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An open letter to the Government of Canada regarding the future of remote work for federal public servants

Senior leaders of the federal government,

We are a coalition of federal public servants, diverse in background and perspective, but united in our objection to your vision of a hybrid work environment. We are disappointed by the lack of coherence, transparency and meaningful engagement exhibited in your decision-making.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work. Almost two and a half years ago, the pandemic forced governments and companies across the industrial spectrum to shutter their physical work sites and send their employees home. Organizations that were amenable to remote work displayed astonishing flexibility and adaptation in order to continue fulfilling their mandates. As the fog of the pandemic begins to recede, these organizations are now faced with the imminent task of identifying the optimal work configuration for their employees: fully on-site, fully remote or a hybrid of these models.

We acknowledge that this is not an easy undertaking. Many considerations must be weighed, some of which we have never encountered before. It is a task that requires us to unshackle our minds from antiquated ideas and embrace a more progressive mindset – one that is able to judiciously envision the impact of all potential variables. However, it is also a task that presents us with an incredible opportunity to reshape and modernize the way we work. In these times of uncertainty, we took solace in the fact that the federal government has long aspired to be a model employer. An employer that recognizes that the strength of any organization rests with its people. And that through this noble aspiration, it would set an example for all other organizations grappling with the same question.

While you, our senior leaders, have accepted that going back to the way things were pre-pandemic is no longer an option (with which we agree), you have proposed – for the majority of your employees – a hybrid work arrangement that remains predicated on a designated, physical worksite. As a result, most employees would remain tethered to their offices and required to work on-site in some regular capacity. You have, despite our clear expressions of concern and dissatisfaction, dismissed our better judgement and denied our freedom to choose the work configuration that would allow us to serve Canadians most effectively. For most of us, this would mean choosing to work remotely on a full-time basis. Your explanations have not been adequate, your decision-making has not been transparent, your logic has made us skeptical of your motivations and your attempts at engagement has left us feeling unheard. These are not the attributes of a model employer.

In the absence of your support, we are compelled to collectively declare our disapproval and provide you with the clarity of reasoning that we have been denied.

Here is what we want you to appreciate:

  1. We, as public servants, are motivated by social responsibility, committed to high ethical standards and guided by democratic values. These values, which we embrace wholeheartedly, also point to our individual needs. We want the opportunity to establish a harmonious work-life balance. One that simultaneously promotes productivity and personal well-being. We want to be treated respectfully. This not only means being heard, but also having our opinions taken into consideration in a meaningful way. Perhaps most of all, we want the freedom to choose the way we work. Each of us is intimately aware of our responsibilities and the environment that is most conducive to our optimal performance. Our commitment to serve the public is unwavering. Trust us to do our jobs the best way we can.

  2. You have indicated that decisions such as this should not be founded on reactionary emotions and transient preferences; rather, they should be based on experimentation and empirical data. We agree with you. In fact, we are zealous in our support of evidence-based decision-making. It is for this reason that we are perplexed by your attempts to persuade us to adopt your vision of a hybrid model using poorly administered surveys and cursory arguments. The fact of the matter is that we have conducted a nearly two and half year-long experiment where federal employees demonstrated overwhelming resilience and productivity to ensure their branches of government effectively delivered on their mandates. We have arguably adapted and innovated more in this period than in any other time that we can remember, even as we contended with personal adversities. Throughout this time, you supported us. You supported our work by providing us with the technological tools we needed to thrive in a virtual environment. You trusted us to deliver federal services by granting us unprecedented flexibilities. And you recognized our hardships by providing us with mental health and other critical resources. The experiment may not have produced perfect results, but it was an astonishing success by most metrics.

  3. While the incidence of COVID-19 in Canada has gradually waned, its risks continue to evolve. New risks also continue to emerge from the not-so-distant horizon. For example, there is growing concern in the financial community that we may face slower than normal economic growth in the coming years. Governments may be forced to restrain their spending and find more cost-effective means of delivering public services. Embracing a digitized and distributed work model is our chance to save on costs and reduce taxpayer burden, recruit new and diverse sources of talent from across the country and pre-emptively position the public service in a ready and agile state to face any external pressures.

We understand that a hybrid model may have been the most obvious solution. It incorporates the characteristics of both on-site and remote work models. However, sometimes the best solution is not a blend of two opposing perspectives. We believe that the hybrid model is not the great compromise you claim. Rather, we believe that it will paradoxically compromise our autonomy, efficiency and in particular, our pursuit of fairness and equity in the workplace.

Here is what we want from you:

We are not advocating for any one type of work configuration. We recognize that some positions require employees to be fully on-site. We also appreciate that some employees may prefer a combination of on-site and remote work. What we are asking from you is to let each of us, in discussion with our respective managers, choose the work configuration that best suits our work objectives. We are asking for a flexible work arrangement.

Most of us will choose to work remotely full-time. Not because we don’t value collaboration, innovation and productivity – but because we believe that these goals are more attainable when they are pursued autonomously.

Implementing a flexible work arrangement will require considerable planning and collaboration. We, your dedicated employees, are willing to work with you to realize this vision. We hope that you hear our concerns and take meaningful action to maintain your legacy as a model employer.

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