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Slippers, Sweats, and Flexible Schedules:

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With public health measures in place, working from home has become a new normal for a number of industries across the province. Many workers have traded in their dress shoes and slacks for slippers and sweats. But what has this transition meant for workplace environments?

According to O’Ryan Hughes, managing Partner at Stoppler Hughes Ltd., workplace relationships and connecting to coworkers in the current climate require an organized effort.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is everything is scheduled now. There’s no more bumping into someone in the hallway or water cooler or popping into someone’s office. It seems like you can’t even phone people without setting up an appointment. Which, for efficiency’s sake, can be good but for the interpersonal side, you have to be proactive and book and plan – even if it’s an open-mic lunch with loose conversation. It has to be in your schedule or it simply won’t happen,” he shares. “It was perceived as ‘manufactured fun’ done by HR departments, but it’s really showing now. You can go months without seeing people and you get deeper into your silo. Being more purposeful about our social interactions in the workplace will help improve camaraderie around the office.”

While staying connected continues to be a notable challenge for businesses, changes to workplace environments are not all negative. As Hughes explains, the move to work-from-home arrangements comes with a range of unique benefits for both employers and employees.

“Working from home has stirred up a bigger talent pool regarding who you can recruit. No longer is the commute from the suburbs to downtown an issue. Even further than that, you can hire from anywhere in the world as long as they fit the skillset,” he says. “The ‘hot industry’ moving forward is anything where you have the ability to take your skills and your abilities and market them globally. I think that’s one of those things COVID really pushed forward and we see that global hiring is exploding right now.”

Having an increased scope of hopeful candidates to choose from is not the only upside of recent changes to the workplace. Along with more remote job opportunities, Hughes notes there has been an attitude adjustment when it comes to how working at home is perceived.

“Before COVID-19, working from home or working remotely was often seen as ‘less than’. There was this idea that to be productive, you had to be around one another in a physical sense and I think that has been broken down,” he says.

There is no doubt that the global health pandemic has created a number of barriers for employers and employees alike. Though COVID-19 has weighed down businesses across sectors, some niche markets appear to be making the best of the situation. Genevieve Primus and Elizabeth Disman of Daeco HR Consulting Ltd. explain.

“Last year, a lot of our clients and organizations were trying to figure out how to stay connected with their teams. You’re not able to just walk by the office to say hello, so what we saw a lot of was organizations figuring out how to host a wine and beer night or team lunches safely. So, the industries that came out on top were the industries that could cater to the virtual,” Primus says. “We also have clients who are in the fitness industry. As you can imagine, we are still hiring for them. They’re facing situations where they can’t get product in fast enough,” Disman shares.

The workplace landscape has been impacted drastically by the global health pandemic. The combination of working from home and having to juggle implications of COVID-19 on every day life has presented notable challenges for many. According to Primus, the social repercussions of COVID-19 are having a lasting impression on employers – for the better.

“I think you will see an increased focus on mental health. What can we do for our employees? How can leaders recognize when something might be going wrong? What processes, what employee assistance programs, what resources do organizations have in place to support their staff? And honestly, that’s how it should be!” she says. “We are hearing women and mothers are the hardest hit, and that hits close to home. I am fortunate to have support, but it’s not easy.”

Disman adds, “We’ve called this the ‘great pause’. We have been presented with an opportunity to reset. The way HR pros have been providing support just doesn’t work anymore; the way we have things structured in companies doesn’t work anymore. It is time to shift. It is time to reset and say, ‘how do we want employees to be the most productive?’ We spend so much time at work – is that how we want to balance things? What about our kids? Family? Communities? I think COVID has given us the opportunity to stop and look around and ask if we are living the lives we want to live.”

The workplace ecosystem is not alone in undergoing transformation. For those searching for work, the hiring process has also been turned on its head. Participating in an interview has moved from an in-person conversation to screen-to-screen communication. When it comes to the new virtual interview, Christina Saccomanno of Stoppler Hughes Ltd. has a few words of tech-savvy wisdom to share.

“Keep your setting professional. Although working from home, try to reduce the amount of background distractions and noise. The less the better! Get set up in front of a plain background with proper lighting and try to find a spot in your home that has good internet connection to avoid cutting out,” she says. “Always test out the platform before you enter a meeting. Technology may be tricky, so make sure you are able to successfully join before it’s time to meet.”

Virtual interviews are the new norm for businesses around the province, and getting accustomed to the format can take practice. Like Saccomanno, Primus and Disman have witnessed their fair share of virtual mishaps. Fortunately for nervous applicants, the general attitude toward virtual interviews appears to be forgiving. From speaking while on mute to forgetting your children had applied a cat filter to your screen, technical difficulties are being experienced on both sides of the desk.

That being said, how can candidates avoid digital embarrassment?

“Do a run-through with a friend on Zoom where you are practicing answering questions and figuring out how you can put across who you really are,” Primus shares. “You don’t want to come across cold because you aren’t in-person and employers don’t get to experience that feeling of someone’s energy. Letting your personality shine through is so important.”

Granted, bringing your personality to life through a computer screen is not always so simple. According to Disman, there are key elements of an interview that help candidates make a lasting impression.

“Be authentic in the interview. We are all human beings and we aren’t perfect. When the interviewee brings up weaknesses of theirs without us having to delve into it, it really creates an environment of trust and authenticity. It lets us know we are hiring a human being.”

Whether working from home or adjusting to glass dividers and capacity limits, workers across the region are continuing to adapt to the COVID-19 working world. The global health pandemic has forced companies to adjust their approach to employee-employer relationships. While there have been growing pains along the way, perhaps the pandemic is the push we all needed to overhaul outdated workplace dogmas.

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