Navigating the New Normal - Session Summary

In our first virtual panel discussion, we tackled some pressing concerns for organizations trying to navigate our new normal. Panelists Anne Howard, Jennifer Kirby, and Andrea Shandro discussed issues surrounding three main themes from the questions that were submitted in advance.

  • Remote work arrangements

  • Employee engagement

  • Employee mental health

  • Formulating a relaunch strategy

Audience polls were helpful in gauging what organizations are doing and how they are feeling.


What are other organizations doing to support remote work arrangements?

According to Statistics Canada, 1.7 million non-self-employed workers were already working from home back in 2008. But today that number has grown to 6.8 million Canadian workers or 40% of the workforce.


By early May, just two months into the public health emergency, a study by PwC found that 75% of CEOs were already planning to move more employees to work remotely permanently.

Our live polling revealed that for 45% of respondents, remote work arrangements will remain as a full-time option for all employees. 36% of respondents indicated that remote work would be limited to a certain number of days per week or month.


The main motivations for allowing employees to work from home on a continual basis, at least part of the time:

Now that employees have had an opportunity to test out working from home full-time, some of the challenges are coming to the forefront.


While previous surveys of employees had indicated that up to half of employees would like to work from home full-time, Gensler, a global architecture firm found that only 12% of their 2,300 employees want to continue working from home full-time.


Anne Howard indicated that getting employees used to working from home takes practice and tactical support from organizations. Our live polling reported a variety of ways in which organizations are supporting their teams already:

  • Organizations have assisted by transporting work materials from office to home

  • Moving paper to electronic files

  • Office schedules

  • Some organizations have offered allowances to improve the home office environment

Working from home takes practice, and this continues to be a critical time for leaders to provide a consistent vision and detailed action plan.

Here are some quick tips for effective internal communications.

  • Even if you do not have anything to say, keep communicating to keep things running effectively

  • There is almost never enough communication. Communicate three times more than you think. you need to. Team members will fill in gaps in communication with their own ideas.

  • Solicit feedback about how the communication strategies are working.

  • Set up regular one-on-one check-ins with team members.

  • Agree on the anticipated amount and format of daily communication so that everyone is on the same page.

How can we ensure that organizational culture remains strong?

Your organization’s culture is created by purpose, beliefs, and values carried by your organization. The ability to remain true to this culture can be challenged, but leaders can ensure that their actions are consistent with purpose and beliefs despite our new normal.


Social cohesion need not be abandoned completely, and it goes beyond having a virtual chat. Think of ways to do the things you did previously in a new way. Sharing a meal as a picnic outside rather than in an indoor setting may put people at ease.


Organizations reported the following ideas for increasing social cohesion at their organizations:

  • Daily phone call and happy hour

  • Weekly company-wide photo contests

  • Themed staff meetings (ie: Pride for June, best hat, wackiest jewelry, coloured lipstick)

Finally, don't back away from tough conversations. Showing vulnerability strengthens trust in workplaces.


How can we measure engagement?

People leaders continue to be concerned about engagement in a remote setting.


Beyond the Gallup Engagement questions, ask yourself if your team members are contacting you regularly, asking questions, and whether the quality of work continues to be upheld according to your expectations.


What policies should I be contemplating with respect to COVID-19?

It's a good idea to update your employee handbook and policies to reflect new workplace realities and health concerns. Policies don't have to be limiting. They should be continually updated to reflect current conditions.


The most important thing to remember is that policies need to be culturally consistent.


Examples of policies that might be influenced by the current situation include:

  • Flexible work policies

  • Health & safety policies: accountability for occupational health and safety standards from both employees and employers

  • Use of technology policies: employers need to be aware that company assets such as computers and laptops may now find themselves in a family setting. Setting up password protection and other controls to ensure that confidentiality is maintained or that IT infrastructure isn't exposed to malware attacks is important.

  • Vacation policies:

  • Business travel / Personal travel

  • Remote work policies

How is COVID-19 Impacting Disability Insurance and Claims?

The spread of COVID-19 has had a significant impact on short-term-disability (STD) claims and is expected to have some impact on LTD claims going forward.


Equitable Life sees a 34% increase in the volume of claims compared with the first quarter of 2019, primarily due to COVID. Most of these claims have occurred in retail, healthcare, and social assistance sectors where physical distancing can be challenging.


Alberta had the largest share of STD claims on Equitable Life’s block – accounting for 40% of claims, followed by BC. Claim duration has decreased – consistent with the 14-day self-isolation period required for suspected cases.


Regarding LTD claims, we are anticipating an increase in claims similar to what followed the 2008 recession. We know that some organizations have had to lay off staff members, so the team members who remain are struggling with increased workload, which can end with burnout.


For other employees, the pandemic may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back so to speak. We’ve assisted plan members who have been experiencing health issues for quite some time, but with added stress have found that their ability to cope with their underlying health issue has diminished.


Finally, some employees are facing neck, back, shoulder and arm issues because they don’t have ergonomic set ups at home. Be sure to read our article Ergonomics for Your Home Office.

  • Be sure to point your team members in the direction of supports that are available through the EAP and wellness program as well as community supports as appropriate.


What are Some Promising Practices to Support Mental Health?

Mental Health issues were on the rise even before COVID-19. Mental health is the most common cause of Long Term Disability, and this growing trend is affecting organizations of all types and sizes across Canada.


Sun Life released a report in March 2020 called Designed for Health: A focus on mental health. This document is designed to help organizations identify the causes and risk factors of mental health issues that could affect your workforce.

  • Promote your Employee and Family Assistance Program

  • Ask employees how they are doing and pay attention to what they are saying and how they are saying it. Do not overstep privacy issues.

  • Prepare for the psychological impact of returning to work. Employees may have taken on additional work loads, they may be returning from temporary layoffs, and feelings of grief and anxiety should be expected. Acknowledge these feeling.

  • Take time to build morale

How do we Navigate a Return to Work?

While some organizations have been back in the office for some time, others are still contemplating how this will be accomplished or wondering if a return to a physical workspace is even required.

  • Develop culturally consistent policies that support practical remote work arrangements, work hours.

  • You may need to revisit performance metrics and update performance management practices.

  • Ensure you have a way of addressing business expenses that employees may incur.

  • Address confidentiality of work-related information, use of technology and company equipment as well as password protection. Consider insurance for work property that is in the home.

  • Build in an accountability factor for employees and leaders to ensure that Occupational Health and Safety guidelines are being followed. This is important to reassure your team members that you care about their health and wellbeing.

The new normal will continue to evolve as COVID-19 ebbs and flows in our communities and organizations. If you have ideas or tips that you have found useful in navigating our new normal, we’d love to hear from you!