Winnipeg woman starts office job from home — 12 days after COVID-19 reaches province

Vanesa Cotlar works from home.

She’s done so since March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the specialty retail software company she works for, iQmetrix, sent its Winnipeg employees home, along with thousands of other office workers in the province when public health orders shuttered workplaces across Manitoba.

But she’s only ever stepped foot in the office once — and she’s only met her colleagues from behind a screen.

Her first day was March 23 — 12 days after the first case of the novel coronavirus was identified in Manitoba.

“I went in, picked up my laptop, and then the first day of work, I sat at my kitchen table, opened my computer and logged in,” said Cotlar, a workforce development leader at the company, which essentially means she identifies talent and skill within the existing workforce and searches for gaps that could be filled from outside of the company.

Cotlar had worked remotely before, but in a setting where she and the rest of the staff were hired for that role — rather than starting an office job in her house’s spare room when she was supposed to meet colleagues face-to-face and travel to the company’s other offices shortly after being hired.

“Under this new scenario, everybody already knew each other and everybody went home to work from home as the pandemic hit — but I started in that space,” she said.

Cotlar has managed to adjust and develop relationships with her colleagues through her own efforts and company-organized virtual events.

But without companies making an effort to help new employees adjust to a new job, human resources expert Barbara Bowes said, that could mean turnover and discontent for employers making new hires amid the pandemic.

“Remote work is just going to be a fact of life — so workers have to get used to it, HR people like us have to get used to it and really make that extra effort to have people connect — it’s the connection,” said Bowes, president of the Legacy Bowes Group.

For Cotlar, a member of the management team, that meant concerted effort on her own part.

“You have to be more intentional, so when it comes to relationship building — when you start conversations for the first time, normally if you’re in an office space, you just casually run into people and that’s how you meet, but here’s there’s no casual, there’s no way to run into someone unless you consciously make a time to meet with them,” Cotlar said.

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