It’s been more than 500 days since millions of Canadian employees were forced to suddenly work from home because of COVID-19.
While the pandemic is far from over, some workplaces are starting to tackle the tough questions of when and whether to come back into the office again — and what work life will look like for people, no matter where they do it.
CBC News reached out to dozens of business leaders across the country for their thoughts on the return to work.
In responses from across Canada, from tiny non-profits with a handful of employees, to tech startups, energy firms and financial giants with tens of thousands of workers, one sentiment was echoed again and again: Things definitely won’t be exactly how they used to be.
“It won’t be a one-size-fits-all,” said Guy Cormier, CEO of the Montreal-based financial services giant Desjardins.
Desjardins doesn’t plan on flipping a switch and calling everyone who used to be in the office to come back in. Instead, the company plans to allow for all sorts of arrangements. Many people will come back into the office basically full time, if they want to and it makes sense to, while some former office dwellers will stay at home permanently. Others will adopt the so-called hybrid model, where they switch between the two.
“We will adapt with our staff and be sure that there’s … balance between their lives and their work,” Cormier said.
It’s a similar story at the big banks; both TD and CIBC say they plan to incorporate a lot more work from home into their business from now on.
“The majority of our team can work from anywhere, be productive and do incredible work. But there are also things we do best in person and together,” said CIBC’s group head of people Sandy Sharman. “The future of how and where they work will blend the best of both worlds.”
“We anticipate that colleagues will continue to enjoy more work-life flexibility, including remote work and hybrid options where it is possible. However, we believe that most roles will require some presence in the office, in order to foster collaboration, innovation and strengthening of our culture,” said TD’s chief human resource officer Kenn Lalonde.
Cenovus Energy will be going the hybrid route, allowing people to work up to two days a week from home — if they want it and if the job realistically allows.
“We’re planning to use a hybrid workplace flexibility model — with office staff able to work from home up to two days a week, role permitting,” the Calgary-based company’s executive vice-president, Sarah Walters, said in an email. “The new model will be implemented in September to coincide with the majority of our office returns and we will be assessing this approach over time to ensure it’s the best fit for our workplace.”
Staffing firm Manpower knows better than most that tailoring the arrangement on a case-to-case basis works best, so that’s what they’ll be doing with their own employees. “We need to be flexible in order to attract and retain some of the top talent in the market,” said Darlene Minatel, Manpower’s country manager for Canada.
Marketing agency Brand Momentum will be similarly flexible, but they will require staff to make an appearance in the office in either Toronto or Montreal at least three days a week, said CEO Hesham Shafie.
Insurance giant Sun Life, meanwhile, is open to anything that gets the job done. “We’re not imposing any minimum or maximum in terms of being in the office,” president Jacques Goulet said. “In fact, we don’t talk about return to office — what we’re talking about is opening our offices for work.”
St John’s-based software company Celtx says it plans to proceed with whatever system works best for its employees — and above all, whatever they decide to do, it will roll out slowly. “We’re not going to do anything sudden, it’ll be done with a lot of consultation,” CEO Mark Kennedy said, adding that, ultimately, keeping his employees happy is good for business. “If you have a happy employee, usually you have a productive employee.”
Indeed, if there’s one lesson the pandemic disruption has taught Canadian business leaders, it’s that there can be a better way than what they were doing.
Celtx employed a good chunk of remote workers even before COVID-19 hit, so the company had a bit of a leg up in terms of making it work for everyone. “We actually leaned on our remote workers to tell people who were used to working in an office what were some of the tips they could employ,” Kennedy said. “We just put some of those best practices into use for everyone.”
While Brand Momentum will want its staff to be in the office at least part time, Shafie says they have no intention of forcing people back. Far from it; he says working from home has actually made the company more productive.
“Because many of our people were driving half an hour, an hour each way to get to the office, now these two hours they’re able to use [that] productivity for the family, for the life. So they’re happier as a result,” he said. “It’s been a transformation.”
Ultimately, no company should expect things to go back to how they were before — and any ones that do are likely to suffer for it.
Montreal-based marketing firm helloDarwin plans to go the hybrid route of having office space there for those who want it, home work for others, and a mix-and-match for everyone else. The system has worked well through the pandemic, says CEO Mathieu Plante, so they have no plans to change it.
And he has a warning for any corporate executives who long to get back to the days of valuing face time in the office over everything.
“If an employer cannot accommodate his workforce in 2021, for sure, [they] will see departures, people leaving the company.”
Prepping Your Home for the Canadian Winter
The arrival of autumn is a traditional sign that it’s time to start preparing for winter. Such rituals once had a good deal to do with human survival, such as the need to gather enough food to ensure people had enough to eat during the sparse or non-existent growing season. Of course, providing adequate shelter and warmth through the coldest months was also an essential concern.
