Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Working remotely

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Working remotely and critical services

At present, Government of Canada employees at all work sites are asked to work remotely whenever and wherever possible. Managers are expected to identify an approach that is flexible while ensuring continued critical government operations and services to Canadians.

Currently, managers are to consider on-site work only if:

  • the work meets the definition of critical service
  • working remotely is not feasible, as some functions cannot be fulfilled from a location other than a designated workplace

Setting up your workspace for wellness and success

Working remotely offers many advantages and flexibilities. It is a new reality for many public servants as we carry on work during the COVID-19 pandemic. But many of us are not used to it.

To be successful while working remotely, we need to create a workspace that promotes efficiency and effectiveness. Take the time to create the right conditions for success and wellness:

  • try to set up your workspace in a quiet area with some privacy, away from busy living spaces and distractions such as televisions
    • consider storing personal mobile devices out of reach
    • use noise-cancelling headphones if needed
  • talk to your partner, children, or others, about your workspace and your needs while working remotely
  • try to work in a space with natural light to reduce eyestrain; exposure to natural light can impact physical and mental well-being
  • consider ergonomic needs, for example, when setting screen and keyboard heights
  • be prepared to do without certain items, such as printers; now is a great time to embrace paperless work habits
  • revisit and adjust your set-up as needed; consider issues such as temperature, storage of your gear when not in use, and other factors
  • learn more about occupational health and safety while working offsite

While many public servants have the necessary tools to work remotely, you may find you require additional equipment. Departments should review requests for additional equipment on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing requests from employees who are delivering critical services and those for whom the employer has a duty to accommodate.

As always, be sure to discuss your workspace with your manager, including if you:

  • need guidance or assistance in following your organization’s directions for remote work
  • have existing, or would like to request new, accommodation measures

Using the network

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Shared Services Canada and departmental Chief Information Officers are working together to maximize internet bandwidth to support remote work and prioritize network access for critical operations.

How to limit your use of the network

You should consider when and how you use the network. Each department may have different advice and directives about how to use technology. You should always consider your department's advice as the authority.

To limit demand on our IT systems, please:

  • use mobile devices whenever possible to send and receive emails (up to Protected B)
  • connect to VPN/SRA, get what you need from the corporate network—outside of normal business hours if possible—and disconnect to avoid straining our IT systems
  • limit the use of video conferencing on the GC network when audio conferencing will suffice
  • avoid large data transfers over the network, like graphically intense decks, images, PDFs or streaming services (for example, YouTube)

Employees who are not supporting critical operations, services or program delivery should work remotely and limit their use of the network according to departmental guidance to the extent possible.

Collaborating within and across teams
  • let people know the best way to communicate with you, be it by phone, text, email, apps or in other ways
  • update your contact information in your organizational directory, GCdirectory profile and elsewhere
  • add email signatures with your contact details to all your devices
  • forward calls from your office phone to another phone, if you can do so remotely, or add an alternate contact number in your voice mail greeting
When using digital tools to collaborate
  • use approved tools such as Microsoft Teams, Blackberry Messenger and WebEx to collaborate with colleagues
    • if not available, tools such as Zoom, Slack and Google Hangouts can be used for unclassified discussions and exchanges (subject to departmental approval)
  • check that the tools you select can be accessed by all team members, including colleagues who use adaptive technology
  • use the Black Berry Messenger application, if you have a Blackberry, to communicate with colleagues for information up to Protected B

Working on sensitive, protected or classified information

The requirements for managing information are the same whether working remotely or in the office, and whether connected to the VPN or not. You must be mindful of managing information appropriately and effectively, and in accordance with all relevant legislative and policy requirements.

To ensure that government information is appropriately managed and protected:

  • remember that, if you are working remotely on sensitive, protected or classified information, you remain responsible for safeguarding it
  • take steps, such as password protecting videoconferences, to help secure communications
  • focus on managing information of business value
  • ensure the security and proper handling of sensitive information

For further guidance:

Departments and agencies should help you with safe custody and control of sensitive information, and make the necessary arrangements to meet your obligations when working away from the designated workplace.

For more tips and advice on working remotely, please visit the Canada School of Public Service’s Digital Academy Going Remote Guide.

Managing your work and productivity

For those of us not used to working remotely, remaining productive can be a challenge. Our offices are set up for work and team interactions that nudge us toward productivity. Our remote workplaces (for example, our homes) often lack these same cues and supports.

As such, it is important that we use personal and team strategies to remain productive. These strategies are often not different than those we use in the office; however, they may require extra effort, discipline, and creativity when working remotely.

