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Some employees miss working in air-conditioned spaces as central Canada sizzles


Natasha Burtenshaw-deVries lives in one of several apartments in a converted house in Brantford, Ont., that doesn't have central air conditioning.

Her mom purchased her "a bit of a pity gift" of a window air-conditioning unit, and Burtenshaw-deVries invested in several stand up fans during the year she's lived there.

As central Canada prepares for another day of stifling heat, some employees working from home are missing their air-conditioned workspaces. The mercury in parts of Ontario is hovering around 30 C. Environment Canada has issued heat warnings this week for much of the province.

Burtenshaw-deVries said she was able to receive some reprieve from the heat last summer by working in an air-conditioned office.

This year, with many offices shifting to work-from-home during the COVID-19 pandemic, that is no longer an option for her.

"So far it hasn't been too bad, to be honest," she said, noting her hand would get sticky and slide off her mouse a lot, but she didn't feel her productivity dropped yet.

She's added cooler snacks, like Popsicles, into her repertoire, and wants to learn how to make iced coffee to help alleviate the heat.

Burtenshaw-deVries said she feels very fortunate to have the resources, from a financial and space perspective, to make the situation as comfortable as possible for herself.

"I'm really worried about a lot of people who don't have that option," she said.

Seniors who may not have air conditioning, for example, are being told to stay at home and may not have the money to buy fans, she said.

"How do we find the balance between everything this summer?"

She noted work-from-home employees who can typically take an air-conditioned break at a cafe, mall or co-working space, no longer have those options.

While not yet necessary, she's contemplated whether it may be possible to shift her work hours if the heat becomes a much bigger problem.

"There's just a part of me that thinks, you know, 'I don't know if I'm going to be able to be productive at like one o'clock in the afternoon when it's 35 or 40 degrees out.'"

The heat wave shines a light on the need for open communication and trust between employees and employers, said Karen Pastakia, partner, human capital consulting at Deloitte Canada.

"People may look for alternate work schedules," she said, and ask for some flexibility over the summer months.

"I would anticipate that, that will be a real dialogue that starts to happen over the coming weeks."

Janet Mayhew lives in an Ottawa apartment in a three-story walk-up with her daughter. She's lived there for nine years without central air and windows that don't accommodate for a portable unit.

She has several ceiling and stand-up fans throughout the apartment, and strategically closes the windows and blinds during the day, and opens them at night.

"That seems to do the trick," she said.

Mayhew, who enjoys working from home, said she "certainly did love the AC at the office and not having that right now is unfortunate."

She's relying on ice water with lemon, as well as wearing comfy, loose clothing to help keep her cool and is in the market for a new fan.

Like Burtenshaw-deVries, Mayhew is more concerned for vulnerable populations and said it's good the city is providing cooling stations.

"I'm not really worried about myself. There are definitely people who are suffering more than I am."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 27, 2020.


The Canadian Press

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