Top Canadian bureaucrats turn public services to hybrid offices

There’s no answer if it’s all in the office or all working from home, says Janice Charette. The Privy Council Office works in her office two days a week.

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Canada’s top bureaucrats recently asked employees of the powerful Privy Council’s office to come to the office two days a week, allowing full-time remote work only in “exceptional circumstances”, thereby reducing the number of federal bureaucrats. I have set the tone for my future work.

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In a September 13 memo, Privy Council Secretary Janice Charette set out the guiding principles for the transition to hybrid work she expects executives in her department to implement by the end of September.

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The PCO is the nerve center of government and a department of the Prime Minister. The head of public service, Charette sets an example for deputy ministers across all ministries in their much-delayed return to office.

“We now have the opportunity to define and shape a new work environment that fosters collaboration, attracts and retains talent, is fair for all, and is rich in experience and learning opportunities,” she said. wrote in a memo.

“We need a hybrid approach that is clear and flexible, recognizes the nature and unique requirements of PCOs, and embraces and balances the best aspects of being in the office with the benefits of remote work.”

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Employees arrive at the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa on Monday, February 17, 2020.
Employees arrive at the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa on Monday, February 17, 2020. Photo by Adrian Wilde /canadian press

Charette, who signed the memo with Deputy Secretary Natalie Druin, called the PCO’s work in supporting the Cabinet and Prime Minister a “team sport” built on collaboration and face-to-face meetings. The new guidelines represent the future ‘next stage’ of work on PCO.

In an interview with Policy Options, Charette extended the PCO’s vision to the rest of public services, saying she believes a hybrid approach is the way forward for government affairs.

“I believe 100% that we need to think about some level of in-person attendance for the future of public service. We are doing it,” said Charette.

“All in the office? I don’t think so. Do you work all remotely? I don’t think so. What is it? You have to build it.”

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Charette guidelines are for PCOs only. Although she is in charge of public service, the authority to determine how civil servants are managed rests with her employer, the Finance Committee. The board has a hands-off approach, leaving it up to each department to decide how to hybridize its workforce. Results vary as widely as different operations.

PCO employees returned to the office in June to test the in-person presence needed for work over the summer. Following test drives that summer, an employee survey for feedback led to the new guidelines.

The manager has determined that the nature of the PCO’s work requires the employee to be in the office at least twice a week. In practice, all employees are in the office for the “equivalent” hours two days a week. Branch offices are encouraged to have all units of work in the office at the same time, but there is flexibility in how they are organized into teams.

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Charette told managers to be flexible and sensitive to their employees’ personal circumstances when enforcing minimum attendance to “maintain the elements of work-life balance that so many have come to value.” asked to take into account.

The government has been trying to get civil servants back to work for over a year, but plans have been delayed. By spring, many were hesitant about the idea of ​​returning home to dig in and continue working from home.

Ottawa. Buildings around the Houses of Parliament in downtown Ottawa on June 23, 2022.
Ottawa. Buildings around the Houses of Parliament in downtown Ottawa on June 23, 2022. Photo by Julie Oliver /post media

Charette stepped up to get her return-to-office plans back on track when she urged deputy ministers to try out hybrid systems over the summer so plans are ready to roll out in September. Labor Day became the next target for massive returns.

Several departments took the wrong step at a town hall with employees snowballing into an online resistance called Subwaygate.

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Now that Labor Day is over, the question is whether civil servants are back to develop a “new normal” or if a worker uprising is underway.

Many are anticipating flu season, and another Omicron subspecies wave will again delay plans. They expect some employees to even defy the guidelines and see what the manager does about it. Many managers, like their staff, are obsessed with remote work and reluctant to discipline.

A senior official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said, “Take my word for it, we’ll be in the same situation by Christmas, and maybe by spring.

From the beginning, unions complained that the finance committee’s approach was too hopeful. It has caused inconsistency, confusion, inertia, and resentment among workers who believe they have proven they can now work remotely and want to keep things as they are.

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Civil servants go home at Tunney's Pasture on February 25, 2015.
Civil servants go home at Tunney’s Pasture on February 25, 2015. Photo by Wayne Cuddington /post media

But the chalet is solid. She admits that coming up with her model of hybrid government isn’t easy. A lot of experimentation is required. This means rethinking everything: security, office her design, space, and infrastructure upgrades.

She sees the hybrid model as critical to maintaining the “institutional capacity” of public services. Civil servants have been able to respond quickly to the pandemic by leveraging the vast amount of skills, relationships and trust they have built over the years of working together.

She argues that departments need to invest in team building and collaboration. Because when people leave, move, or hire new employees, that reserve is further depleted.

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There will be many problems. Not all buildings have Wi-Fi. Conference rooms and conference rooms don’t have enough bandwidth to handle meetings with people in conference rooms and others in remote offices across the country.

She said a mandatory order to force everyone out of the office two to three days a week would be the easiest approach, but it would be the ideal mix of in-person and remote work to get the job done. No department comes close to finding out.

Charette said she expects managers to bring employees into the office for a “purpose.” Remote work is widely expected to be good for hard, intensive work that needs to be quiet. The office becomes for softer tasks such as collaborating and brainstorming.

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“Does it make sense for people to come into the office and sit in front of their computer screens and have[Microsoft]Teams calls all day long? Absolutely not,” Charrett said. we must have a purpose. Managers should have a purpose as to what employees are brought into the office for. ”

She understands how employees love the flexibility of working from home. They rearranged their lives. They feel more productive and don’t want to go back to the commute or her life of the 9 to 5 office.

See underutilized office space in Montreal on Thursday, December 16, 2021.
See underutilized office space in Montreal on Thursday, December 16, 2021. Photo by Allen McInnis /post media

But Charlett said the public service’s first job is to “deliver value to the taxpayer.” That means finding the optimal mix of in-person and remote work to meet that goal while balancing accountability and employee concerns.

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Civil servants make up about half of civil servants. Frontline workers, from border and prison guards to inspectors, have been in offices and other workplaces throughout the pandemic. The government also hired thousands of new employees, many of whom had not set foot in the office during his COVID.

The pandemic has accelerated the government’s move towards digital technology. Zoom calls with new Teams collaboration tools and time-saving modernizations like e-signatures are now commonplace.

Charette wants to build on these successes, but doesn’t believe that virtual tools alone can provide all the services Canadians need. But they will help break the capital’s hold on jobs and open up much-needed policy jobs to Canadians outside of Ottawa.

“Solutions in Prince Edward Island could be very different from Calgary. Having these local perspectives and understandings should influence our policy thinking as well.”

This article was originally posted on Policy Options and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Top Canadian bureaucrats turn public services to hybrid offices

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