Here are some examples of steps you and your teams can consider that will help you remain productive:

  • take 15 minutes to connect with your team for a virtual huddle each morning to set the stage for a productive day. Consider doing a roundtable where each person answers:
    • what I did yesterday (or the last day of work)—for example, finalized draft memo, processed 15 applications, finished presentation
    • what I will do today—for example, revise invitation email, send out spreadsheets, assess selection criteria
    • what I need from my team—for example, feedback on a proposal, data for a report, approval of a memo
  • organize your workflow as you start your day. This will help you focus on your goals and be less distracted:
    • do an initial check of emails, messages, your calendar and notes from the huddle
    • break your work down into clear action items so that you know exactly what you need to do—for example, draft mind map, assemble mailing list, draft cover email and send to mailing list
    • prioritize and schedule tasks by committing to the order in which you will do them and/or set up a timetable of when you will do them
    • make time for breaks and lunch, integrate personal and family commitments as needed, and reward yourself for accomplishing key tasks—for example, by going for a walk or having a cup of tea
  • use different strategies as needed to help you stay productive throughout the day:
    • unhook from email and messages so you can focus on your tasks but leave your phone on in case someone urgently needs to reach you
    • accept that plans might need to change, keeping your manager and teammates informed of challenges and developments
    • take the time to connect with colleagues regularly and for meetings, set up an agenda that poses the questions that need to be answered
    • take stock of what you’ve accomplished and of what you need to do tomorrow, preparing you for the next huddle

For further guidance, visit the:

Staying connected when working remotely

When we work in a shared location, such as an office or laboratory, many of us can easily ask a nearby colleague a question, hear when others are on the phone, or see when people are away from their desks. We can also let our team know what we are doing, for example, by telling people, “I’ll be in a meeting for an hour.” When working remotely, we all need to make an extra effort to stay connected as a team.

There are certain steps we can take as individuals to keep others informed about our availability:

  • tell your team about your planned hours of work and any regular absences
  • send short status updates, such as “in a meeting” or “on lunch” to your team via text or email
  • use automatic email replies to advise people of longer gaps in your working day or if you are working offline and only accessing emails periodically
  • keep your calendar up to date and reach out to those who don’t use online calendars to check their availability for meetings

When working with our teams, there are other actions we can take to help us be present:

  • find a mix of tools approved by your department that work for everyone on your team
  • call or video-link with colleagues for short chats rather than having protracted email exchanges
  • check-in often with colleagues—set up email and text distribution lists for quick outreach
  • ask people what they miss about the office and try to recreate these, for example a virtual lunchroom
  • don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues whether to ask questions, seek support or offer help

Resources from the Canada School of Public Service:

Ensuring linguistic duality

When working remotely, it is important that we continue to respect linguistic duality in communications with the Canadians we serve and with our fellow public servants. Doing so is not just a courtesy, it is a sign of respect and is required by our laws and policies.

Before hosting a call or videoconference that is either government-wide or involves a bilingual region, ask participants to indicate:

  • their language preference, for example, by using the voting function in Outlook
  • if they would like the main points summarized in one or the other official language when the meeting takes place

When hosting a call or videoconference that is either government-wide or involves a bilingual region:

  • circulate bilingual meeting invitations, agendas and materials
  • welcome participants in both official languages and invite them to use the language of their choice whether when talking or when using chat functions
  • ask if anyone would like to have the main points summarized in one or the other official language
  • invite participants to follow up after the meeting if they need clarification on any of the points raised

When taking part in a call or videoconference that is either government-wide or involves a bilingual region:

  • dare to use the less-used official language if you wish

When reaching out, for example by email or phone, to an employee:

  • in a bilingual region, confirm their official language preference, if any, and initiate communication in that language
  • in a unilingual region, initiate communication in the appropriate official language

For more information:

Being inclusive at a distance

Inclusion in the workplace is important to organizational success. Working remotely, however, might amplify the vulnerabilities of marginalized groups or create new barriers. When working remotely, we must pay extra attention to our actions and behaviours to ensure we are being inclusive leaders and team members. As public servants, we also have a responsibility to uphold respect for people in our work.

