Canadian government becoming ‘hybrid by design’ says minister in challenge to back-to-office calls

By on 14/11/2022 | Updated on 14/11/2022
Federal building in Ontario
Photo: Federal building in Ontario

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier has insisted that the Government of Canada is working to harness the best of office and remote working as she responded to calls for business leaders from officials to return to the office.

In an article for the Ottawa Citizen, Fortier responded to calls from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s president, Perrin Beatty for “people to get back to work and for us to get back to as normal an operation as possible”.

This was the latest intervention by a senior business leader, following a letter signed by 32 business associations that called for government employees to be asked to return to workplaces.

In response, Fortier highlighted that Canadian public servants have “never stopped working and they delivered under extremely difficult circumstances when Canadians needed them most: during the pandemic”, working both in person and remotely.

Read more: Canadian business bosses tell government to get staff back to offices; China sees huge demand in state recruitment drive: management & workforce news in brief

Now that society has returned to “some semblance of normalcy”, the public service is “embracing this opportunity to modernise our way of working”.

In the article, Fortier said that the federal government was “moving from remote-by-necessity to hybrid-by-design”.

She added: “This gives us the opportunity to harness the best of in-person and off-site work. In-person work better supports collaboration, team spirit, innovation and a culture of belonging. Being together in the workplace helps teams build trust and learn from each other. At the same time, off-site work can have benefits, such as cost savings.”

Both staff working in the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and for Canada’s top official, Janice Charette, the clerk of the Privy Council, work in the office at least two days a week, Fortier said, with full-time remote working “only in exceptional circumstances”.

She added: “My department is providing guidance to promote a coherent approach across the federal government and collecting findings so that we can learn from them about how to make hybrid successful and sustainable over the long term.”

Fortier added that this approach also allows the Canadian government to make better use of its buildings. “With requirements for less office space, it will reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions – both from our buildings and commuting.”

Elements of the Government of Canada’s plans for the future of public service property were set out by Stephan Déry, assistant deputy minister, real property services, Public Services and Procurement Canada, in a Global Government Forum webinar last week.

Watch: Buildings for the future – reworking the public service office for the flexible working era

‘Work is an activity, not a place’

Speaking about the future of the workplace, Déry said that there was a “strategic opportunity” for the government to offer flexible workplaces to our employees.

“A key aspect of this offering is fit-for-purpose office space that is green, accessible, inclusive, and modern with functional layout, and the latest technology,” Déry said.

“In this future of work vision, employees can either be working in an office or teleworking from anywhere they can be productive. Work is an activity, not a place, and that’s what is intended to support new ways of working.”

The Government of Canada is now planning to modernise 71 of our office complex over the next five years to “really making them ready for the future of work”, with offices becoming a magnet for employees to come in when they need to.

“I believe that office will always be part of the mix, it’s a question of what do we need office for,” he said. “Less and less people will go to sit at a workstation for eight hours a day, but the office will become the hub where you collaborate, where you create, where you build a sense of community, and you care for one another. I think that’s what the office of the future will be.”

Read more: Inside the international network looking to the future of the public sector workplace

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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