May: The pandemic upended the federal workplace. What comes next?

Good overview of the issues and challenges:

The pandemic blew up the norms and structure of work behaviour in Canada’s public service and now bureaucrats want new rules and a say in how work fits into their lives as the federal government readies for a return to the office.

Everything about working in the public service is up for grabs.

After nearly two years, the pandemic proved public servants can work in many jobs from anywhere. That’s upended the conventional approach to work, including the 37.5-hour work week, endless in-person meetings, a soulless cubicle culture and how to climb the hierarchy. It’s an opportunity for change reformers have dreamed about for 25 years.

“Look, if I could press an undo button and make sure COVID never happened, I would… but it happened, and the silver lining is we have exponentially adopted telework,” said Dany Richard, a union president and co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee. “That allows us now to reassess how the future of work will be.”

With a global talent shortage and an economy favouring workers, public servants couldn’t be in a better position to make demands on their employer about their future work lives.

There are high hopes for a new telework policy being hashed out behind closed doors with unions and senior management. Advocates promise a new mobile workforce that would break the Ottawa-Gatineau monopoly on headquarter jobs. It would improve workforce diversity and work-life balance and reduce real estate and operational costs along with pollution from commuting.

The pandemic also picked up the pace of digital transformation of the public service by three to five years, said Ryan Androsoff, director of digital leadership at the Institute on Governance.

In a blink, public servants went en masse to work at home. After a mad scramble for enough laptops, bandwidth and network access, public servants learned to work in real time, mastering videoconferencing, text and chat software and editing documents collaboratively.

“It would have taken multiple years before departments would have reached the point where 100 per cent of their workforce could work in a distributed and remote way,” Androsoff said.

Public servants aren’t expected to return to offices until the pandemic is declared over, but everyone is braced for a hybrid workplace, a mix of working in office and at home.

Is government ready? Not quite. The Treasury Board’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is putting together a short- and long-term plan for the future of work with a “spotlight on telework” that rolls out as COVID restrictions are lifted and public servants can return to in-office work.

Richard argued working remotely during an emergency like the pandemic worked because everyone is in the same boat. The challenge now is how to “optimize” remote work and make the most of it.

“I think the employer will generally be open to telework,” said Richard, who is president of the Association for Canadian Financial Officers. “I don’t think it’ll be 100 per cent of the time. But as long as an employee commits to, I’d guess, two days a week in the office, the employer will say, ‘Okay let’s try three days at home and two days in the office.’”

Not all federal jobs can be done from home. Ship crews, prison guards, border guards and meat inspectors can’t. Call centres, science laboratories and operations like the Canada Security Establishment need people at the workplace.

Most office workers, however, don’t want to return to the old ways. Surveys found most want to work from home full-time or several days a week. As one senior bureaucrat said, the “pinch point” is whether location of work is an employee’s right or preference. Or is it an “operational requirement” that managers should define?

“We just spent a year and half working from home on a mandatory basis. We had to work from home. Employees see the benefits and want the flexibility to choose where they work,” said Stéphane Aubry, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

As part of that flexibility, Aubry said the union wants jobs classified as remote or telework positions and no longer attached to a city or a building. It argues the government should pick up some of the cost employees bear working at home. It also wants all tasks and activities that have to be done at the office clearly laid out.

“We want a position to be officially classified as a telework job so when there’s a job opening it is put on paper as a telework job,” said Aubry. The government can then look for employees across Canada. It would change the way they do recruitment.”

At the moment, Treasury Board has left it up to departments to decide how their employees will work. The board sets guidelines but deputy ministers are responsible for how their departments run.

Some have already indicated they want workers back in the office some of the time; others are encouraging people to work from home full-time or to decide where they want to be based. Departments like Transport and Public Services and Procurement Canada have been singled out as among the most flexible. Meanwhile, unions are irked the RCMP have ordered some civilian employees back to the office before restrictions have been lifted.

That’s why some are looking for a more consistent policy. One senior bureaucrat said the approach is too “muddied” and sets the stage for expectations and conflicts between departments and unions.

“Instead of having a common approach they’ve left it scattered, which is a problem because deputy ministers are not willing to make a decision that might be precedent-setting and everybody gets stuck,” said the bureaucrat, who we are not identifying because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.

A big challenge with hybrid work is how to treat everyone equitably. The unions are worried about two tiers of employees: those who work in-office and those who don’t. It’s expected those who work in the office, where they are known by management, will have an edge for promotions and special projects.

What if deputy ministers and other senior executives return to the office? Won’t more employees follow suit and come to the office to be seen?

It could create a gender gap for women, who are disproportionately drawn to remote work to better manage parenting or other caregiving needs they juggle.

“I would love to see a situation where if government goes to a hybrid model that they actually say everybody in the organization has to work remotely two or three days a week, so that everybody’s having that same experience,” said Androsoff.

