human resources

Human resources takes on new role during COVID

Emotional and mental support venues for condo staff a growing obligation
Friday, March 12, 2021
By Murray Johnson

During pre-pandemic times condominium managers and support staff looked at human resources as the driver of the intake/hiring process and perhaps a department that does other things we never see or hear about. In fact, it might be accurate to say that staff who reports to a high-rise building twenty kilometres from head office never stops to think about human resources once the intake is behind them. But that was pre-COVID-19.

Once a state of emergency was declared and governments at all three levels started rolling out new bylaws and mandates, human resources had no choice but to team up with operational staff to ensure that processes put into place at the remote work sites not only met pandemic operational requirements, but also protected workers. Employers have obligations under the occupational health and safety legislation to keep workers safe. There is also an obligation to keep the workplace safe and this is a joint responsibility between management and the board.

Human resources became a key player on pandemic response teams set up by management companies to identify what restrictions, processes and mandates were needed to continue working, but in a pandemic safe environment. While we can see human resources supporting head office staff, the involvement in operations is, for the most part, something new. Human resources is not the only group seeing their scope widen: boards of directors are also being bombarded with policies and processes they have no control over.

In pre-pandemic times, we worked out site office hours with boards and now we see employers (management companies) mandating that site offices remain closed to resident and director visits. Criteria for reopening offices during the pandemic, mandated by the management company, are no longer up for debate. Directives that management staff are not to attend in-person meetings and the criteria that must be in place should the boards push for these dangerous meetings were delivered to the board, not negotiated.

It’s not just the management company saying and doing this; the government has moved slowly from an educational approach of physical distancing and masks to a more punitive approach with high fines and, in some cases, incarceration. Add to these recommendations from the Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario on what managers should be doing for their client communities and you have an environment where the persons who are most knowledgeable about the many services covered by the management contract are dictating to the boards what must be done.

When a management company starts dictating how services will be provided, support from human resources is a must. Imagine the pressure that the manager is under from the client to open the office on one hand and, on the other hand, the employer placing what might appear as restrictive conditions on that opening. The manager looks at the board as their quasi-employer and their real employer as being at odds. Residents wanting to come to the office, getting too close to concierge, heightened emotions because of the pandemic—all of this is a recipe for manager burn-out.

Again, we have to look to human resources to offer emotional and mental support venues for staff, talk about and clarify corporate directives on staying home with kids when no daycare is available, remote working policies, information resources and so on. Human resources now has an obligation to communicate on a regular basis (weekly is good) to all staff, head office and field operations, not just to offer tips and resources but to offer a means of communication that offers the field staff a means to reconnect with their employer. New regulations disallow litigation against a firm or organization as long as the firm or organization has taken reasonable steps to protect workers and workplaces.

Better managers and boards will take a serious look in the post-pandemic period to ascertain what went well, where the process may have broken down and, consequently, this joint governance team should prepare an updated emergency preparedness plan for working and living through a pandemic. Human resource professionals will most certainly be analyzing steps taken during this pandemic and updating pandemic control plans. We shouldn’t be looking at this as a one-time event. Scientists are saying that we may see more and more viruses and pandemics going forward. Will you be ready?

Murray Johnson, GL, CCI (Hon’s) is vice-president of client operations at Crossbridge Condominium Services Ltd and president of CCI-Toronto and Area Chapter.

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