Business Groups in the Federal Government: Get Employees Back to the Office Now

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Members of Canada’s business community are calling on the federal government to get employees back to the office “as quickly as possible.”

In an open letter to Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, leaders of 32 trade associations, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, say COVID-19 has reached a new phase and strongly urge the federal government to “lead the way back to normalcy.

“The federal government is not only a major employer in cities and communities across Canada, but in many places it is the primary employer,” the letter dated Monday said.

“As businesses in these communities assess their long-term viability given the adverse effects of the pandemic on downtown areas, restoring normal economic activity requires the federal government to act now.

The efforts by business groups come as the federal government takes a department-by-department approach to determining whether employees should return to work in person.

In May, the Treasury Board issued guidelines on hybrid working arrangements, instructing each department to decide whether to bring workers back to the office. Since then, departments have tested various approaches.

Business associations are raising concerns about the future of downtown Ottawa, citing that the Ottawa-Gatineau office’s rate of return is the lowest of any government capital in Canada.

But they also argue that virtual work leads to a “deterioration in government’s ability to engage effectively with stakeholders.”

“While virtual connectivity has opened up new channels of communication, it does not replace the ability to meet, consult and collaborate in person,” they wrote. “The implementation of a federal government return to power strategy will facilitate much more effective and productive engagement both within government itself and with the general public.

In a statement responding to the letter, Fortier said the government was “moving from remoteness by necessity to hybrid by design.”

“In-person experiences are essential for cohesive, collaborative and high-performing organizations,” she said. “Treasury Board provides guidance to promote a consistent approach across departments.

“The pandemic has brought changes to all aspects of our lives,” she added. “As we return to some semblance of normality, the public service is seizing the opportunity to modernize the way we work and provide the best services to Canadians.

“Transferring the country’s largest workforce will take time.”

There are many indications that the pre-COVID norm – with tens of thousands of federal government workers commuting to downtown Ottawa every day – is not returning.

Fortier said last spring that “hybrid work is here to stay” and considered converting downtown office buildings into affordable housing.

In mid-October, an assistant deputy minister with Public Services and Procurement Canada told the Ottawa Real Estate Forum that the government is accelerating plans to unload millions of square feet of downtown office space, Real Estate reported. News Exchange.

Treasury Board has launched a strategic review of public service policy, targeting savings of $6 billion over five years.

Some civil service unions have criticized the government’s plan as confusing and disorganized, with different departments moving forward without much coordination among themselves.

And Ottawa city officials have expressed concerns about what the future of downtown holds without a consistent federal in-person workforce. In particular, the city’s LRT system was built with ridership estimates based on pre-pandemic levels.

However, many federal government employees prefer the flexibility of their hybrid working arrangements and argue that it is not their responsibility to keep downtown Ottawa businesses afloat.

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