Nearly 42 per cent of public servants work in the National Capital Region. Stories abound of public servants who moved to the countryside or to the east or west coasts to work remotely during lockdown and have no plans to come back. Managers started filling Ottawa jobs with people outside the region and not requiring them to relocate.

There are far more ministers and MPs from outside Ottawa who have long tried to decentralize federal jobs to the regions. The argument for the capital’s disproportionate share of jobs was based on the location of Parliament, ministers and senior management. If the pandemic allowed MPs and Parliament to meet virtually, why wouldn’t they press for more jobs to be done remotely?

Former privy council clerk Michael Wernick says relocating Ottawa jobs is inevitable, adding it could happen in a “very conscious way” or “by stealth.” There are plenty of examples of departments operating outside the capital – Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in Moncton, National Energy Board in Calgary or the pay centre in Miramichi.

“The political pressure for geographic decentralization, plus work moving out to people’s homes, means a much less gravitational pull from Ottawa,” said Wernick.

“Maybe it won’t be the big departments and central agencies in the core public service, but there are 300 federal entities. And I think they may start maybe with some of those. Why does a tribunal, for example, have to hold hearings in Ottawa?”

Remote work would attract a more diverse pool of applicants who better represent Canada, including those who don’t live in urban centres, Indigenous people, visible minorities and people with disabilities.

A national recruitment strategy, however, will quickly collide with the public service’s bilingualism requirements.

“It opens doors for people from across the country to be part of the federal government in a way never possible before, but how to do that with existing bilingual policies is going to have to be explored,” said Androsoff.

A new telework policy assumes managers will shift to results-based management and hold people accountable for what they do and not just showing up for work.

But Wernick said the public service must sharpen its competitive edge to keep and attract employees in a global talent shortage. That shortage could worsen with an exodus of public servants, burned out and ready to leave after two years of going full tilt in the pandemic. Others put off retirement during lockdown and will leave rather than go back to the office.

Many argue departments will offer remote work to attract and retain people. That could also spark an internal war for talent as people flee to departments that offer the most flexibility and remote work.

The government’s technology is still years behind the private sector, but the pandemic brought all public servants to a basic level of digital literacy with new skills they want to use. Some argue home network and internet connections are now much better than what employees had at the office.

Canadians also have much bigger expectations of government. They are living more digitally now, banking and shopping online, and expect the same easy and rapid service from the government.

But Androsoff said there’s still a powerful pull from the traditionalists who would rather return to the old ways: nine to five, back to the office, in-person meetings and assigned desks.

“The federal government, by virtue of its size and history, has institutional inertia. In previous waves of reform, that inertia always pushes to go back to the way it was,” said Androsoff.

“I’m hoping for lasting change, but it remains to be seen whether this push is permanent or the pressure to go back to its institutional comfort zone wins the day.”

Source: http://click.revue.email/ss/c/LCzjJVqW3iU4uG4vv7g712DvWoe4-HnZ6yJuZDLvqqZTWNZA8CLYLQoJ2EVmLXJp-f6BAtGnwYi0Q6Mw3UjQsLzr_UnLo0Fnpd0RcU5oiRvFLh9yghjGFq7Vv2-uOpezpkZY7Qp04k28XTtLF5caIey_vLzyw6XWxvb_cl_CgSP9leyi9fT0NvRuqwg1SidLPh_ASB2mAAFiThIythTBpjCaMmAmtkFELrXsmCrcA48GoNCZQIxnBmAI_OU34jPWa1KBH4rBUZwH-PE9QsUBqv0NOVPBLuYWb7bspcRLb3-yovnR12M8WE2EzQoCd9yV/3ge/iqphGK5cTsG72MpEUAlaYQ/h10/DzzJWvLO7r53KBmOgWCEkBgiOISsXNZvF1iSJtuUysI

Remaking government: Here are the parties’ plans for a post-pandemic workforce

Will be interesting to see:

It’s one of the big questions in the dozen or so local campaigns in this federal election: when will government employees return to their offices, and under what conditions?

The answers, for one thing, will determine just how robust will be the economic recovery in the two downtown ridings. Ottawa Centre and Hull-Aylmer respectively account for 45 per cent and 20 per cent of the federal government’s owned and leased office space in the capital region.

The return to the office, if it happens, will also have a significant impact on commuting patterns throughout the city.

Pre-pandemic, the capital’s rush hour was defined by a small army of federal government workers who made their way, usually by public transit, from a handful of suburbs to the core. For the past 18 months, most of these office workers have been doing their jobs from home in the bedroom communities of Orléans, Barrhaven, Kanata and Aylmer.

The resistance to abandoning this new way of working is apparently strong.