When interacting with remotely located colleagues, be mindful of inclusion challenges:

  • recognize that working remotely limits non-verbal cues. Be aware of your words, tone and actions to avoid misunderstandings
  • take time in team meetings to thank others and celebrate their accomplishments
  • be empathetic to colleagues who bravely raise concerns such as mental health
  • don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you yourself are encountering challenges or barriers

When organizing remote meetings, take steps to help ensure success:

  • ask people, in advance, what technology best enables them to participate in meetings—colleagues who rely on lip-reading, for example, may find videoconferences challenging
  • provide accessible meeting materials
  • confirm that all participants are connected before starting a meeting and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute—as needed, allow for pauses so that everyone can engage
  • offer to help colleagues who may be less comfortable with remote work technology

When managing remotely located teams, actively plan for inclusion:

  • discuss inclusion frequently with your team to identify challenges and seek solutions
  • identify tools and apps that take into account differences among employees
  • offer flexibility, for example, in work schedules or meeting times for employees who are dealing with challenges such as work–home balance, social isolation, childcare or improvised workspaces
  • ask employees about existing or new accommodation needs and work with them and your organization to provide support
  • promote connection between people, for example, by assigning tasks to groups, rather than individuals where appropriate

Maintaining your well-being

While there may be benefits associated with working remotely, including avoiding the daily commute and the freedom to work at different times of the day, working remotely for longer periods of time and during a pandemic can present unique challenges.

Things that would ordinarily happen as part of our routine at work that allow us to maintain our mental health may not occur, the distinction between the professional and the personal may blur, and being physically separated from our colleagues in performing our work can take a toll.

There are, however, some steps we can take that help. For example

  • set a schedule—we are creatures of habit, and routine helps us physically and mentally prepare for our day
  • stay connected, especially given that physically distancing ourselves can make us feel disconnected—buddy up with a peer and use virtual means (for example, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom) to connect with colleagues and loved ones 
  • make time for self-care (remembering that practicing self-care isn’t selfish)—getting sufficient sleep, eating healthily and exercising regularly is important

Where we are responsible for managing teams, we should:

  • lead with empathy, including by acknowledging our own vulnerabilities
  • promote the resources are available to employee if they are facing challenges
  • be alert to non-verbal signals, such as disengagement, that may indicate an employee is struggling

For more information on how to maintain your mental health and support others, visit:

Protecting Personal Information When Working Remotely

Context

This guidance is intended to support public servants to protect personal information and prevent privacy breaches when working remotely.

Working remotely has become the new norm for many public servants. While this offers new opportunities to explore more digital ways of working, working remotely has changed the way public servants create and manage information, and collaborate with others. The changes have presented new challenges to established workplace processes, information management practices, service delivery, and internal collaboration that are usually protected within the security of Government of Canada facilities and network environments.

When working remotely, the Privacy Act and federal privacy policies, outline the requirements for federal institutions and employees to protect the personal information under their control. This includes when working remotely. Additionally, under the Policy on Service and Digital, privacy must be addressed in the context of any plan or strategy to manage departmental information or data.

The information provided below offers some tips and helpful resources to protect personal information and prevent privacy breaches when working remotely.

Privacy Breaches

A privacy breach is the improper or unauthorized creation, collection, use, disclosure, retention or disposal of personal information.

What to do if you suspect a privacy breach has occurred:

You must report any suspected privacy breach to your institution’s ATIP office and follow your institution’s plans and procedures for privacy breach management. The ATIP office will be able to provide you with more specific information and the next steps.

The table below outlines scenarios and considerations to guide you in preventing and managing potential privacy breaches when working remotely.

Related References:

Other content specific links are found directly in the text below.

Scenario 1

In remote work situations, employees may use new digital collaboration or productivity tools to connect with others or advance their work.

What to consider?

It is important to note that some personal information about public servants such as your name, title, classification, work email address and work phone number is not considered to be protected personal information by the Privacy Act.

Important information and tips about the use of collaboration tools can be found in the Guidance for the Secure Use of Collaboration Tools and on the Secure Remote Working wiki.

Do I have to provide personal information such as my personal phone number or personal email address in order to use digital collaboration tools in the workplace?

No. Productivity or collaboration tools used in carrying out your duties and functions as a public servant should only require work-related contact information.

When using collaboration tools or virtual meeting tools, I may need to discuss sensitive personal information about an identifiable individual. Is that appropriate?

It is often necessary to discuss sensitive personal information in the course of your duties and functions as a public servant. For example, Labour Relations employees discuss sensitive personal information with managers. When using digital tools to communicate personal information, before using a new tool, contact your IM, security and privacy officials to ensure that the specific tool is appropriate in your situation.

I am invited to use a virtual meeting tool that uses video images. I am not comfortable sharing my video image. Does the Privacy Act have any requirements that I should be aware of?

An image is personal information when it is about an identifiable individual and recorded in any form. Therefore, if your image is being recorded through the tool it must be protected in accordance with the Privacy Act and related policy instruments.

If you are not comfortable using the video features of a virtual meeting tool you should first discuss your concerns with your manager. They will be able to provide you with more assistance on the best way forward. Often, virtual meeting tools have features that allow for participation without using the video feature.

I have installed home assistants (Google, Alexa, etc.) throughout my house, can I still telework?

