Written by Darcy Hryn-Bird
The last twenty months have been a difficult and strange time for all of us. In March of 2020 many of us ended up working from home. Trying to juggle work and family became an even bigger challenge. We heard from members on all sides of the spectrum, some saying that they were putting in even more hours while working from home than they did before and that it was difficult to put work aside. Others said they hoped they never have to come back to campus as they have loved working from home.
During the fall semester, more members are being asked to return to campus to work. For some, this was a welcome change and for others, a time of fear and anxiety. We also anticipate that once the winter semester is upon us, even more people will be coming back to campus to work.
Will campus look like it did pre-pandemic in January? That is hard to say and will depend on what happens with the number of cases in the province/Saskatoon and the vaccination levels. What we do know is that the employer has extended the masking requirement in public and shared spaces till the end of December, at this point (and potentially beyond), and removing the option to provide negative test results to be on campus. Other than a few exceptions, only those who can provide proof of being fully vaccinated will be able to be on campus in the new year.
There have been, and still are, a lot of questions that people have about returning to work on campus. We know from ASPA’s remote working survey that many members would like to continue with a hybrid work arrangement where they would work both from home and on campus. This is consistent with what the employer found in their survey results as well.
In discussions with the employer about the return-to-work, ASPA was advised that members would have the ability to speak with their supervisor about the potential for either continuing to work from home, a hybrid arrangement, or a complete return to the workplace. What we have been hearing however, is that in some areas there was no discussion and that the employer has dictated the working arrangement. What is fortunate, is that it seems this is only happening in a handful of locations and that many members have been having productive discussions with their supervisors.
In addition, we have spoken with the employer about booking meeting spaces to allow for the greatest amount of distance between people as possible if there is a need for in person meetings. The employer has agreed with this concept. Lastly, members in shared offices will be able to stagger their on-campus time to only have one person in the office at a time.
The return to work can be a source of high anxiety and fear for some members and we want to make sure that you are aware of what you can do to alleviate some of those stressors. Here are some suggestions:
1. Speak to your supervisor about your concerns regarding the return.
2. Speak to your supervisor about the ability to continue to work from home or look at a hybrid work arrangement. Here are the employer’s guidelines: https://covid19.usask.ca/work-remotely/guidelines.php#Background
3. If your supervisor insists that you return to the workplace and is not willing to look at any alternatives, ask them to provide you with reasons why.
4. Reach out to ASPA. While we can’t force the employer to look at any alternate work arrangements, we can have a discussion with them on your behalf.
5. Is there any medical reason why you would not be able to return to the workplace? If yes, then look at the potential for a medical accommodation. Reach out to ASPA for any assistance.
6. Reach out to the Employee and Family Assistance Program for support.
These are still highly unusual times and changes are happening quickly. No one can say with 100% certainty what January will bring but it is important for members to talk with their supervisors about concerns so supervisors can balance your concerns with the needs of the unit. It is not unreasonable for you to make a request to work from home or a hybrid arrangement if there is no need for you to be on campus. Again, please reach out to ASPA if you have any questions.