The department in charge of the federal government’s massive real estate holdings — Public Services and Procurement Canada — said it does not have “a target date for the return to the workplace for all employees. We are currently exploring various possibilities.” This, essentially, is the Liberal Party position.

“Having done a lot of canvassing these past few weeks, I know that public servants in Orléans have different perspectives on returning to work in person,” said Marie-France Lalonde, the Liberal incumbent candidate for Orléans. “A majority seem to be leaning towards a hybrid model,” she added in reference to the arrangement that allows employees to work from home some of the time.

Lalonde stressed the government should not rush into potentially profound changes of the workplace. “The realities are not the same from one department to another,” she said, “and I know that each is working to determine the best way to proceed internally.”

Earlier this summer, PSPC launched its “pathfinder project” calling on volunteers to return to the office to test various configurations. In the first few weeks, a couple of hundred employees in the capital region stepped up.

At the beginning of the economic lockdown early last year, some 126,000 workers were directly employed locally by the federal government, representing nearly 17 per cent of the region’s workforce. Add in municipal and provincial government employees and you’ve got close to 24 per cent. Then include thousands of specialists working under contract and it’s easy to see why the region’s commuting and shopping patterns have been so radically upended during the past 18 months.

The politics associated with the mostly-closed offices is complicated. Consider the Ottawa Centre riding currently held by the Liberals. Hundreds of retailers and restaurant owners depend for their livelihood on the physical presence of government workers. But, says New Democratic Party candidate Angella MacEwan, the latter shouldn’t be pushed back to the office before they’re ready, and that means consulting the unions.

“Government offices should re-open when provincial and municipal health guidance has allowed it,” says MacEwan, “and when workers and their unions have come to an agreement that these workplaces are safe for workers.”

Which leaves the question of what to do for all those businesses adjacent to the federal towers. “We should also have targeted supports for our downtown small businesses,” adds MacEwan, pointing out these have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic-inspired lockdowns.

For suburban ridings, the economic imperative to re-open government offices is less of a force. Nepean, for instance, accounts for less than eight per cent of the federal government’s office space in the region. The same is true of Ottawa South and Ottawa West. Most other ridings in the census metropolitan area of Ottawa-Gatineau have a minuscule federal government presence in terms of office infrastructure.

Most of Nepean’s 14,000 government workers pre-pandemic commuted to other ridings, including to the downtown core. Now they are pondering whether they should ever resume that sort of regular journey again.

“The NDP would continue to work closely with public sector unions, who are already consulting their members about permanent work-from-home solutions,” says Sean Devine, the NDP candidate for Nepean, adding that “our goal would be to arrive at mutually accepted options for where and how to work, so that the Canadian public can continue to benefit from the skill and dedication of public servants, while also ensuring that workers have choices for their own health and safety needs.”

The federal public sector unions have so far not been pressured by any of the major political parties to see their members return to the office.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives’ campaign platform framed the issue in a manner that has raised suspicions within the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest federal government union. PSAC focused on a couple of lines in the Conservatives’ campaign playbook that emphasized achieving savings “by making government more efficient.”

PSAC interpreted this to mean a Conservative government would trim employment and contract out more work to the private sector, though the context of the policy document suggests government employees would be permitted to work from home wherever possible, thus offering potential savings from reduced office space downtown.

“We have no intention of cutting the public service,” Matt Triemstra, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Nepean stressed during the riding’s first all-candidates’ debate. “We’re going to continue to let them work remotely.”

Which leads naturally to the issue of what to do with whatever empty space emerges.

This could provide an important opening for whichever party controls the next government. Roughly half of all federal properties are in poor condition, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada. Depending on location and building type, it might be more economical to convert such properties into apartments, or sell these properties to a private developer for the same purpose.

“The post-pandemic economy presents a unique opportunity to examine new ways to address our critical housing needs,” says Devine. “If we were to support a transition of these physical workspaces into living space, this might also help address how we re-vitalize our downtown core.”

The federal government also has flexibility with a portfolio that consists of owned and leased properties in roughly equal measure. Selling off owned properties in favour of leased offices would likely allow the government to better accommodate the unpredictable demands of a hybrid or work-from-home workforce. It would also generate some gains that could be deployed for other purposes.

Source: Remaking government: Here are the parties’ plans for a post-pandemic workforce

What if we keep working from home?

Good depiction of some of the issues, including increased inequality:

Millions of Canadians are now well into their second year of working from home. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, non-essential employees began working from their couches, kitchens and bedrooms, hopping virtually from one endless video meeting to another. What began as a temporary arrangement, however, will likely change the way we do our jobs permanently: working from home has its challenges, but it has enough upsides that both workers and employers may be reluctant to go back to the old ways. If this happens, we must ensure that this shift does not widen workplace inequalities.

