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Our New Normal: Returning to Office Procedures

(From the July 2020 Edition of eFORUM)

By Kim Poulin

To date, self-isolation and reducing contact with other people has been required to reduce the spread of COVID-19. While your business may run successfully with employees continuing to work from home, most of us will return to the office at some point, whether full-time or on a rotating schedule. As that return-to-office (RTO) process begins, you’ll need to consider many things to keep everyone who comes into your office as safe as possible.

This document is not a legal document that provides legal advice, it is simply a list of considerations as people return physically to work. We recommend that you consult professionals, such as your internal compliance team, HR specialists, employment lawyers, and insurance and investment suppliers for further information and guidance. Also refer to public health guidelines, provincial requirements and regulations, and understand that suggestions and obligations from these sources may change frequently.

Ultimately, safety will be a shared responsibility in this new environment, which requires each person to do things outside of our regular job descriptions. We all need to come together to help maintain one another’s physical and psychological health.

To reiterate, you’ll find below many considerations, some of which you may decide to include in your RTO plan.

Team Members

  • Team members in the following groups should work from home if possible:
    • People age 60 or over
    • Pregnant women
    • Those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or kidney disease
    • Those with a weakened immune system
    • Individuals who are advised by their doctor to stay home to protect themselves or someone else in their household
  • Take a self-assessment of your health status each day
  • Stay home if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 and self-isolate based on the current guidelines outlined by public health. (Do you have any symptoms? Have you been in contact with anyone showing symptoms in the past 14 days?)
  • Practise physical distancing at all times, maintaining a six-foot distance and ensure masks are worn when physical distancing is difficult. Also, refrain from physical contact such as hugging, touching, or shaking hands.
  • Assign someone to regularly sanitize all high-touch spots such as door handles, entry keypads, photocopiers, printers, light switches, bathrooms, paper shredders, cabinets, and kitchen areas
  • Each member is responsible for sanitizing and cleaning their own personal work area, including door knobs, light switches, garbage, work surfaces, and anything that has been touched.
  • Wash hands frequently upon entering or exiting the office and when using any shared space
  • Ensure disinfectant wipes are available at all commonly used areas and at each desk
  • Consider limitations on using shared spaces such as the kitchen table, coffee station, or water station  
  • No public use of office washroom. Staff using washroom must wipe surfaces down with a disinfectant wipe (toilet seat, handles, sink, light switch) before and after every use.
  • Eat lunch at individual desks in your office and refrain from using supplies from the office such as glasses, coffee mugs, utensils, or coffee machines. Bring your own water bottle or mug to the office.
  • Keep Facebook Messenger or a Chatbot open so that although people are physically distancing, they feel connected and can communicate quickly and safely
  • Conduct meetings outdoors; build in health measures by going for a physically distanced walk with a team member to discuss work topics

Office Visitors

  • Keep the office door locked at all times, except for deliveries and client appointments. Ensure there’s signage indicating No Public Access.
  • Post a sign indicating requirements for anyone to enter the premises. Look for pre-made signs or posters online and place in areas that make sense.
  • Limit the number of people in the office by booking client meetings only for essential appointments, and consider meeting with only one client for a household at a time
  • Determine the definition of an “essential” client or prospect appointment for in-office meetings
  • Have ample and set times between client appointments to allow time for disinfecting
  • Have a team member track all people who enter the office premises each day; alternatively, you could have them sign in and out, but this would require the use of a pen and would increase demand for consistent sanitization
  • Have a plexiglass protector for reception
  • Set up a table for courier delivery drop-off; then sanitize packages before opening
  • Sanitize all door handles and surfaces areas after a delivery or maintenance/technical personnel visit
  • Have a sanitizing station for when anyone walks in; include wipes and soap; create a sign requiring everyone to wash their hands before going any farther
  • Create and place signs all around the office reminding all of the safety protocols
  • Remind one another to physically distance at all times, wash hands regularly, and not touch their face
  • Post public health posters in the bathrooms

Advisors and Business Owners

  • Lead with empathy to help reduce anxiety and stress team members may feel
  • Follow items listed in the Team Members section, as well as whatever rules you put in place for others — lead by example
  • Communicate the RTO Plan with the team in advance of their return to the office
  • Meet with the team to discuss the guidelines that are in place
  • Wear a mask when meeting clients or when unable to maintain a six-foot physical distance from other team members
  • Promote working from home where it makes sense
  • Create a rotating schedule of team members in the office
  • Stagger the return of team members into the office
  • Continue use of technology for client meetings such as digital signatures and telephone meetings
  • Assign someone to monitor information from all sources, including the government on best practices for RTO, and to determine what measures need to change based on the information received
  • Purchase all sanitization and safety items
  • Ensure training for proper use of masks, gloves, or other protective equipment
  • Open your office for staff initially, and then eventually open to clients
  • If you contract cleaning services, see if the frequency can be increased and what additional cleaning they will do
  • Determine how the team will report non-compliance to the new ways of working
  • Know and set your sick leave policy
  • Look into improving the air quality of the office
  • Change to a touchless office entry; or install a buzzer system to control entry to the office
  • Assess workstations to determine if they should be reconfigured to increase space between them
  • Communicate well and frequently with team members
  • Prepare for how the organization will handle the situation if a team member contracts COVID-19
  • Request feedback from team members as to what is working well or could be improved. Set short daily meetings to connect and discuss.
  • Allow some time for socializing at work; camaraderie is positive for mental health
  • Once you have determined the process that makes sense for your own office, create a document to be shared with team members. Have this and any other RTO documentation reviewed by a qualified or certified professional, such as an employment lawyer.
  • Continue to practise social isolation and physical distancing guidelines outside of the workplace to ensure the protection of all
  • It is everyone’s responsibility to stay abreast of the company’s guidelines as well as those of public health


  • Continue to deliver services remotely, and minimize client visits where possible
  • Notify clients in advance of your requirements for holding face-to-face meetings so they can come prepared
  • Identify what your clients’ comfort levels are for entering your premises
  • Provide a mask to wear or request they bring their own
  • Designate a boardroom or office as the only place for client meetings
  • Follow a set amount of time for each client meeting, allowing enough time in between to disinfect
  • Provide clients with a pen they can take home with them and do not share pens
  • If a client is required to come in only for signatures, consider having a table set up and provide pens that clients will take with them
  • Provide a bin for clients dropping off documents. Ensure the documents stay in the bin and are not touched for at least 24 hours.
  • Encourage clients to do electronic fund transfer pulls if they wish to deposit funds, instead of bringing physical cheques. If clients bring in a cheque, place in the office safe and wash hands immediately after. Let the client know the cheque will be safely held for 24 hours before it will be deposited to the bank.
  • If a client needs to use the bathroom, disinfect afterwards
  • Ask clients to wait in their car until called or sent a text to let them know the team is ready for them to enter, and then lead them directly to the designated meeting area
  • Administer a health assessment questionnaire at the time of booking appointments and again for screening when they arrive for their appointment, to confirm that they are symptom free
  • Remove all magazines, communal refreshments, water coolers, etc. from the front office/reception area
  • Have everyone disinfect their hands upon their arrival
  • Let clients know that all team members will be screened daily and asked to stay home if they are not feeling well
  • Make a video of the office that highlights the new protocols and expectations for clients

Kim Poulin, BA, FLMI, CLU, CH.F.C., is a business coach at The Personal Coach.

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