Questions to consider for your gradual return to the office | COVID-19

As the Canadian government begins to ease COVID-19 restrictions and provinces develop individual strategies to reopen the economy, employers are looking for direction on how to manage a gradual return to the workplace.

Careful consideration is called for, as there is no precedent to point businesses in the right direction. Employers need to apply the learnings gained in recent weeks and pivot to evolve their practices for our new realities.

We’ve listed below key themes identified through the MaRS advisory services as well as published works, with aspects to consider and questions to ask when planning a return to the workplace. 

Theme Considerations Questions to ask Tech tools & resources
State of the nation
  • Can you comply with local directives?
  • Availability and timeliness of COVID-19 testing for the general public 
  • Can you comply with global directives if you have employees, offices or operations in other regions of the world
  1. Is my country or province over the peak of the current wave? (See Canada numbers.)
  2. Is testing readily available in my country or province? 
  3. Can I expect my employees to get tested before returning to the office?
Business necessity 
  • A legitimate business rationale to require employees to return to the physical workplace 
  • Clarifying the roles that can and should return to the workplace for necessary operations
  • Balancing stifled productivity (stringent controls) with broad operations and the risk of a second wave of infection (fewer controls)
  1. Is my employees’ physical presence at the office required to run the business?
  2. If so, are there specific core functions or teams within the company whose physical presence is more critical to operations?
  3. Is there demand for my product or service that cannot be met through remote work?
  • Build your workforce strategy and keep your employees informed with these resources from League
  • Manage your risk by measuring and communicating what is happening in real time with Minetell.
Physical workplace 
  • Workplace design and adjustments to floor plan to enable physical distancing (e.g., barriers, markings)
  • Staged return practices (e.g., platoons)
  • Ongoing self-assessment and/or mandated screening 
  • Ongoing sanitation, improved ventilation, updated health and safety practices  
  • Employee sentiment, commuting considerations (e.g.,public transit)
  1. What approach are we taking in selecting the different groups of employees that will return to working from the office? (See Insights.)
  2. What specific health and safety procedures are we taking to ensure our employees’ protection?
  3. Have we sufficiently adjusted the physical workspace to protect employees? 
  4. Do we have a system for identifying who becomes sick? 
  5. How will we respond if an employee contracts the virus? (See protocols inspired by Wattpad for employee sickness and death.)
Defining new workplace norms
  • A flexible approach to opening workspaces to those who want to return
  • Thoughtfulness around psychological barriers related to the physical workplace, such as fear or anxiety (see Employee Pulse Check template before reopening office)
  • Accommodation for those at high risk or who have immediate family members at high risk 
  • Redefining the purpose of your physical spaces (e.g., is there a permanent working from home option for some employees and an ‘in the office’ direction for those who aren’t properly set up)
  • Know the laws around accomodation, refusal to work, screening, etc., but go above and beyond what your employees expect, thereby extending their loyalty and value 
  1. How are we ensuring physical distancing behaviour throughout the workspace? 
  2. What personal protective equipment is necessary to protect our employees? Is it sourced and available?  
  3. Have we developed appropriate behavioural expectations and social rules? 
  4. Have we effectively communicated expectations and rules to returning employees? 
  5. How will we encourage and empower employees who are not feeling well to stay at home and not put others at risk by coming to the office? 
  • High-quality home care for seniors from Mavencare
  • Continued mental well-being of employees from MindBeacon
  • Provide a rapid response with customizable protocols and administrators to contact for your employees through a clinical-grade digital screening tool from Memotext.
Cultural evolution 


  • Identifying new practices adopted during the COVID-19 outbreak that are positively contributing to the work culture
  • Acknowledging the old ways of doing things and habits that are no longer serving the team 
  • Defining remote work practices and becoming more location agnostic
  • Promoting flexibility as a competitive advantage 
  1. How can we leverage our learnings not just to recover but to evolve our culture?
  2. Are we culturally primed for a second wave of infection or other future work interruption of this magnitude?
  • Understand your employees’ remote preferences and communication styles from
  • Make your business payments effortless and fee-free with REMITR.
  • Get all your signatures digitally and securely with Syngrafii. 
  • Remote work enablement resources. 
Amplification of diversity inclusion and belonging  


  • Potential for divide to emerge or widen based on complex life situations 
  • Treating all employees in the same way can result in inequity 
  • Remote-first workflow creates a similar experience, regardless of location
  1. Have we accounted for how different groups may be experiencing the pandemic and how a return to the office could impact those groups?
  2. Have we sought input from diverse perspectives? 


  • Continued mental well-being of employees from MindBeacon
  • Say thanks in a time of need and acknowledge your team with Esiance.
  • A community for those with low vision from eSight.
  • Keep employees safe on the road by helping them avoid busy streets through iMerciv.
  • Prioritize the needs of marginalized employees through diversity and inclusion understanding from Crescendo

Sources and further reading