Over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Canadians have worked remotely. With over 81 per cent of Canadians fully vaccinated against COVID-19, employers and companies are slowly reopening workplaces and accepting employees back into the office.
But as a recent newcomer to Canada, you might have mixed feelings about returning to the workplace, or if you landed your first Canadian job during the pandemic, starting out at the office for the first time. As a newcomer, the return to work premises is an opportunity for you to connect or reconnect with colleagues in person, experience the Canadian work culture in person, and build deeper professional relationships. While Canadians are known for their politeness, your colleagues may initially appear to be a little more standoffish and less friendly than you expect because of COVID-19 concerns.
Canadian employers are generally empathetic and committed to ensuring employee well-being, but as an employee, you may have concerns about workplace safety and well-being. If you are returning to the workplace or entering the workplace for the first time, here are some tips to help keep you, your loved ones, and work colleagues safe.
|Want to know more about adapting to working during COVID-19?
See Reconfiguring work, life, and networking in post-COVID Canada to read more about Aakanksha Jha’s story.
8 tips on returning to the workplace
1. Learn about provincial workplace safety
Following relaxed COVID-19 restrictions in provinces and territories in Canada, more workplaces are beginning to open up and employees are returning to work. However, all businesses, organizations, and employees are required to follow COVID-19 workplace safety measures, as set out by the Government of Canada. Any plan your workplace makes to return to work should consider current restrictions.
Newcomers who have questions about returning to their workplace during COVID-19 can get more information from their provincial or territorial public health authority:
- British Columbia
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
- Northwest Territories
2. Make a workplace decision that works best for you
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was initially mostly critical service workers who worked on-site, with the majority of the workforce working remotely. This change to the way we work is likely to remain for some time, at least. According to a recent poll, only 20 per cent of employees want to return to the office full time and 60 per cent of Canadians prefer a hybrid model of working.
Your employer may offer you the opportunity to continue to work-from-home or a hybrid model, where you spend some days in the workplace and some working from home each week.
Consider which option is best for you and your family and ask yourself:
- Are you at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions?
- Are you also living with unvaccinated children or adults with health risks?
- Will continued work-from-home negatively impact your physical or mental health?
- Will a prolonged stint of working from home affect your productivity or career growth?
- Would you feel more connected to your colleges by seeing people in person?
- Will you have to supply your own technology if you choose to work from home? (e.g. computer, phone)
Do you have an adequate, quiet workspace to continue working from home?
3. Ask your employer about safety measures
It’s reasonable to expect that your employer will take, or has already taken, steps to ensure your workspace is safe for returning to work during the pandemic. These changes may include installing Plexiglas barriers, physically distancing desks, improved ventilation, and phasing in a return-to-premise policy slowly. Some companies have already made statements about vaccine mandates and may require employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to the workplace.
Perhaps your company has already communicated these changes and safety measures to you. If not, or if you have any questions or concerns, you could reach out to your direct manager or human resources department and inquire about the measures they will have in place to ensure everyone’s well-being. Your place of employment should also provide adequate notice so you can make arrangements for things like childcare if you are required to return to the workplace.
4. Follow workplace policies
While companies have a responsibility to ensure the workplace is set up to ensure their employees’ well-being, employees also have a responsibility to follow these policies. If you’ve joined the organization recently or aren’t aware of where to find your workplace policies, don’t hesitate to ask your manager. Some workplace changes that your place of employment may introduce include:
- Staying home from work when you’re sick. If you are unsure what the symptoms of COVID-19 are, check the Government of Canada website
- Practicing hand hygiene by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer and respiratory etiquette (cover your mouth and nose with a tissue with coughing or sneezing)
- Regularly cleaning and disinfecting work-desks, objects, or surfaces that you touch with disinfectant wipes or cleaner
- Requiring employees to wear a non-medical mask or PPE within the office premises. The rules for mask-wearing may vary, so be sure to understand if you’ll be required to wear a mask all day, including at your desk, and what the lunch arrangements will be
- Physical distancing from co-workers, clients, and others
- Regular workplace COVID-19 screenings, where applicable
- Postponing non-essential work-related travel or opting for virtual participation.
5. Protect your health
Your health and safety are important—both inside and outside of the workplace. Here are some additional measures newcomers can take to protect your health:
- Stay at home if you’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms or someone who has tested positive. It’s suggested you also contact your public health authority for more advice on what to do in such a scenario
- If you aren’t already, get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect yourself, your family, and others in your workplace
- Tell your supervisor if you’re feeling sick and return home. If any of your symptoms include COVID-19 symptoms, get tested. Be sure to inform your supervisor about anyone you may have come in contact with
- Avoid sharing food or drinks with colleagues, use and wash your own cups and dishes or use disposable cups and dishes
- Be considerate of other people’s health and needs. Wipe down surfaces after you’ve touched them, leave washrooms and kitchen clean after use.
6. Explore alternatives to travelling during rush hour
If you are returning to your workplace and rely on public transit, you may wish to avoid using transit during peak hours. For those who have a flexible schedule, that’s easier to do. However, if you work from 9-to-5, it’s not always easy to avoid the early morning rush on the subway or streetcar. One tip to help newcomers is to use the free Rocketman app. Their “crowdedness” feature is designed to help computers determine how crowded the next bus, streetcar, or train will be.
|Want to know more about staying healthy on public transit?
See 7 Ways to Ride More Safely on Transit During COVID for more tips on protecting yourself while travelling.
7. Follow provincial guidelines outside the workplace
As provinces and territories open up, COVID-19 restrictions are relaxing. However, in many parts of Canada, there are still rules in place. To keep yourself, your family, and your work colleagues safe, it’s important you follow your provincial guidelines outside of your workplace in relation to COVID-19. Take time to learn about current rules, such as limits on social gatherings. Newcomers can also protect themselves by avoiding large social gatherings, especially ones where other people may not be following health guidelines, or when mixing with other people who are not vaccinated or aren’t following health guidelines. If you’re resuming in-person networking, opt for small events or one-on-one coffee chats to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19.
8. Keep track of your mental health
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had an impact on many people’s mental health. While the isolation from COVID-19 and lockdowns may have caused some newcomers anxiety and trauma, returning to normal can also be a source of stress. Perhaps you’re worried about staying healthy, juggling a hybrid work schedule, or acquainting yourself with your work colleagues. Just like your physical health, it’s also important that newcomers also take care of their mental health.
Some employers have recognized and have taken measures to prioritize their employee’s mental health. If you are struggling with feelings of anxiety or excessive stress, the Canadian Mental Health Association has some tips for speaking with your employer, including:
- Starting the conversation—ask for a meeting in private and let your supervisor know if you need additional support
- Scheduling regular check-ins with your supervisor about how things are going
- Taking care of yourself—spend time outdoors, engaged in physical activity, or doing something you enjoy with family and friends
- Making an appointment with a healthcare professional.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, many organizations are planning a full or partial return-to-premises. As a newcomer, there are several things you’ll need to keep in mind to ensure a smooth, safe transition to the workplace. By following provincial and workplace safety guidelines and practicing caution, you can play a role in safeguarding your and your co-workers’ health and well-being.