Pilot project launches to get Canadian federal workers back to the office

By on 05/08/2021 | Updated on 05/08/2021
Getting workers back to the offices of Ottawa: Public Services and Procurement Canada has launched a voluntary, pathfinder project. Credit: Robbie Palmer/Unsplash

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has launched a voluntary, pathfinder project to support a return to office work.

More than 200 employees in the national capital region, which includes Ottawa, signed up to be part of the small pilot, which started on Tuesday this week and allows workers to return to the office, the department said.

The project is a major step forward for the organisation, which shut down most of its offices at the start of the pandemic and has restricted use to people who need to be present due to the type of work they do or equipment needs.

PSPC supports the Canadian government in several ways including central purchasing, property management and pay administration.

Returning to the office

The scheme is only open for employees in the national capital region and the initial phase will focus on offices in Downtown Ottawa, Ottawa West, Ottawa East, Gatineau and Place du Portage 11. PSPC added that the offices have been designed “according to activity-based workplace guidelines” and include collaborative spaces. 

In a statement, PSPC emphasised that the project is “voluntary and flexible”. “Employees will be able to choose to work at one of these locations or work from home, depending on what is more convenient for them,” it said.

There are a number of safety measures accompanying the project too. Returning staff are required to complete mandatory training on health and safety processes and complete a COVID-19 self-evaluation before arriving at their offices. Workstations must be booked in advance, and cleaning and hygiene protocols, such as physical distancing and mask wearing, have also been put in place.

PSPC also reiterated vaccine guidelines from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, released in May, which urged public servants to get vaccinated and offered up to half a day’s paid leave for it during working hours.

The pathfinder project was broadly welcomed by unions, particularly as it is voluntary. But Chris Aylward, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, warned that staff needed to be consulted at all stages of the project.

“To ensure this pilot is successful, management should continue proactively consulting with workplace health and safety committees and unions so that any issues or concerns, including inadequate ventilation, can be addressed,” he said.

Mental health support services should also be made available as employees start to return to work as there is potential for “heightened anxiety and stress levels during transition”, he noted.

Making it official?

PSPC said that the project was in preparation for the “gradual re-opening of workspaces”, but that, for now, “the directive remains to continue prioritising remote work for employees, whenever possible.”

The department said the project would “remain active” until it was ready to transition, but it would not give a timetable or date for when that would start. “We are currently exploring various possibilities, and our priority is to ensure our employees’ health and safety as well as their wellbeing,” it said.

But the statement also noted that in some regions employees have already started returning to the office voluntarily. “Approximately 225 employees have started to return to the workplace in the Pacific, Ontario and Quebec regions,” the statement said.

Nonetheless, the pathfinder project has significant importance as its results will be used across the whole of the PSPC workforce. And, as the department also provides office space to around 260,000 public servants across the country and accommodation to its parliamentarians, the results could be far-reaching.  

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