Best Practices for Returning to the Workplace

There are many unanswered questions about Canadian workplaces as we look toward reopening offices. The well-established principles and guidelines that employers, unions and employees have followed for many years will certainly help navigate this process. That said, this pandemic takes us into new and uniquely uncharted waters that may well shift some or all of these principles as we move forward. This article will look at the frameworks in place today, as well as best practices for boldly going where few workplaces have gone before.

Management Rights

An important principle is the idea of management rights, in both union and non-union workplaces. Following this principle, employers, for example, have the right to determine work location – remote, in-office, or a mix. In most collective agreements, for example, the management rights clause typically allows management to set all aspects of the work and workplace, unless specific language has been negotiated in the collective agreement. In non-union workplaces, this right can only be constrained by language in individual employment contracts.

This is, of course, not a blanket right – employers cannot violate employment standards legislation or labour laws, nor use this right in any way that is arbitrary, discriminatory, or done in bad faith. Practically speaking, however, if the employer decides they want the workforce to return from remote work to working in the office, they have a right to this.

It would be a mistake, however, for employers to focus too heavily on these rights as a way to make effective decisions for the organization. As a famous saying goes, “Just because you have the right to do something does not make it the right thing to do.” In addition, this right comes along with some significant obligations.

Download PDF: Best Practices for Returning to the Workplace

What’s Your Superpower? A Reflection on Personal and Team Branding

Like many people, my life changed significantly overnight in mid-March. Suddenly I was working from home – exclusively. Among the many changes from this, my commute went from 60 minutes a day to approximately 60 seconds a day to the “office” (including grabbing a coffee on the way). With this excess capacity and time, after a few sleep-ins (comparatively 08:00 a.m.), I decided to use this time productively for mental health (reflection, planning, introspection and improvement).  After a few days of listening to iTunes and Amazon music, I decided that I should re-discover audio books and podcasts to exercise the mind as well as body. The first three business podcasts that I listened to at some point spoke about branding – our “personal brand”, “professional brand”, and “corporate or departmental brand”.

As I reflected on this, I had to think about my own brand. What is my personal brand? What is my team’s brand? I really liked the way that one of the consultants referred to your brand as synonymous with your “superpower”. I gave this some thought for a day or two… what do I think that my “superpower” is? Would others agree? What would others say about my brand or our team’s brand?

Shortly after the COVID-19 work from home initiatives started, we had decided to have a bi-weekly team call not related to any work updates or initiatives, but just to check in, chat, j and see how everyone was doing. On the next call I decided to bring up this topic, ask everyone on the team: what is your brand? What is your superpower? This ended up to be a great discussion – perhaps a bit uncomfortable for some – but thought provoking and very affirming. These declared superpowers elicited positive feedback from others with respect to how they have certainly seen these attributes, or have always thought this about their colleague. One very quiet thoughtful colleague asked me if she could get back to me on this. I felt a bit bad for putting her on the spot and said of course no pressure or response required either way. She called me a few days later and proudly stated that her superpower was empathy. We then had a great discussion on the critical importance of that quality as an HR professional. Three or four of the eight colleagues on this “mental health” call, later called or emailed me to say how they really liked the exercise, and that it was a great affirming exercise for them and the team.

Does Your Video Match Your Audio?

One thing that has become clear to me is that we all have a brand. If you have not thought of what your personal or team’s brand is, chances are the people that you interact with regularly (your internal and external customers) have a clear perception of your brand. Is the brand that you are attempting to live in alignment with the one that others are experiencing?  Does your “video match your audio” in this regard?

In my discussion with my team there were at least two people’s superpowers that did not at all align with how I, and perhaps other members of the team saw them. (i.e. “I am extremely organized” – he is not well organized and has missed deadlines consistently.)

This is an important idea for personal and team development, particularly as HR/LR professionals. Reflect on how you or your team present themselves, your service model or support for your organization. Does your performance align with your intended “brand”?  This is a valuable question to ask on a regular basis. Does the way that we present ourselves, or our team, align with how we actually come across to others? What does your organization think that your brand is? Is your personal superpower clear to all those you interact with personally and professionally? Does your video match your audio?