For most people today, the task of winter preparation in Canada has to do with taking care to be comfortable while also avoiding any possible emergencies that might arise due to rough weather; this means that the main areas of concern tend to have to do with either
- Warm Clothing
- Reliable Transportation
- Keeping Your Home Warm and Well-Maintained
When it comes to ensuring that your home is ready for the winter season, your top priority should be to check that your living areas can stay warm without sacrificing heating efficiency.
The Importance of Windows in Winter
One of the most critical aspects of this preparation involves checking your windows to ensure they are ready to withstand the coldest temperatures to keep you and your family safe and warm. Like everything else on your home, your windows experience normal wear and tear as they do their job of keeping the cold out and the heat inside each year.
While it might seem evident when windows are getting old, less obvious imperfections can quickly arise that may prove a tremendous burden if only discovered during the coldest weather. That’s one of the key reasons why preparing easy on can save you many headaches later in winter.
Trusting the Experts
Rather than play a guessing game with the condition of your windows, you can get in touch with a professional company that can ensure your windows are in proper working order. For example, you can contact a company specializing in windows and doors in Toronto to see whether the time has come to replace your windows.
Check Your Heating System
Another vital aspect of preparing your home for winter is to check your heating system and perform any tests available to guarantee everything is in working order. If your house is equipped with an oil furnace or contains a heating system that uses fuel, make sure that your tank is full so that you don’t run out at the wrong time. You might also want to contact your utility company to see if they recommend any other maintenance services.
Along with heating and window condition, there are many more general ways to weatherproof your home. Some of these include:
- Replacing or installing insulation
- Weatherstripping and caulking
- Repairing any leaks
Preparing your home for winter isn’t very difficult as long as you take the time to check a few essential things if you want to be ready. As always, the best way to be sure is to talk to the experts, like a professional window supplier who can make sure you are free from drafts when the cold weather hits.
B.C. says it can't take patients from Alberta's overwhelmed ICUs – CBC.ca
B.C. says it won’t be able to take any of Alberta’s extra intensive care unit patients at a time when that province’s hospitals are buckling under the weight of patients who are critically ill with COVID-19.
In a statement, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the ministry met with its Alberta counterparts Thursday. A day earlier, Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS) said she would ask other provinces if they would take ICU patients who need care, or spare staff that can work in intensive care units.
But Dix said B.C. can’t take on Alberta patients now.
“Given the current demands on B.C.’s health-care system, we will not be able to assist with taking patients at this time,” he said.
“However, we have told Alberta that if there are things we can do to support them, we will. And if we can take patients on in the future, we will.
“We are in a global pandemic, and our thoughts are with Albertans as they respond to COVID-19 in their province.”
Yui said Thursday some Alberta patients may be transferred to Ontario.
Alberta is in the midst of a punishing fourth wave with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. As of Thursday afternoon, the province had 18,706 active cases.
As well, there were 896 patients in hospital across the province with COVID-19, including 222 in intensive care.
Dr. Ilan Schwartz, a physician and assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta, told CBC News that “Alberta hospitals really are on the brink of collapse.”
In comparison, as of Thursday, B.C. has 291 people in hospital with the disease, 134 of whom are in intensive care.
The effects of Alberta’s COVID-19 crisis are being felt in B.C.
Many British Columbians in border towns rely on the Alberta health-care system, said Mike Bernie, MLA for Peace River South.
He noted that for his own hometown, Dawson Creek, the closest major hospital is in Grande Prairie, in northwestern Alberta.
WATCH | Alberta faces new restrictions as COVID-19 cases soar:
“A lot of these border communities rely on Alberta as the closest centre for triaging, acute care or emergency situations. It’s faster and easier to go to Alberta,” Bernier said.
He said B.C. is in a tough position when it comes to helping its eastern neighbour.
“As Canadians, we want to help each other, so if there is opportunity in communities to help our neighbouring province, we will all want to do that. But we also have to get our numbers down in British Columbia if we want to be able to help other provinces.”
A warning to B.C.
Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller and mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University, said while Alberta is in a tough situation, B.C. isn’t too far behind.
“We’re on that knife edge where if we [were to take on patients] in an area that then saw an increase in COVID transmission, that would place a burden on that region’s ICU and capacity for providing care,” Colijn said. “[Our ICUs] are not relaxed or well under-capacity here from what I understand.”
Dr. Don Wilson, who has worked in Alberta and currently works in B.C., said he’s worried about people in Alberta and his fellow health-care professionals.
“I’m very concerned for my colleagues as well as the population of Alberta for the way COVID has been handled and the crisis that they’re facing at the moment,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that Alberta’s late adoption of public health measures, like its proof-of-vaccination program and masking measures serve as a reminder for British Columbia to stay vigilant.
“That’s the warning for British Columbia. To be proactive and not as reactive for Alberta.”
Between violence and vandalism, the parties are experiencing a very ugly campaign – CBC.ca
The three main parties say they’ve experienced ugly incidents on the campaign trail, ranging from vandalism to assault. Some party operatives say it’s the nastiest campaign they’ve ever experienced.
One high-profile incident happened earlier this month when someone threw gravel at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, resulting in charges against a former People’s Party of Canada riding president.