Not all workers are equally likely to have been working from home during the pandemic. The shift was easier for people with office jobs, for instance, than for those in retail. Workers with permanent, full-time, higher-paid jobs are also more likely than those with less secure, lower-paid positions to have been working from home. This is the first way in which the change has exacerbated inequality within Canadian society: more economically vulnerable workers also ended up more vulnerable to the virus owing to their need to be physically present at work. All Canadians have been urged to stay at home as much as possible during the pandemic, but their ability to do so is in large part a function of the types of jobs that they hold.

For many who made the transition from office desk to the kitchen table, the experience has generally been positive – perhaps surprisingly so. In our recent survey, more than three in five agree that working from home has been easier than expected, and they say they like working from home better than their regular workplace. The same proportion even say that working remotely has been less stressful than working in the office. So far, so good.

At the same time, more than two in five express concerns about juggling work and family responsibilities while working from home – they feel like they are constantly working and never have time for themselves or their families. One in three find it impossible to do their job well while working from home.

It will shock no one that these stresses are most acutely experienced by parents of young children. Three in five of those caring for young children say they worry that they can’t be a good parent and be good at their job at the same time while working from home.

Younger workers, immigrants, racialized people, Indigenous workers and workers with a physical or mental condition that limits their daily activity are also more likely to experience challenges working from home. Most notably, each of these groups is more likely than average to worry that working from home will have a negative impact on their career. These workers may be less securely employed, and therefore more concerned about the longer-term consequences of being physically distant from their workplaces.

What’s notable, though, is that many of those experiencing challenges with working from home nonetheless feel positive about the arrangement overall. In fact, seven in 10 of those who have been working at home say that once the pandemic is over, their employer should continue to allow them to work remotely at least a few days a week. Clearly, workers are likely to expect greater flexibility from employers from now on.

All of this puts the onus to act back on employers and policy makers alike. It is not enough to pick up on the current zeitgeist and consider offering more flexible working arrangements once all lockdowns have been lifted. This experience should bring with it an obligation to ensure that new arrangements do not simply place further disadvantages on those already less connected to the centres of power.

Coming out of the events of the past year, we must renew our resolve to tackle persistent inequalities. This includes confronting the higher risks faced by front-line workers, the bigger challenges for those combining work and family responsibilities, and the greater barriers facing minority groups. New working arrangements will need new infrastructure, new policies, new supports, new ways of thinking about work and new skills for both employee and managers. These changes must now be made, not only in the context of physical offices and places of business, but in virtual ones as well.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-what-if-we-keep-working-from-home/

Is it time to move Ottawa out of Ottawa?

Valid question given experience over more than a year with remote work. Some colleagues who are still working have indicated much easier to engage the regions given everyone on the same platform, rather than the Ottawa folks meeting in person and regional staff being on a telephone conference call.

And of course, the broader question of what percent of public servants, or what percentage of their time, requires physical presence compared to working remotely, along with the associated (but often overstated) management challenges:

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in much of the federal public service shifting to remote work. Ottawa invested in telecommunications and found new ways for employees to work effectively from far-flung locations.

The transition was sufficiently successful that the federal government is considering continuing some remote work, possibly reducing its office rental spaces.

This raises the question — if work doesn’t need to be done in Ottawa-area offices, does it need to be done in Ottawa at all?

The centralization of federal jobs

Canada has more than 300,000 federal employees, with over 230,000 in core public administration (CPA) and just under 70,000 employed in separate agencies like the Canada Revenue Agency. 

The proportion of agency jobs concentrated in the National Capital Region, which includes Ottawa-Gatineau and surrounding areas, has declined since 2016. The opposite is seen with CPA jobs. The concentration of CPA employees was only 33 per cent in 1995, but was up to 46 per cent in 2020. 

graph shows the number of federal public service jobs in the capital region
The number of federal public service jobs in the Ottawa region, according to the Government of Canada Open Data Portal. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2020

Most CPA workers are skilled knowledge workers. These are good jobs. It is time for more federal jobs, including CPA jobs, to decentralize.

The case for decentralization

Research suggests decentralizing public service jobs reduces costsstrengthens national security by spreading government functions across the country and reduces cynicism toward government

Decentralization also distributes the economic benefits of the public sector across the country. According to one 2019 British study, “the arrival of 10 civil service jobs in an area spurs the creation of about 11 jobs in the private sector,” including professional service jobs like law and consulting.

Most importantly, it gives federal governments more ability to directly engage with communities. Regional voices within government increase as career opportunities are more accessible to qualified people nationally. Advocacy and community groups across the country enjoy a more level playing field to engage in the policy process. 

This increased geographic diversity of voices working within and connecting with government can result in improved strategic policy advice. 

Creating a national strategy

Now is the perfect time to make a serious effort to decentralize Canada’s federal jobs.