Building Your Brand

How do you ensure that you are delivering on your brand?  Are you hitting the target that you are aiming at?  We also have to be realistic in our thinking when it comes to branding. Can we actually deliver the brand that we envision? For example, my brand is “I am extremely talented singer” – reality – my local karaoke club has asked me not to return on “Amateur Talent Night.”

How do we build a personal or team brand?

  1. Define your brand – what are your core values? What do you want to resonate, or how do you want to be perceived by others?
  2. Ensure that your behaviours, initiatives and outputs are consistently in alignment with your core values.
  3. Develop feedback mechanisms so that you can determine if your brand is having its intended impact on all those that you influence.

How do we maintain our brand or superpower?

  1. Always do what we say we are going to do – integrity around this is critical.
  2. Be clear in all our expectations – never settle for anything less than what will build or enhance our reputation.
  3. Always be consistent – “be consistent at being consistent”.

Can we improve/strengthen our brand?

  1. Where does our feedback tell us that we could improve? Having a feedback mechanism and requesting this regularly is extremely important to this analysis.
  2. How can we measure improvement?  If we achieve the following (X or Y) we will reach our goal.
  3. What is the next goal once we have achieved that measurement? We need to be continuously striving to improve upon the improvement.

Unfortunately, as soon as we lose focus, or fail to recognize emerging issues, we can hurt the brand that we have built and have worked so hard to maintain. We can we diminish our brand or superpower by:

  1. Not delivering on commitments or initiatives, essentially not “doing what we said that we would do”.
  2. Providing outputs that are not consistent or in alignment with our stated values and goals.
  3. “Over promising and under producing” – taking on too much or embarking on initiatives outside of our core competencies.

You are the Author of Your Own Story

Our brand, whether personal superpower, professional brand, or team brand, is something that should be extremely important to us. It takes time to build, effort to maintain, and can be diminished far too quickly. I would encourage any practitioner or professional to ask themselves: what is my brand?  Would others agree that this brand is in alignment with what I am putting out there for those that I interact and collaborate with on a daily basis?

Your brand can (and should) change and evolve as you change roles or rise within your organization. My brand was much different as a young Naval Officer than it was as an operations manager many years later. My brand evolved again as I took on leadership roles within continuous improvement teams, and again as a leadership coach. As I later transitioned and grew within the human resources field and as an employee relations professional, I evolved and refined my brand yet again. This is an ongoing process or evolution; ideally, you take the best of the previous brands and attributes, and form a new brand, improved for your situation or role.

After much reflection on my personal brand, the conclusion that I came to was that, as with most things in life, “I am the author of my own story”. I can invent, build, maintain and enhance my own brand (superpowers). One way that I have personally found to enhance my brand is through training and development, constantly trying to learn and improve my professional skill sets. Queen’s IRC has been instrumental in this journey. I have taken several courses to date, participated in the Community of Practice webinars, and I intend to continue in this, building my HR/LR breadth and depth of knowledge. Queen’s IRC is an excellent example of a brand that has been carefully built, maintained, continuously enhanced and improved to be a clear leader in developing human resources and labour relations professionals.


About the Author

Michael Goulet

Michael Goulet has had a wealth of experience in operations management and leadership roles prior to his current human resource/employee relations role. Michael regularly facilitates training in respect in the workplace, diversity and inclusion and workplace investigations in his current capacity within his organization. Michael Goulet is an Employee Relations Advisor with Canadian Pacific Railway. He has recently completed an Advanced Human Resources Certificate with Queen’s IRC, and continues to take courses in labour relations pursuant to a Labour Relations Certificate.

Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

During one of our Strategies for Workplace Conflicts programs, a participant commented that she told her staff that she didn’t “DO emotion!” I really appreciated her forthright statement which led to a valuable discussion about the place of emotion in the workplace. How do we handle the expression of emotion? Are emotions welcome or not? How do we handle an emotional outburst in a meeting or deal with strong negative emotions between two co-workers in conflict? How do we deal with our own emotions?

Emotions are part of being human. We are wired to feel. Many of us are not in close touch with our feelings, often because of our upbringing. Are you familiar with the phrase “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”? Emotions can spring up suddenly and may pass just as quickly. Yet, if they are not dealt with, they may fester and intensify.

