work while the coronavirus is still a threat, from staggered work stations to one-way corridors to minimize employee contact, to ensuring adequate supplies of personal protection equipment like masks.
The Abacus Data study found that while 12% of people currently employed are already comfortable with returning to work in an office, 17% are uncomfortable until a COVID vaccine has been developed.
The remainder have said that certain conditions must be in place for them to consider returning to work, with 66% saying they want surfaces to be regularly cleaned, 60% saying they want enough room to be able to distance from others, and 47% saying they want to see a reduced number of people allowed in the office. More than one-third (37%), say they want to see mandatory facemasks.