The COVID-19 remote work experience demonstrates the remarkable potential of technology to overcome distance. We have learned how efficiently we can use technology to reduce unnecessary travel and connect easily across the country. We must use the disruption of the pandemic to rethink what jobs and services need to be in Ottawa at all.

We can expect growing calls for this in Canada’s economic recovery, particularly from Alberta. Just before the COVID-19 shutdown, four MPs identified the centralization of federal headquarters as an example of systemic unfairness towards Alberta. A few months later, Alberta’s Fair Deal Panel recommended western premiers request “a distribution map of federal civil servants across Canada and a list of federal government agencies and decision-making bodies that can be recommended for relocation to Western Canada.” 

Recent surveys find decentralizing jobs may be publicly popular. The 2021 Viewpoint Alberta survey, which included over 800 respondents in Alberta and Saskatchewan, found strong support for increasing federal jobs in each province.

Similarly, the 2021 Confederation of Tomorrow survey of more than 5,800 Canadians found almost three-quarters (73.5 per cent) support “moving more government offices from Ottawa to other cities in the country so that more Canadians would have access to jobs in the federal public service.” 

A graph shows support for moving federal public service jobs out of the Ottawa area.
Support for moving federal public service jobs out of the Ottawa area. Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey, Author provided

The time for action is now. In fact, Canada faces an immediate decision regarding the location of the new Canada Water Agency. While the decision process has yet to be announced, Regina and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., are already vying for the agency headquarters. Other cities may also be planning to do so.

Canada already has experience in decentralizing federal jobs, including moving the National Energy Board headquarters from Ottawa to Calgary and creating regional Canada Revenue Agency tax centres. These serve as precedents for a bold new strategy.

Moving forward on a national strategy

To be sure, decentralization faces political challenges. As the benefits of job decentralization are long-term and the challenges are immediate, politicians more focused on the next election might be disinclined to take up the task.

Vested interests are loud. Strategies are needed to address relocation costs, including staff turnover and the associated loss of experience, though remote work options can reduce these.

A national strategy is required. The United Kingdom’s Places for Growth program will move thousands of London jobs, including policy advisory roles, to 13 regional hubs over the next decade and could provide ideas or a blueprint. 

Canada might also consider efforts to shift civil service work out of national capitals in Mexico, Norway, South Korea, Denmark and Malaysia

The COVID-19 remote work experience suggests that distance is not insurmountable for federal government work. No one is suggesting that public servants work from home forever, but the public’s business does not always have to be done in Ottawa. Let’s use this as an opportunity to rethink how we distribute federal work across Canada.

Source: https://theconversationcanada.cmail20.com/t/r-l-tlidhrg-kyldjlthkt-o/

Public servants say they work better from home, despite stress: survey

Interesting (on my to do list, look at the survey’s disaggregated data):

During the pandemic, employees of local, provincial, and federal governments from coast to coast to coast have provided essential services while working from home.

And it would appear that federal employees are happier now about their workplace than they were before the pandemic, according to the 2020 Public Service Employee Survey released by the Treasury Board Secretariat last week.

While we don’t know the full story of the “big pivot” over a single weekend in March 2020 — when public servants started working from home — we do know many have been working over weekends and statutory holidays and forgoing annual leave.

This isn’t sustainable over the long term. If not attended to, such behaviour could result in a crash or organizational failure.

Stress has increased since 2019. A third of employees said they felt emotionally drained after their workday, up from 29 per cent in 2019. Just over a quarter said their workload was heavier, up slightly from 24 per cent in 2019.

However, new questions in the 2020 survey about work-life balance during the pandemic revealed some silver linings:

  • 39 per cent of employees had requested flexible work hours since the start of the pandemic; and
  • 83 per cent said their immediate supervisor allowed them.

Employees said the quality of their work improved, too. For example:

  • only 23 per cent of employees said their work quality suffered because their department or agency lacked stability, which was down from 30 per cent in 2019; and
  • just 24 per cent of employees said their work suffered because of high staff turnover, down from 32 per cent in 2019.

Employees’ perceptions of change management also improved in 2020, with 59 per cent saying change was managed well in their department or agency, compared to 50 per cent in 2019.

They also reported better feedback from their supervisors in 2020, compared to 2019:

  • 69 per cent said they received meaningful recognition for work well done, up from 65 per cent in 2019; and
  • 77 per cent said they got useful feedback from their immediate supervisor about their job performance, up from 74 per cent in 2019.

Overall job satisfaction improved in 2020, too:

  • 83 per cent of employees said they liked their job, up from 81 per cent in 2019;
  • 78 per cent reported getting a sense of satisfaction from their work, up from 76 per cent in 2019;
  • 75 per cent said they were satisfied with their department or agency, up from 71 per cent in 2019;
  • 75 per cent said they would recommend their department or agency as a great place to work, up from 70 per cent in 2019; and
  • 71 per cent of employees said they felt valued at work, up from 68 per cent in 2019.

