26 September 2023

CANADA: Workers face up to new ‘office normal’

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Canadian Federal Public Servants returning to the office after years of working from home are adjusting to a new emphasis on shared work spaces, rather than a cubicle to call their own.

The hybrid work model is shifting tens of thousands of employees back to in-person work a few days a week.

With it comes a host of complications, from making sure they have the right technical hook-ups, to organising schedules so team members can truly be face-to-face.

Unions have pointed to chaos, saying there aren’t enough desks and that some employees have even worked while sitting on the floor.

While the Government went on a hiring spree during the COVID-19 pandemic — core Departments grew by 17,600 people between 2019 and 2022 in the Capital Region alone — the change in office style isn’t due to a lack of space, rather a rethink that was already in motion.

Assistant Deputy Minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada, Stéphan Déry said the pandemic simply accelerated changes that were already taking place.

For many returning workers, the new norm involves booking a desk and storing their belongings in a locker for the day, then carrying their laptops home in a backpack.

Several workers who spoke to journalists about the challenges did not want to give their names, for fear of reprisals.

One said she often arrives to find someone else has taken the desk she reserved.

That day, her team hadn’t managed to book workstations together, so each member planned to log onto a video call from different floors and buildings on the same Government campus.

She said she preferred having a cubicle of her own.

“I think losing that sense of permanence really brings down morale,” she said.

“It does for me at least. I feel like I’m no longer a person, just a number

“We’re not Google,” another Public Servant said. He felt the idea of flexible office space might make sense to bosses in theory, but not in real life.

As for the hybrid work model, he called it “disorganised”.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Board and the Public Service Alliance of Canada have agreed to mediation in a contract dispute involving 11,000 Federal Public Servants working in technical services.

Talks between the two sides broke down in May when the union, which was calling for significant wage increases, declared an impasse.

Ottawa, 22 January 2023

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