Working from home in Ontario will be recommended for the 'foreseeable future'
TORONTO -- As most of Ontario enters the final stage of the government's reopening plan, many employees are wondering how long they will continue to work from home.
Thousands of people across the province moved out of the office in March when COVID-19 cases began climbing, but more than four months later people are still working in their makeshift offices.
As part of Stage 3 guidelines, which most of Ontario has now entered, people are still "strongly encouraged" to work remotely when possible.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said earlier this month that Ontario will remain in Stage 3 until there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19.
So does that mean people should work from home until then?
The Ministry of Finance, which has played a big part in creating the province’s reopening plan, told CTV News Toronto that Ontario will remain in Stage 3 for the "foreseeable future" and "believes the advice won't change" on working from home.
"The advice to work from home or remotely as much as possible still stands," the ministry said.
David Zweig, who teaches organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto, said companies are likely "scrambling" to come up with plans on how to move forward safely.
"Everyone's probably scrambling to figure out how to ensure proper social distancing protocols and how to keep everyone safe," Zweig told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday, adding that it will be even more difficult for companies who occupy downtown office towers.
"Until we have a vaccine, and we know it's effective, it's really going to be hard for everyone to go back to the way it was. For example, businesses need to figure out how you get thousands of people in elevators when you're engaged in social distancing."
Zweig said that companies are going to have to look at hybrid models, in which not everyone goes back into the office.
"Everyone needs to feel safe and confident about going back," he said.
Zweig said one positive is that the pandemic has "ripped the lid off of working from home" and has shown employers who may have been reluctant about the idea that it can work.
"It's not fatal to workplace productivity," Zweig said. "The longer this kind of model of work becomes entrenched, the more likely it might be to continue. There might be more acceptance and willingness to explore it as a model, even after there is a vaccine."
Some people itching to get back to work
Zweig said that while many people have adopted the work-from-home lifestyle during the pandemic, some are ready to go back.
"As much as I love my children I could use a break for them once in a while," Zweig joked. "There's some of us who are more extroverted and really missed that face-to-face interaction with our colleagues."
Zweig said that ultimately it's important for employers and employees to figure out what works best for them as everyone navigates the new normal.
Is it safe to go back into the office?
"The question shouldn't be is it safe? It's how can we make this safer?" infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Toronto.
Bogoch said that while working from home is "obviously much safer" there are ways for companies to make returning to the office safer.
"There's a lot of different ways to go back to work in a safer manner," Bogoch said. "For example, some people will be going to work on certain days of the week. Some people are going to work with a similar group of people. Some people are working from home more. There are a lot of different strategies that are being used by different companies to make a safer environment."
Bogoch said it’s important people expect "bumps along the road" as everyone attempts to settle into the new normal at work.
"It's not going to be perfect and you can guarantee there's going to be mistakes made along the way that we'll have to adjust and overcome," he said.
He added that it’s critical that when there are COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace that companies have the capacity and plan in place to rapidly identity them so they don't "spiral out of control."
Bogoch said it will also be important for employers to take into consideration a person’s individual risk if they or their family contract COVID-19.
"We should be seeing a lot of flexibility," he said.
But ultimately, Bogoch said "nothing has really changed" since the start of the pandemic.
"We still don't have a vaccine or a drug to prevent infection," Bogoch said. "Until we do it's going to be very challenging to get people to go back to work, similar to what we remember in the pre COVID-19 era."
"Everyone's going through this for the first time and as long as we come at it with good intentions and also smart data driven approaches we'll be okay."