Respondents also felt their workplace was “psychologically” healthier. For example:

  • 68 per cent said their workplace was psychologically healthy, up from 61 per cent in 2019; and
  • 81 per cent said their department or agency was doing a good job of raising awareness of mental health in the workplace, up from 73 per cent in 2019.

In response to a new question in 2020, 69 per cent of employees said they’d feel comfortable sharing concerns about their mental health with their immediate supervisor.

The survey included new questions about working during the pandemic:

  • 70 per cent said senior managers were taking adequate steps to support their mental health during the pandemic;
  • 84 per cent felt their department or agency was effectively communicating the mental-health services and resources available to them; and
  • 81 per cent said they were satisfied with the measures their department or agency was taking to protect their physical health and safety during the pandemic.

Employees were also asked about the information they received from their department or agency about the pandemic:

  • 78 per cent said it was clear and easy to understand;
  • 81 per cent said it was consistent with the information they got from their immediate supervisor; and
  • 92 per cent said the information was available in both official languages.

And finally, instances of harassment also fell. In 2020, 11 per cent of employees said they’d been harassed on the job in the previous 12 months, down from 14 per cent in 2019. In addition, 71 per cent said their department or agency worked hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment, up from 69 per cent in 2019.

So while the pandemic isn’t over, public servants remain engaged. It would appear that working from home and away from the office has improved their view of the workplace and of their senior managers.

Stephen Van Dine is the senior vice-president of public governance at the Institute on Governance.

Source: Public servants say they work better from home, despite stress: survey

Moving for work? No thanks. Foreign talent increasingly chooses remote work over relocating amid COVID-19

Requires some thinking regarding implications for immigration policy with respect to those highly skilled who can largely work remotely. Virtual immigration should not be conflated with immigration and integration. Remote workers are highly unlikely to use Canadian government services or pay Canadian taxes:

With more opportunities emerging to work remotely in these uncertain times, fewer people appear willing to move abroad for work, according to a global survey that also found Canada is overtaking the U.S. as the world’s top destination for foreign workers.

Overall, only 50.4 per cent of the 209,000 respondents from 190 countries said they would move to another country to work, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a key reason, according to the survey by Boston Consulting Group and The Network.

The report on global workforce trends shows a gradual decline in people’s interest in working abroad, from 57 per cent in 2018 and 64 per cent in 2014, when the surveys were previously conducted.

“These findings reflect several new factors that have penetrated the world’s consciousness and changed the workplace. The factors — the fallout from a difficult-to-control pandemic and a sharp rise in nationalism — have altered people’s thinking,” said the report released this month.

“Businesses and governments must understand these new attitudes and make adjustments of their own in order to ensure they’ll have the future workforce they need.”

Almost a quarter of respondents picked Canada as their first choice to relocate, four percentage point ahead of the United States, which, along with Australia, ranked second.

Canada is the No. 1 destination for many of the types of people that “countries prize,” including those with master’s or PhD degrees, those with digital training or expertise, and those younger than 30, said the report.

Almost all of the countries that moved up in the Top 10 rankings have a relatively low incidence of COVID-19 cases. That includes Canada (up two spots from last survey); Australia (up one place); and Japan (up to No. 6 from 10th place).

Two Asia-Pacific countries that were recognized for their public health response — Singapore and New Zealand — also appear on the Top 10 list for the first time. Many previously popular destinations, such as Germany and France, saw their ranking suffered.

“The travel restrictions that have come and gone during the pandemic have clearly had an impact on people’s attitudes,” said the report. “Relocation willingness has also been affected by the trend toward remote work.”

No physical presence needed

Fifty-seven per cent of respondents said they were willing to work remotely for a foreign employer that doesn’t have a physical presence in their home country. About one-quarter said they aren’t sure but would consider it. Few rejected the idea outright.

The overall openness to virtual work is especially high among people in the information technology and digital fields, with 71 per cent of people with digital or analytics backgrounds saying they would be willing to work for a company with no physical presence in their own country. Among those with postgraduate degrees, 62 per cent would say yes.

“Hiring people from other countries is not a new practice for employers,” said report co-author Pierre Antebi, a co-managing director of The Network, which is a global leader in online recruitment, serving more than 2,000 international corporations.

“But the trend of remote working makes it possible to do it on a broader scale and expand the available talent pool. There’s also an upside for workers, who can advance their careers without uprooting their lives.”

As a destination for international remote employment, the U.S. ranked first and was the choice of 25 per cent of respondents, followed by Canada and Australia, both getting 22 per cent of the votes.

A global and remote talent pool

That virtual mobility allows multinational companies to tap into talent without having to pay to relocate people or set up offices in foreign countries, said the report.

“An embrace of virtual mobility could mean a reversal of some of the skills shortages that countries face,” it noted.

