Several Calgary employers working from home amid COVID-19 concerns

Click to play video: 'Several Calgary companies have employees working from home amid COVID-19 concerns' Several Calgary companies have employees working from home amid COVID-19 concerns
As the government of Alberta implements aggressive measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Calgary employees are finding themselves working from home. – Mar 13, 2020

As provincial health officials implement aggressive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of staff at several Calgary-based businesses are opting to work from home to help control the spread of the virus.

On Thursday, Alberta Health Services announced that Albertans should avoid travelling internationally, and those returning from international destinations should quarantine themselves for 14 days.

While schools and several post-secondary institutions in the province remain open, AHS said groups of 250 or more people should not be allowed to gather in one place.

Alberta will also amend regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to support workers dealing with COVID-19. Patients will no longer require a doctor’s note and sick leave would be extended to 14 days.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 29 confirmed cases in Alberta; school closures not recommended at this time

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The City of Calgary announced on Thursday that more than 3,400 staff will be required to work from home. The city’s chamber of commerce also confirmed their staff will work from home and that all chamber related events in March and April will be cancelled.

On Friday, TC Energy advised employees and contractors across North America to work from home. Calgary-based Enbridge also announced it would begin enacting work-at-home plans across the company on Tuesday, as well as limit business travel and cancel large group meetings.

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, a local law firm, has increased flexibility to allow employees to work from home, according to a company spokesperson.

Sterling Rempel, a financial planner at Aligned Capital Partners Ltd., and his colleagues have been working from home for two days.

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Rempel said the majority of his clients are over 50 years old, with nearly a third over the age of 65.

“We wanted to do our part to help to flatten the curve and not have the virus spread, to the extent that we can,” Rempel said.

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He admitted the change from working out of his office to his kitchen table was an adjustment but said the company had planned for such an event.

Rempel’s wife, Tracy Warton, said her home-based interior design business has also been impacted by concerns over further spread of COVID-19.

“I’m often out seeing clients or picking up samples and things like that for them and right now I’m putting that on hold doing client meetings on the internet,” she said.

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It’s also been a busy week for IT company Debian Information Technology.

On Thursday, the company’s staff was forced to work from home after being informed a person that worked in their building, but not for Debian, had potentially come into contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

According to Debian CEO Vince Fung, the company had been discussing potential scenarios including working from home weeks before the increased spread of COVID-19 in Alberta.

“Just in the last week I’d say we’ve had over 100 requests from our clients to test remote access capabilities, verify that its working and in some cases where they haven’t had a policy to allow people to access the network remotely before, we’ve had to actually set things up from scratch,” Fung said. “So we’re extremely busy right now.”

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Fung said that companies considering implementing a work-from-home model over the next few weeks need to be prepared, and ensure the proper software is installed and tested prior to sending employees home.

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That could include additional licenses for VPN access and training for employees, as well as increased security.

“If you actually have employees working from their home computers or their own devices that aren’t managed by the IT department, that is a potential security risk,” Fung said. “So things like having anti-virus software, making sure it’s patched properly, all of those things are really essential.”

But working from home is nothing new for Scott Nichol, a lawyer based in Calgary.

Nichol began working from home three years ago and said the practice has positives and negatives.

“The big upside is it can be very convenient, it can help reduce overhead, keep costs controlled, as well as reducing commutes; I’m never stuck in traffic on the way to the office,” Nichol said. “Downsides can be a bit of social isolation.”

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The key to being productive while working from home is setting aside a designated workplace in the house, and ensuring work stays in that area, Nichol said.

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“It’s important to build in some routine,” Nichol said. “Separate domestic tasks or domestic events or activities like watching TV from work tasks.”

While there is no clear timeline for how long many employees will be working from home, Rempel said he is expecting the practice to last two weeks to a month.

“For those of us that have that opportunity, I think it’s incumbent upon us to self-quarantine and make that decision for the benefit of others,” Rempel said.

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