Protests are a common sight during any election but many party workers say the ones they’re seeing during this campaign have been more alarming. The Liberal Party had to cancel a late August stop due to security concerns.
WATCH | Trudeau, security detail hit by gravel stones
Calgary Nose Hill Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel Garner released a statement earlier in the campaign saying she has been a victim of harassing behaviour on the campaign trail. She said she’s been accosted by men with cameras “demanding I respond to conspiracy theories.”
“In the last two weeks, I have also received a death threat from someone who called my office in escalating states of verbal abuse over the course of days,” she said in an Aug. 28 statement.
“It’s unfortunately an all too frequent occurrence for me and many of my colleagues, particularly women, of all political stripes. And this increase in violent language, threats and abuse certainly isn’t confined to politics.”
Canadian Anti-Hate Network executive director Evan Balgord said that this has been the worst campaign he’s seen in recent history in terms of far-right activity, which he sees as largely motivated by the pandemic.
“They believe that there is this awful situation going on, like the apocalypse, right? They think that they’re using mask mandates and stuff to kill or kidnap children or render them infertile,” he said.
“The scapegoats they’ve picked are the people they think are the puppet masters — Trudeau, provincial health authorities. And amongst the most hardcore adherents it would be the Jews, the shadow globalists, the elite and so on and so forth.”
While the Liberal Party appears to be the prime target, Balgord said members of the far-right see the Conservatives as complicit.
Vandalism, alleged assaults
Liberal candidate Carla Qualtrough, seeking re-election in the British Columbia riding of Delta, said she’s seen more expressions of hate and rage during this campaign than in previous years, including anti-LGBT and antisemitic graffiti.
“The police are involved. They’re investigating some of the issues that we’re facing. So yeah, it’s a definite tone and it’s hateful and it’s unacceptable,” she told reporters earlier this week.
“It’s not just anger or difference of opinion. It’s really spiralled to hateful and unacceptable behaviour.”
She’s not the only candidate to involve the police. Kitchener South-Hespeler Conservative candidate Tyler Calver said Waterloo Regional Police are investigating after one of his volunteers was assaulted at a campaign office earlier this month.
Greater Sudbury police charged a 56-year-old woman for allegedly assaulting incumbent Liberal Marc Serré in his campaign office in the federal riding of Nickel Belt in northern Ontario. Police said she pushed a table against him, pinning him against the wall.
On the East Coast, Liberal candidate Dominic LeBlanc said he reported vandalism to the RCMP after someone spray-painted a campaign sign with the words “COVID Nazi.”
“There have been some other disgusting, personal things,” he said. “Somebody spray-painted one talking about my mother, who passed away a year and half ago.”
Liberal candidate Anita Anand, seeking re-election in Oakville, said her campaign has seen about 35 per cent of its signs destroyed.
Ottawa South NDP candidate Huda Mukbil said her signs are constantly being torn down.
She blames the vandalism on people opposed to the changing racial and gender makeup of Canadian politics.
“It’s particularly difficult for women generally. And then for racialized women like myself, that much more,” she told CBC Ottawa.
“So what we have to do is just come together and say that this is unacceptable in Canada.”
Balgord said the violence this year follows the trajectory of what’s been percolating online.
“We’ve allowed online hate to just fester in all the online platforms that Canadians use every day,” he said.
“When online hate festers like that, people start to think it’s normal and acceptable to not just say those things online, but to do those things kind of in person.”
People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was egged at a campaign event earlier this month in Saskatoon.
In an August 26 news release, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul raised concerns about mounting threats to her campaign. The party says that while the Green campaign has not seen any hecklers at press conferences, it’s aware of online posts threatening to disrupt events.
‘We will not allow them to define us’: Trudeau
As the campaign enters its final days, nerves appear frayed.
Trudeau is standing by his response to a heckler who used a sexist slur against his wife.
“Isn’t there a hospital you should be going to bother right now?” Trudeau said.
On Thursday, the Liberal leader said he won’t step back in the face of protests or harassment.
WATCH | Trudeau to heckler: ‘Isn’t there a hospital you should be going to bother?’
“We will not allow an angry minority that does not believe in science — and we have a lot of examples of their intolerance of women, the fact that they are racist — we will not allow them to define us and decide the direction we will take to put an end to this pandemic,” he said in French.
But NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said such snide remarks only bait protesters, who that day had picketed hospitals across the country.
“He shouldn’t have been joking about that because it’s it is dangerous and it’s really causing problems for lots of people,” he said this week.
When asked to comment on campaign violence, the NDP accused Trudeau of sowing divisions with rhetoric that has led to heightened frustrations and backlash.
“Justin Trudeau called a selfish election and throughout his campaign, rather than provide solutions for the challenges families face, he’s talked about divisions,” said a party spokesperson.
“Families are paying the price for his rhetoric — protesters blocking hospitals and assaulting health care workers, a rise in COVID-19 cases across the province and even violence on the campaign trail.”
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