However, the report pointed out, companies and governments must first navigate complex taxes, labour laws and work regulations. There are also other logistical challenges, such as cultural integration of remote employees and time-zone problems that need to be considered.

Seventeen governments in Europe and the Caribbean have already introduced visas that simplify the recruitment of foreign digital workers. Some of the countries offer tax exemptions to the foreign employees they need the most.

“If you’re a company or government that hasn’t previously considered international remote employment as a way to address your skills shortages, it may sound like a very complicated thing to do,” said the report. “In fact, you’re probably more ready than you think.”

Source: Moving for work? No thanks. Foreign talent increasingly chooses remote work over relocating amid COVID-19

From The Folks Who Brought You Boring Meetings: CEOs Want To Ditch Sterile Zoom Calls

I wonder how these assessments compare with the experience in governments. Large scale social experiment on the value of in-person versus remote work. Expect some b-school and other researchers will have ample opportunity for studies and the like.

On a personal level, given some hearing issues, I actually prefer webinars and the like to in-person sessions:

Lately, Zoom meetings have been hitting a nerve with CEOs.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon says there’s no vital “creative combustion” happening in virtual settings.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker finds Zoom meetings awful.

And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella calls them transactional, where “30 minutes into your first video meeting in the morning … you’re fatigued.”

Early during the pandemic lockdowns, in April, many were touting the benefits. James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, said his bank would need much less real estate in the future because even though he was a fan of having teams together, “we’ve proven we can operate with no footprint.”

Now members of the C-suite have gone full boomerang on Zoom meetings. After finding them awesome and productive at first, they’re now questioning how much they really achieve and are suggesting they lead to a sterile work culture lacking in imagination.

“What we as human beings need, want, seek … is human contact,” Nadella says. He was speaking at a virtual conference organized by The Wall Street Journal last week.

Dimon is particularly worried about how working from home has affected JPMorgan’s younger employees. He told analysts that productivity had dipped, especially on Mondays and Fridays. Dimon says bringing people back to the office is paramount to fostering creativity.

The bloom is clearly off this rose.

Remote workers are using the bathroom during meetings

What Dimon and Nadella are articulating is increasingly bearing out in broader surveys. Architect and design firm Vocon, which of course has an interest in people returning to office spaces, conducted a survey in September. It found that 40% of people who ran businesses have noticed decreases in productivity from remote working staff. Among the same group back in April, 56% rated productivity as “excellent.”

As for the employees, who sit in front of a computer every day in the same spot of their homes, often on video chat, they found the experience “draining.” They missed being able to connect face to face with colleagues and had trouble setting boundaries for when work started or ended.

“It was surprising to see so many people felt this remote work fatigue, especially given the headlines of 100% remote forever,” says Sarah McCann​, a real estate strategy associate at Vocon.

Another survey by virtual tech firm Lucid found that workers didn’t feel like they needed to behave during virtual meetings when no one was looking. Most of them admitted to “questionable behavior” during virtual brainstorm meetings, including 1 in 10 who admitted using the bathroom while on a call.

Some workers also admitted to exercising, taking a shower, watching TV and cooking or preparing a meal while participating in virtual brainstorm meetings.

Nathan Rawlins, the chief marketing officer at Lucid, said that’s because virtual meetings are often a series of monologues where people are often checked out and feel “this meeting is the sort of thing where I could lift weights.”

Rawlins said workers were put off by hearing multiple voices simultaneously, which might not be that distracting in a physical setting. The survey also found that younger workers — as many as 1 in 4 — were even breaking company pandemic protocols and meeting with colleagues in person to discuss work projects.

And corporate leaders found that they had to delay major launches, campaigns, or initiatives. Rawlins says these are exactly the kinds of projects that need people to work together in person and collaborate to finish.

Companies hedge their bets on remote work with new office space

Recognizing the importance of collaboration, some large companies, including those that are offering flexible options to employees, are doubling down on office space. Facebook is leasing all the office space at an ornate New York landmark, the former James A. Farley Post Office building.

Amazon, which so far has said employees can work from home until early next year, just bought the marquee Lord & Taylor building on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and leased another 2 million square feet in Bellevue, Wash. But these tech giants will continue to offer employees flexible options, recognizing that much work can be done at home, while betting that their employees are also driven by the human impulse to socialize.

Still, there is a recognition by workers and employers alike that more is possible with virtual settings than before.

“A lot of people have learned that they can work at home, or that there’s other methods of conducting their business than they might have thought from what they were doing a couple of years ago,” the legendary investor Warren Buffett said at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in May. “When change happens in the world, you adjust to it.”

And despite all the misgivings, Microsoft itself announced just last week that its staff will have the option of working from home permanently. It’s what many other companies are — from Facebook and Twitter to Zillow and Nationwide Insurance — are doing.

