Slow and Safe: The way forward to reopening office buildings

Stage 3 of reopening has started for most of Ontario, as students and employees are transitioning back to school and work into the fall. 

The use of non-medical masks or face coverings is required in all indoor public spaces, and a mask bylaw is in place with a fine of $1,000 for an offence. 

Cities across Canada also consider reducing the number of employees present at the same time to help maintain physical distancing and have alternative work options available such as:

  • Offering teleworking options, if available.
  • Staggering work shifts and breaks.
  • Enabling flexible work hours and schedules.
  • Hosting virtual meetings.

You can find more of the guidelines for the City of Toronto here

Employers are also required to develop a policy and protocols on the wearing of masks to help ensure employees safety as they transition back to in-person work.

Some employers have already outlined their plans. 

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) has outlined their plan which is looking at staggered shifts, daytime cleaning and even changes to its office kitchens as ways of keeping employees safe. 

CIBC told employees in an internal message that it won’t be business as usual for some time and that, for many, working from home will continue to be the norm. 

Canada’s fifth-biggest bank says it expects “a small number” of employees to come back in the fall in the second wave of returns. Still, a majority of those currently working at home will keep doing so into 2021. Timing for the next wave will depend partly on when staff can move into an office complex that’s under construction.

The new headquarters is currently under construction in Toronto and has been revisiting floor designs and making adjustments to seating, meeting rooms and workstations at the skyscraper, that is expected to be ready for occupancy by the end of the year.

Director of Public Affairs for CIBC Trish Tevit said that with many members continuing to work from home, the company has options on how they can proceed in the coming months. 

“While a small number of team members are returning to the office over the coming months as part of the reopening process, the majority of people working offsite today will continue to do so into 2021… With the vast majority of the team successfully working from home now, we have options about how and when we return to our offices and we’ll do it in ways that meet the needs of our clients and team members.”

Toronto Dominion Bank (TD) and Scotiabank have also told many of their employees that they can work from home for the rest of the year. 

For employees who are already going into work or starting to in the coming months, such as branch staff, will have to wear face masks at all Toronto-Dominion locations and when visiting customers, clients and vendors.

TD, Canada’s second-largest bank, has also created a mobile app for health and exposure screening, with a daily self-assessment required for employees to enter a workplace.

Dr Vipan Nikore, Chief Medical Director of TD Bank Group as well as CEO & Co-founder of, Homecare Hub says that there are a lot of aspects that come into place when ensuring the safety of employees who are returning to in-person work. 

“Both small and large organizations can play a significant role in the public health response during a pandemic in several ways. Educating employees around COVID-19, developing safe workplace policies for employees and customers, supporting employees through the crisis, and contributing to society at large are some ways to do so.”

When it comes to TD specifically, Vipan says that they have added multiple initiatives to assist employees as well as the community as a whole. 

“As an essential service, TD has had to keep many of our branches operational throughout the pandemic… We’ve helped support employees by pledging no job losses due to COVID-19 in the fiscal 2020 year. We’re also contributing to the community by launching the TD Community Resilience Initiative and pledging $25 million (CAD) to it in order to support COVID-19 relief and community-building efforts.”

“For most employees working from home, we expect that this will remain the case until the end of the calendar year, and possibly into 2021. “

He also adds that as reopening continues, organizations such as TD must do so slowly and safely. 

“When organizations reopen, it is important they lift restrictions slowly in a phased approach and monitor for adverse impacts before moving onto the following phase and lifting further restrictions. The key is to open slowly and close or modify quickly if necessary.”

Other companies do not have a complete plan but rather are waiting for new updates from public health sources as they move forward. 

Gannon Loftus, Director of Corporate Communications for Sun Life Finacial, says that while they do not have a concrete timeline for a return to the office, they will be taking steps based on public health recommendations. 

“While we haven’t identified a timeline to return back to the office, we expect to update our Employees later this year. Our decision to return to the office will be based on public health and government guidance, availability of services (transportation, schools, daycare) and where possible, we will provide our employees choice and flexibility.”

While each company has its separate policies, the way forward for them is clear. Slow and steady will prevail.

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