Consider your workplaces during the pandemic. Can you name some of the emotions that you are experiencing? What about your employees or team members? I’m guessing that fear, frustration, loneliness, grief, and exhaustion may be present. There may also be some positive emotions such as relief (from avoiding long commutes for example).

In this article I’m suggesting something that may seem counter intuitive. Rather than avoiding or squelching the expression of these emotions, try leaning in and welcoming them into your workplace.

Download PDF: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

Canada’s Pandemic Response: Key Learnings for Building our Future

What if the entire population becomes vulnerable due a pandemic? COVID-19 took the world by surprise, then by storm, compelling us to adapt to new realities which considerably impact our individual, social and professional lives. The Canadian Federal Government, responsible for leading the pandemic crisis response, had to take effective and swift action in a rapidly shifting environment, driven by a new and mysterious threat. Implementing a multitude of effective responses across the country during COVID-19 posed a significant challenge for the Federal Government with regards to speed, agility and performance, and they proved up to the task, using an action learning, collaborative and iterative approach.

In this paper, Francoise Morissette explores Canada’s pandemic response, and how this fits into the Compassion Revolution Series. First, she looks at the pandemic response through the lens of the 4D action learning process – Define, Discover, Design and Do. Next, she explores how we are facing the storm in the present, how we have learned from experience and built capacity through past pandemics, and how a blueprint for the future is beginning to emerge. (Sections of this paper on the Past, Present and Future are also available on our website.)

The first article of the Compassion Revolution series explores a new trend: Why so many public and not for profit organizations are transforming their service delivery models to better meet the needs of vulnerable and at risk populations. These transformations require not only organizational and process redesign, but significant paradigm and culture shifts. While the organization featured in the first Compassion Revolution Series article (Peel Region), made a proactive and strategic decision to implement a new service delivery model (and could exercise more control over timing and actualization), this was not the case for the COVID-19 response. During a national emergency simultaneously impacting various sectors and population segments in different ways, multiple strategies are required, which must be implemented quickly and effectively.

Download PDF: Canada’s Pandemic Response: Key Learnings for Building our Future

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 3)

Building Capacity

A blueprint for the future is beginning to emerge: one that will involve greater use of interactive technology, system-wide collaboration, widespread innovation, improved systems thinking capacity, and stronger recognition and appreciation of the female leadership brand.

Interactive Technology

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, declared Greek philosopher Plato, in Dialogue Republic, and COVID-19 proves him right. Inventive technology applications are emerging in droves. Here are examples from various sectors.

Download PDF: Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 3) The Future: Blueprint for Sustainable Success

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 2)

This is not the first time Canada has faced pandemics. What have we learned from past experiences? How can we leverage these learnings, now and for the future?  How can we continue to evolve and improve? Here’s a summary of our experience so far.


Pandemics: Definition

A pandemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease that affects a large proportion of the population in multiple countries, or worldwide. Human populations have been affected by pandemics since ancient times. These include widespread outbreaks of plague, cholera, influenza, and, more recently, HIV/AIDS, SARS and COVID-19.[1]

Pandemics Response: Public Health

Initially, it was about defining Public Health, shaping a national vision for it, and putting in place infrastructures to deliver and manage services:

In order to slow or stop the spread of disease, governments implemented public health measures that include testing, isolation and quarantine. In Canada, public health agencies at the federal, provincial and municipal levels play an important role in monitoring disease, advising governments and communicating to the public.[2]

Download PDF: Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 2) The Past: Learning from Experience and Building Capacity



[1] Bailey, P. (2008, May 7.) Updated Marshall, T. (2020, March). Pandemics in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 23, 2020, from

[2]  Ibid.

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 1)

Emergencies and crises often create the perfect storm for transformation, as change is primarily driven by the powerful winds of Pain and/or Gain.

Not surprisingly, up to 80% of change is propelled by Pain, a wake up call that pushes us out of complacency, providing opportunities to raise the bar, innovate, shift paradigms, modernize, and make systems work better for more people. Pain compels us to face outdated realities and systems that we are otherwise reluctant to contemplate, infusing us with the courage to do so.


Download PDF: Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 1) The Present: Facing the Storm

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