How Ontario coworking firms are pushing you to put on some pants and go back to the office

Coworking operators across Ontario are campaigning to get employees in the province to stop working at home in their pajamas, put on some pants and head back to "COVID-safe" communal offices.

City of Toronto involved in campaign to provide 'COVID-safe' coworking spaces for

Kane Willmott, CEO of iQ Offices, helped spearhead the Work with Pants Wednesdays initiative that encourages remote employees to test out co-working spaces. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Coworking operators across Ontario are campaigning to get employees in the province to stop working at home in their pajamas, put on some pants and head back to "COVID-safe" communal offices.

Work with Pants Wednesdays is an initiative led by the Ontario Coworking and Workspace Coalition. Each Wednesday until the end of October, 60 co-working locations across the province are offering a free first visit to encourage remote employees to return to collaborative office settings. 

Kane Willmott, co-founder and CEO of coworking company iQ Offices, was one of the driving forces behind the initiative. With few businesses opening their offices fully, he says co-working firms, which provide facilities so employees of various companies share space, can help workers looking to connect with others.

"I think a lot of people have been suffering by being stuck at home and not being able to socialize or come to the workspace," said Willmott. "This is a great opportunity to go out and enjoy a workspace."

While he says more research should be done to analyze the mental health impacts of working from home, people working out of his own co-working spaces in Toronto have told him that it is "a breath of fresh air" to be able to leave the house and see others in person.

To make workspaces safe, Willmott says participating coworking companies will employ different measures, including limiting the number of people in a space or mandating the use of personal protective equipment.

Coworking companies also offer perks each Wednesday, such as gift cards to support local businesses in the area or free meals. Spots need to be booked beforehand through a partnering app called Flexday. 

"Anywhere you are in the province, you're hopefully going to have a coworking space that is close to you," said Willmott.

Similar re-opening measures by the city

Work with Pants Wednesdays mirror other initiatives by the city to prepare employees for a safe re-entry into the workforce.

The We're Ready Toronto campaign is an initiative led by the Toronto Region Board of Trade in collaboration with the city. Consulting about 80 businesses and public health advisers, the initiative looks at best practices globally and domestically to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in workspaces.

These strategies range from improving ventilation systems and limiting the number of people on office elevators to having lunch delivered to workers' desks.

Jan De Silva, CEO of Toronto Region Board of Trade, says COVID-19 safety measures in workplaces can prevent another lockdown that would hurt small businesses. (Submitted by Toronto Region Board of Trade )

Safety measures are being tested in three pilot zones across the city: the financial district, Scarborough Centre and in warehouses and fulfilment centres near Toronto Pearson Airport. Based on the results of the pilot, Jan De Silva, CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, says successful COVID-19 preventative measures will be implemented across other workspaces and in the downtown core.

Other safety measures have already been implemented. Early into the pandemic, De Silva says the Toronto Region Board of Trade campaigned for vaccines and rapid on-site testing to be made available for essential workers in factories.

The organization is also pushing for the creation of a "COVID safe pass", which will allow customers and employees to prove they don't have COVID-19 by either submitting proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test through an app. Similar measures are in place in New York and the European Union. 

"This is simply about helping businesses demonstrate to their workers and to their customers that people coming into the work setting are in a COVID-safe environment," said De Silva.

These measures have benefits beyond inviting employees back to work: De Silva says she hopes it will revitalize small downtown businesses who lost their consumer base and had to shutter when companies pivoted to remote work.

"Our businesses want to avoid another lockdown and our employees want to feel safe," she said.

"We've got the technology to solve this. We just need support from the province and the federal government to deploy it."


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