The new hybrid work model contains a sort of paradox: people want the flexibility of remote work and the ease and creative “flow” of in-person collaboration. This apparent contradiction has some business leaders wondering how they can enable workers to have it both ways with many Canadian organizations already well underway in implementing safe return to work strategies and hybrid work policies.
Microsoft Canada President Kevin Peesker finds this binary “remote versus in-person” limiting. “It’s time for us to move beyond black-and-white thinking, to roll our sleeves up and reimagine the workplace,” he said. “An inclusive workplace built for the future is one where people see themselves not merely as employees but as stakeholders.”
Peesker sees the office of the “next normal” as being not so much about where you are but how you’re included – how you fit into the larger scheme and mission. “Of course, just saying it is not enough,” he said. “Companies should be thinking right now about what that looks like tools-wise – how they’re going to outfit their organization and empower their people for success.”
Mixed feelings about returning to the office
Canada’s COVID vaccination rate has jumped over the past few months – as of Nov. 8, around 75 per cent of Canadians had received both doses of the vaccine. Peesker, however, said more pieces must fall into place before there can be a return to something approximating normal. “It’s important we do all we can to support Canada’s fight against the virus while fueling an economic recovery. While many of us have been able to work remotely through the pandemic, it hasn’t been possible for everyone.”
Vaccinated or not, working from home is one of the safest possible work environments. But for those whose job requires that they be physically present, and those who must or wish to return to the office, other tools come into play.
“Companies of all sizes must implement the right safety protocols in a return to work scenario,” said Peesker. “Employers in a hybrid world must reimagine, and if necessary, redesign common workspaces to ensure employee health, safety and well-being for the foreseeable future.”
While many workers are happy to be able to return to the office, even if just a day or two per week, there is some apprehension.
“Feelings about returning to in-person work vary great across industries, and from person to person,” said Peesker. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index released earlier in 2021, 67 per cent of survey respondents want more in-person work or collaboration post-pandemic, “so we’re helping ensure businesses equip themselves with the necessary measures to keep everyone safe when working on location.”
Screening results in 15 minutes
To help Canadians return safely to work, Microsoft and CDL Rapid Screening Consortium have introduced a rapid (15-minute) screening solution that enables employers to offer rapid COVID-19 antigen screens for employees before they enter the workspace, now including the option to screen from home.
“This solution provides businesses and their employees with rapid, affordable, targeted screens that improve workplace safety for workers and consumers,” said Peesker.
According to Professor Laura Rosella, member of the CDL Rapid Screening Consortium Steering Committee and Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Population Health Analytics, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the new screening technology is easy to use. “Antigen screens detect proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” she explained. “A sample is taken through a nasal or throat swab and tested on a cartridge as a point-of-care test. The screen tells you whether the virus is present in high concentrations, which of course helps determine if an individual is infectious.”
“Partnering with CDL and leveraging Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Power Platform, we have successfully enabled some of Canada’s more prominent employers to quickly introduce rapid screening into their workplaces,” said Peesker. “With the home screening option, employees can self-screen and report their data through an employee app. For on-site screening, there is a secondary screening app for the health and safety officers conducting screenings that works seamlessly with the employee app to schedule, administer, and record screens.”
These apps feed into a secure centralized data hub called Dataverse. Based on that data, employers can gain important insights with Power BI – from adoption to screen efficacy to outbreak risk at a site or organizational level.
Enhanced workplace safety
Organizations like Air Canada are already using the home-screening solution to provide employees with enhanced assurance of workplace safety.
“Safety first has always been at the core of everything we do at Air Canada,” said the company’s VP Safety Sam Elfassy. “By offering a rapid screening program to our employees, we are ensuring we can quickly identify potential infections in the workplace, and intelligently break the chains of transmission in the workplace and the community.”
Rosella said screening programs play an important role in workplace safety in the post-pandemic period. “The key of course is in detecting infectious individuals during this period of uncertainty with variants of concern and continued transmission globally,” she said. “Screening provides that essential hedge between these variants and people who want to get on with their lives and work in an actual office – as they did before.”
Rosella emphasizes the importance of its having worked with Microsoft.
“They jumped in to support us in developing a technology platform to manage our rapid screening program. They understood the importance of this initiative and delivered a PowerApp solution that makes onboarding employees an absolute breeze. Microsoft made its best resources available at all hours to deliver, in a very short timeframe. Easy-to-use technology is always an asset for the scalability of any program like this.”