Many workers enjoy working from home and are saying so. What most surveys show, however, is that they also want to meet their colleagues. They miss the casual moments that spark spontaneous ideas. Some tasks — such as reading, research and writing — can, in fact, be done better in a remote setting. But creative brainstorming sessions, project discussions, new client meetings, onboarding of new employees are better suited to in-person settings.

As with anything, one size hardly fits all. Escaping the drudgery of work from home routines is a great attraction, with more than half saying they are most looking forward to the camaraderie with colleagues at the office. However, 23% said they are not looking forward to any part of returning to the office.

Source: From The Folks Who Brought You Boring Meetings: CEOs Want To Ditch Sterile Zoom Calls

Donald: Give us your wired masses, yearning to breathe free

Intriguing idea of Scott Gilmore (have seen similar suggestions from India and Europe):

Two historic developments have aligned to create a momentary and monumental opportunity for Canada.

First, we are weathering a global pandemic that has dramatically changed the way the world works. Suddenly, we are all discovering that the technology exists to allow many of us to work remotely, and to continue to be effective doing so. In fact, experts are predicting a sizeable portion of the workforce will choose not to return to the office when this is over.

At the same time, a tide of nationalism has risen in many western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. There, governments are making it increasingly difficult for immigrants to arrive or to stay.

For example, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that cancels the H-1B visa category, which permits highly skilled workers, who have already been offered a job by an American company, to live and work in the United States. American economists and CEOs are horrified at the decision. Without these well-trained immigrants, Silicon Valley would still be pastureland.

And here is Canada’s golden opportunity: we should immediately offer residency to all 85,000 holders of H-1B visas, permitting them to live in Canada while they work remotely for their current employers in the United States.

The benefits to Canada are numerous and obvious. To begin with, this would not take any existing jobs from Canadians. There are legitimate (albeit mostly misplaced) concerns that our current unemployment crisis would be exacerbated by increased immigration. Holders of this visa would be permitted to remain only if they have a full-time job in the United States (or another foreign country) that can be performed remotely.

It would give Canada an instant boost in revenue. These new arrivals might be working in the U.S., but they’d be paying their taxes and spending their paycheques here. Our services industry is in desperate need of a boost, and with international travel facing a long recovery, relying on foreign tourism will not be enough. We can replace that by effectively transplanting billions in household spending that is currently rooted south of the border.

This new visa class would be a tremendous boost to our pool of creative and productive talent. Canada has traditionally been a runner up when it comes to attracting the world’s best and brightest. This has gradually been changing, but this new visa could accelerate the shift. We would inject some of the world’s brightest minds into our cities, and if the visa provided a pathway for citizenship, we could hold on to that talent and all the benefits it would bring.

As many public policy experts, demographers, economists and others have pointed out, we need more Canadians. We have an ageing population that will produce relatively less tax revenue to support a growing number of elderly people. And if we want to achieve our full potential, we need a critical mass of talented citizens to do so. This is an argument that has been best made by Globe and Mail writer Doug Saunders in his recent book ‘Maximum Canada’. This visa class is one of the easiest paths towards that goal. The U.S. government has basically pre-screened all these immigrants, vetted them for security and health issues, confirmed they are employable, and socialized them to living in a western democracy. We should be paying Washington for the privilege of taking these people off their hands.

This visa would be an obvious blessing for the would-be immigrants. Unwelcome in the U.S. and facing unemployment, they will be greeted warmly here and allowed to continue to do their work and even remain in the same time zone. What’s more, they will benefit from Canada’s high quality of life, and excellent (but improvable) health-care system.

They will also discover that the American Dream has moved north. Compared to the United States, Canada now has higher rates of employment, education and homeownership. We even have longer lives and more vacation days. And while working from home is not ideal, all of our major cities now have ample shared workspace facilities.

This visa is even good for American employers. First and foremost, they get to keep their talent. And, they would no longer have to pay extravagant health insurance costs. Even Donald Trump would welcome this move. In his mind, out of sight is out of mind and these would be just one less class of immigrants to worry about.

We could call this an IWFC: an International Work From Canada visa and offer it to more than just H-1B candidates. If someone has a high paying job in Paris that they can do on their laptop from Montreal, why wouldn’t we want them to do so? It is a new world, and we need to look at it from a new angle. As the global workforce shifts to tele-commuting, the idea of living in Whistler while managing a marketing team in San Jose is not only possible, it is logical.

If Canada were to seize this opportunity, we would have to do it fast. Other countries are likely considering something similar. Who wouldn’t? And, the American election is just months away. The political landscape could shift, and this incredible pool of talent might be allowed to remain in the U.S. Let’s act before then, let’s bring them home to Canada, before someone else puts out their own welcome mat first.

Source: Donald: Give us your wired masses, yearning to breathe free