Common hybrid work model for the Federal Public Service

Prior to the pandemic, most public servants worked almost exclusively from federal offices and worksites. Alternative work arrangements were rare and normally reserved for temporary, exceptional circumstances.

COVID-19 showed us that we could work differently, and we are neither returning to a traditional model nor continuing with the one imposed on us by the pandemic. With the opportunity to reimagine our work, the Government of Canada has chosen a hybrid model.

In June of 2022, the Clerk of the Privy Council outlined her expectations for a hybrid workforce and encouraged departments to experiment with models. Since then, departments and agencies have been experimenting to learn how a hybrid work model can best support our core purpose: serving Canadians.

We have rediscovered the value of shared in-person experiences that are essential to cohesive, collaborative, and high-performing organizations. Working together in person supports collaboration, team spirit, innovation and a culture of belonging. It helps teams build trust and learn from each other.

However, we have also seen the need for consistency in how hybrid work is applied. While departments and agencies are each unique, the experience of working in the public service or receiving services from it should be the same across the government and across the country. There needs to be fairness and equity across workplaces.

Based on these lessons, the federal public service will adopt a common hybrid work model that will see employees work on site at least 2–3 days each week, or 40–60% of their regular schedule. This new model will apply to all of the core public administration, and it is strongly recommended that separate agencies adopt a similar strategy.

While many public servants are already working on site at least 2–3 days a week, this new approach will represent a change for others. To allow departments and employees to smoothly transition to a common hybrid model, a phased introduction will begin , with full implementation by

Who has the responsibility for determining the location of work for federal public servants?

Location of work in the federal public service is determined by management. The employer has the exclusive management right to designate the location of work and to require employees to report to their designated workplace. 

We understand that this is the case not only for the federal government, but for all provincial and territorial counterparts as per their respective governance.

What about employees who are unable to work on site?

Requests for accommodation are assessed by each department on a case-by-case basis, that is, considering facts and circumstances that may be unique to the individual or the workplace, and always in accordance with the associated Government of Canada policy instruments.  

At the federal level, the Canadian Human Rights Act has been in place since 1977. Since then, the public service has implemented robust processes for considering requests for accommodation as reflected in the Directive on the Duty to Accommodate and other instruments and guides.

In addition, the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) came into force in 2019. The overarching goal of the ACA is to realize a barrier-free Canada by 2040. The legislation benefits all Canadians, especially persons with disabilities, through the proactive identification, removal, and prevention of barriers to accessibility in several priority areas, including employment.

Are there exceptions?

The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, within the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, has developed specific direction to support departments and agencies with the implementation of a common hybrid work model.

Although 2–3 days of on-site presence (or 40–60% of regular schedule) will be the default, alternative models may be warranted in a very limited set of circumstances, pending appropriate approval of management.

Possible exceptions to the hybrid work model include:

  • Employees hired to work remotely prior to
  • Indigenous public servants whose location is critical to their identity to work from their communities
  • Exceptional exemptions on a case-by-case basis, on a time-limited or longer-term duration (for example, illness, short-term operational requirement, extenuating circumstances)
  • As determined by a deputy head, and in exceptional cases, a relevant business case demonstrates a measurable increase in efficiency for the delivery of an operation or a specific function
  • Employees, with the permission of their assistant deputy minister, who are working remotely 125 km or more from their designated worksite
  • A business model has been previously established and not influenced by the remote-by-default COVID-19 management

Employees who are immunocompromised continue to be able to apply for an accommodation under the Duty to Accommodate. Requests for accommodation are assessed by each department on a case-by-case basis. 

Why was 2–3 days of on-site work chosen for this common hybrid work model?

The on-site presence of 2–3 days each week (or 40–60% of regular schedule) reflects the benefits that consistent in-person experiences offer, all the while maintaining flexibility of working off-site.

Why is this decision being taken now?

Creating a new work model was always going to require learning and evolution. This new approach is about refining how hybrid is applied.

Departments and agencies have been experimenting to see how a hybrid work model can best support our mandates, and many have already introduced models similar to the direction provided. During this process, we have seen the need for coherence in how hybrid work is applied across organizations. To ensure consistency for our employees and those they serve, we are introducing a common hybrid work model.

Why is the government asking employees to come back to the office while COVID risks are still present?

As has been the case from the outset of the pandemic, employees can be confident that effective measures continue to be taken to protect their health and safety in the workplace.

Deputy heads continue to be responsible for tailoring the guidance from the Public Service Occupational Health Program (PSOHP) into requirements for their own workplaces under the COVID-19 section of their Hazard Prevention Programs. As such, they should continue to work with their Occupational Health and Safety teams and committees to implement preventive practices that consider the working environments, work tasks and local COVID-19 conditions of each worksite.

Protective practices recommended under the guidance include:

  • continuing to wear a medical mask or respirator indoors when it is difficult to maintain physical distancing
  • staying home when sick.
  • ventilating spaces.
  • practicing hand hygiene.
  • cleaning and disinfecting
How does the federal government’s approach compare to what provincial and territorial governments are doing?

The federal government’s approach is generally consistent with most provinces and territories, that have already instituted varying back-to-worksite plans.

Is the plan to eventually bring all employees back 5 days a week?

Hybrid work is the future of the public service. A common hybrid work model will ensure coherence and equity across the federal government, providing public servants with regular opportunities to work with colleagues and partners in service to Canadians, while still having flexibility to work off site.

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