What comes next for work in B.C.

Q&A | The province’s employers and workers were quick to adapt to the pandemic, but a lot of questions remain about what needs to happen now, say top human resources leaders

Left to right: Chris Back, director of occupational health and safety consultation and education services, WorkSafeBC; Jennifer Lee, managing partner of growth platforms and value creation services, Deloitte; Rocky Ozaki, founder, NoW of Work; Lindsie Thomson, managing partner, Harris and Co.

BIV featured four video podcasts July 13–16 on how B.C.’s workplace and businesses are coping with the pandemic.

Conversations focused on how to safely reopen business, how to maintain the employees-employer trust relationship, how to operate within the law with employment standards, and how the workplace can be more resilient in these difficult times.

The podcasts featured Jennifer Lee, the managing partner of growth platforms and value creation services at Deloitte, who is overseeing the company’s global response to the pandemic; Lindsie Thomson, managing partner at the Harris and Co. law firm in Vancouver; Chris Back, the director of occupational health and safety consultation and education services at WorkSafeBC; and Rocky Ozaki, the founder of the NoW of Work human resources consultancy. They were in conversation with BIV publisher and editor-in-chief Kirk LaPointe.

The following is an excerpt of the conversations. Another excerpt will appear in our next print edition.


Can we dispel a myth right away? Do you need WorkSafeBCs approval before you can reopen?

Chris Back: No, you don’t. And that is a perception that has been out there since the announcements back in May around Phase 2. And coming into Phase 3 there is a perception that employers do need to send their plans to WorkSafeBC and have them approved prior to being able to reopen or continue operations. And that’s not the case. We just don’t have capacity for that really. And we also have to have trust that, with the appropriate resources and tools in place for employers, they will be able to put their plans in place and move forward with resuming operations in a safe manner.


What’s the first thing you typically counsel businesses to do?

Back: The first thing is … to understand the orders and the notices and the guidance that has been put forward by the provincial health officer or the provincial health office. And the first is the requirement for employers to create a good safety plan. Once you understand what those orders are as an employer, then it’s about going through a step-by-step process in order to create that plan, and what WorkSafeBC has done is developed a template essentially that walks employers through a six-step process in creating their COVID safety plan. Step 1 is really about assessing the risk, understanding where in the workplace there is potential exposure for COVID.


The trust relationship is so integral to work. How are we going to maintain this as we go forward?

Jennifer Lee: I have led a significant piece of research pre-COVID around the topic of trust. And it was interesting to show that employers were the most trusted group amongst the customers and employees. And that was really interesting given you’d expect that to be government. Now we’re in COVID and the data has shifted. Governments are highly trusted, as are employers. The big question I think that employers and corporations need to be thinking about is, “How do I maintain trust as my business starts to move into recovery?” In our research, we focused on four areas: physical safety, emotional, psychological safety, financial safety and digital safety. Really, those four components make up trust. And if we believe that trust is a human experience, as is recovery and thriving, we need to figure out how to meet all those four dimensions for our employees.


What are the real legal obligations of the employer now that we know that remote work is here to stay?

Lindsie Thomson:  In the past we would have had the odd question here and there on remote work from employers who wanted to do something for their employees in terms of, you know, a benefit or improving culture. And typically our advice has been, well, you have the same legal obligations for safety, privacy hours of work, as you do when they’re working in the office, but very little ability to manage those issues remotely.… We’re now nearly four months into this, reality is setting in, it’s going to be a long-term effect. And we have to turn our mind to look what is the regulatory environment. How do we reduce risk on that front?


Does that require a broad rethinking?

Thomson: I think it’s going to require some creativity, I think it’s going to require us to rethink how and why we did things in the past and how we can meet the same objective without necessarily doing it the same way. So, initially you saw employers just Band-Aid solutions all over everything: we’ll just send you home, your chair from the office and a monitor and off you go, you’re sitting at your kitchen table. And yeah, that’s not good enough, long term. We do have to rethink.


So we’ve got a permanent situation, it appears, with remote work. What are you counselling businesses to think about as they as they lurch into this?

Rocky Ozaki: No. 1 is the honeymoon’s kind of over. We were more productive than we thought we were going to be in, it didn’t take a year to go remote, it only took us a week to get it set up. And so there’s all these successes, but the honeymoon is ending. And so now companies are starting to say, how do we maintain that social component that we need more than we thought? How are we maintaining collaboration, innovation and productivity through that?


Can you do that in a video-only type of engagement?

Ozaki: I’m not convinced. I think that fundamental to people is this social aspect, and we need to be around people. There’s serendipitous collisions that happen, particularly in modern companies who are big on innovation in this rapidly changing world. And so you lose a little bit of that. Are there stopgaps and solutions? Absolutely. But do I think that this is going to be the way we work forever away from each other? I don’t think so.


What are the ways in which it’s possible to build greater resilience in a workplace?

Lee: I went around the world and I studied organizations through the pandemic on how they have not only built resilience into their operating model, but how they build resilient leadership teams. This is what we found: one is resilient leaders understand that they need to shift their mindset from one of responding to today’s pressures to one of looking towards the future. And while that sounds extremely basic, a lot of organizations are worried or still in this fight-or-flight mode, so they don’t necessarily spend the time thinking through my reinvention. How do I start to transform my company? How do other organizations do it looking at the market, and also moving to one of growth versus trying to stop the bleeding and contingency planning and, you know, crisis management? So that’s one big step. The second one is resilient organizations do a good job on managing their uncertainties. So you can’t solve everything in the world. But what you can do is identify the three or four uncertainties that would materially impact your business and start to create scenarios. For when how I would respond to each of those uncertainties by doing that. Organizations then say, OK, I have three different scenarios that could play out. These are three different responses that we can configure ourselves for. Why is that important? By reducing the number of scenarios or uncertainties in the market and in the world, you’re able to get your management team to focus, right? The third major thing that resilient organizations do well is they understand the trust equation. They understand the four dimensions of trust and how they need to embed those four dimensions in their customer bay, how they treat their customers, how they treat their employees, their communities and their shareholders and their suppliers. So suddenly the trust equation gets embedded in their strategy as they think about recovery and then thrive. Finally, the most important is they have a plan. So they manage their future much more strategically than those who are just busy responding.


What is WorkSafe BC telling employers and employees about personal protective equipment?

Back: This is a big topic of conversation, and probably the most frequent questions we get as an organization are related to personal protective equipment and, in particular, the masks. And if you look if we go back to that [safety] hierarchy, personal technical equipment is actually the lowest level of control on that hierarchy. And the reason is because they aren’t as effective as the physical distancing or as the Plexiglas barriers or other physical barriers. But we find that employers and workers jump to the PPE as that first line of defence, having those masks or possibly even having the gloves, and it’s not something that we want employers to focus on first.… There’s definitely a place for masks to be worn. An example might be where you have multiple people in a vehicle that need to travel. Maybe it’s a tourism outfit that is transporting a number of tourists down to whale watching tour or to an ATV tour or something along those lines where you have multiple people in a vehicle. That might be a situation where you can’t maintain the physical distancing barriers … so you may want to consider masks in that situation to protect the workers.•

HR in the time of COVID-19: In conversation with Chris Back of WorkSafeBC

HR in the time of COVID-19: In conversation with Deloitte's Jennifer Lee

HR in the time of COVID-19: In conversation with NowOfWork founder Rocky Ozaki

HR in the time of COVID-19: In conversation with Harris and Co. law firm's Lindsie Thomson