Many Halifax employees return to working from home

·4 min read
Masks are mandatory as of Friday in all common areas of workplaces. (Shutterstock - image credit)
Masks are mandatory as of Friday in all common areas of workplaces. (Shutterstock - image credit)

Many large employers in the Halifax area say they're immediately returning some employees to a work-from-home model following Thursday's announcement of new COVID-19 restrictions from the province.

Emera, which employs about 2,300 people in Nova Scotia through branches that include Nova Scotia Power and Emera Energy, said it began re-entry process for its employees in the fall, but stopped in November with the rise of the second wave.

"We resumed our re-entry process in January when it was safe to do so," wrote Dina Seely, a spokesperson for the company in an email to CBC. "The majority of our employees had returned to work, but on a two-week rotational basis (two weeks in the office, two weeks from home)."

Seely said following Thursday's restrictions, all Emera employees who can do so are being told to work from home for the next four weeks.

Mandatory masks in workplaces

The province said as of Friday all private, indoor workplaces would have mandatory masking in common areas, places where there is interaction with the public, areas with poor ventilation, and areas where distance cannot be maintained.

"We've really doubled down on reiterating or telling employees, 'You make the decision that gives you peace of mind, and that ensures that you're comfortable,'" said Kyle Davis, the communications co-ordinator for Admiral Insurance in Halifax, which employs 400 people.

Although there are no rules about sending employees home in Nova Scotia, some employers say they're immediately moving back to a work-from-home model.
Although there are no rules about sending employees home in Nova Scotia, some employers say they're immediately moving back to a work-from-home model. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

"For us, it's not conducive to force people to come into work, to cause undue stress for our workforce."

Up until Thursday, approximately 80 employees were regularly coming into the office, but as of Friday morning Davis said only 34 had chosen to come in, and that the office space of about 12,000 square feet allowed for physical distancing. Davis said those who did come in were adapting well to the new mask rules.

No rules about who goes home

Patrick Sullivan, the president and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, said the message that his organization is sending to members is to ensure staff are comfortable being in workplaces. He noted that in some industries people are not able to leave their workplaces, such as the manufacturing and service sectors.

"There were never rules about going home in Nova Scotia. There are still no rules. But in order to maintain physical distancing, many locations did have to reduce their workforce," he said.

"So our advice is, if you would like to maintain that physical distance, if you're unable to maintain that physical distance, then certainly a number of your staff should should be working from home."

Many employers say they will revisit plans after four weeks.
Many employers say they will revisit plans after four weeks. (Submitted by Sandy Mangat)

Provinces such as Ontario have reported COVID-19 cases being spread through workplaces. Sullivan said he believes Nova Scotia is in a different situation right now, and the newly instituted rule to wear masks in the workplace where physical distancing is not possible will help.

Reducing capacity

Communications companies Eastlink and Bell Aliant have many employees working remotely, with Bell Aliant stating approximately 80 per cent of its total team, including its call centre agents, are working from home.

The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces employ approximately 10,000 people in the Halifax area and will reducing workplace capacity to about 65 per cent.

"Starting in the early fall, we knew that we had done measures to keep our workplace safe, and for employees to start to be there in large numbers," said Shelley Rowan, the VP of people and strategy for the Workers Compensation Board of Nova Scotia.

Many offices in Halifax never returned to full capacity.
Many offices in Halifax never returned to full capacity.(Robert Short/CBC)

The WCB employs about 400 people in Halifax and got up to full capacity by November, but during the second wave allowed employees to find flexible work arrangements, with some opting for a mix of working in the office and working from home. As of Thursday, it was encouraging all employees to work remotely.

"We have a few where their work really does happen within the building and they are able to safely come in and do that. For others, if they're able to do their work remotely then we're encouraging them to do that," Rowan said.

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