Yes, but you should take precautions against inappropriate disclosures of personal information at all times when working remotely. This may include removing or turning off the passive listening device from your workspace. The Privacy Act and government security and privacy policies require the protection of personal information and passive listening devices could pose an additional risk. Please contact your institution’s ATIP office and Chief Security Officer for further information. You can also visit the GetCyberSafe website for tips on securing your online devices at home.

Scenario 2

In remote working situations, employees may bring hard copy documents containing personal information about an identifiable individual into their home environment.

What to consider?

To prevent privacy breaches from occurring in your telework environment you should have a dedicated area where you can reduce the entry of incidental visitors (E.g.: family members, guests, workers). Documents with personal information should be stored appropriately and, when no longer needed, destroyed appropriately. Please refer to the Directive on Security Management - Appendix J: Standard on Security Categorization, and/or contact your institution’s information management and security offices for further detail.

Keep in mind that, as per the Directive on Service and Digital, CIOs are to ensure that digital systems are the preferred means of creating, capturing and managing information.

What is the security designation of personal information?

That depends on the nature of the personal information. For instance, contact information about an identifiable individual is typically designated as Protected A while contact information about an identifiable individual who is a confidential informant for law enforcement is typically considered Protected C.

Regardless of the security designation of the personal information, any inappropriate creation, collection, use, disclosure, retention or disposition of the personal information is a privacy breach.

How do I know the proper techniques for securing and transporting hard copy records containing personal information?

Information specific to the secure storage, transport, transmittal and destruction of documents when working remotely is best obtained from your manager or alternatively, your institution’s security and IM offices. It will be important that the carrying case, lock, mode of transportation, and the at-home storage be appropriate for the security designation of the information. The following link also has further guidance on managing information while working remotely.

Scenario 3

In remote working situations, employees may need to deliver services in a new way, while continuing to protect personal information.

What to consider?

To protect against privacy breaches while delivering services remotely you should consider how the change to the delivery model affects the flow (creation, collection, use, disclosure, retention, disposal) of personal information and its management, and work with your ATIP office to determine if these changes require a Privacy Impact Assessment. Please refer to the requirements in the Interim Directive on Privacy Impact Assessment or contact your institution’s Access to Information and Privacy Office for further detail.

How does changing service delivery from an in-person model to a remote model affect the management of personal information?

That depends on the institution as well as the program or service and tools employed in the process. For instance, some services may use new technology or third-party providers to deliver information to the service recipient. This could result in a new and possibly unauthorized creation, use, disclosure, retention or disposal of personal information causing a privacy breach. For example, if a third-party kept a copy of the data used in the service for their own commercial purposes, this could be considered an unauthorized retention or use of personal information causing a privacy breach. Alternatively, a new tool or technology could require the collection of additional personal information. If not directly related to the program or activity this new collection could constitute a privacy breach. To assess changes to business processes and their impact on the management of personal information, service delivery programs should work with their information management offices and ATIP offices to determine whether a Privacy Impact Assessment is required.

How do I know if the new changes to a business process are aligned with privacy requirements?

Privacy Requirements are found in the Privacy Act, TBS Privacy Policies, and institution-specific legislation and policies. Please work with your information management and ATIP office to discuss any changes to business processes that affect the management of personal information to ensure privacy will continue to be protected.

Scenario 4

In remote situations employees need to ensure that they are saving records to the appropriate corporate repositories.

What to consider?

Inappropriate retention and disposition of personal information can lead to privacy breaches. To prevent this from occurring in your remote working environment you should ensure that you are saving records of business value to your approved corporate repository. This includes classifying them appropriately according to your corporate file plan and attributing the appropriate security designation to each record and ensuring that the repository is accredited to store, at a minimum, the same designation as the document. Please refer to the Directive on Service and Digital or contact your institution’s information management and security offices for further detail.

Can I save records containing personal information locally on my work computer when working remotely?

No. Your work computer is not an official corporate repository. There may be times when it is necessary to do so, but this should only happen when necessary and for a limited period. For example, should you lose network connectivity and need to save the record, saving the record locally is permitted provided that when you connect to the network again, the record is saved in the appropriate repository.

Are there any special electronic repositories in which to save personal information?

It depends. Personal information can be saved in any electronic corporate repository if it is accredited to the level of the security designation of the record and otherwise meets Government of Canada information management requirements. In most cases, personal information is appropriately saved into the approved repository. An exception to this could be when the security designation of the personal information exceeds the accreditation of the repository. For example, when saving personal information about a confidential informant. Corporate repositories are typically not appropriate in this case, but the information must nonetheless be managed as a strategic asset. In this scenario, your institution’s information management office can provide you with more detailed instructions.

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