Guidance on optimizing a hybrid workforce: Spotlight on telework

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Now – more than ever – we recognize that the future of work in the public service is about exploring the interconnections between people, talent, diversity, management practices and organizational structures. The future of work will be enabled by technology and shaped by Canadians and their shifting expectations. Collecting evidence, analyzing data and experimenting will guide decision-making every step of the way.

The public service finds itself at an exciting moment when the future can be reimagined and pursued to embed the agility and flexibility that has served Canadians during the ongoing pandemic. As a result, many organizations are developing their plans for a hybrid workforce, which will see many employees scheduled to work both on-site and off-site.

We have created the Guidance on optimizing a hybrid workforce: Spotlight on telework as a first step to embracing the workplace of the future.

This guidance contains overarching principles, steps to follow and key considerations for organizations, managers and employees when implementing a hybrid approach to work. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Organizations are encouraged to experiment and iterate as they optimize telework and on-site work to foster a diverse, inclusive and productive workforce that will continue to deliver results for Canadians.

The information in this document should not be read as direction but rather as guidance. It is based on the Directive on Telework and other instruments and should be read with the existing terms and conditions of employment and collective agreements. In addition, it is superseded by any public health advisories and government direction on vaccinations.

Introduction

During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal public servants proved their ability to adapt to new ways of working both on-site and remotely while delivering results for Canadians. We are learning from this experience and embracing a hybrid workforce as part of how and where we work in the future.

A hybrid workforce is one in which, on any given day, there will be a mixture of employees teleworking from Canada and working on-site at their designated worksite, a GCcoworking site or a shared collaboration space.

A hybrid workforce for the public service will help organizations to:

  • advance the Beyond 2020 principles of being agile, equipped and inclusive, including through:
    • improved work-life balance and wellness
    • richer diversity and regional representation
    • broader access to needed skills and capabilities
  • meet federal commitments under the Accessibility Strategy
  • keep public and operational health and safety measures at the forefront of planning
  • continue efforts to implement the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion
  • support the Greening Government Strategy, particularly by:
    • reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste
    • having climate-resilient operations

This guidance aims to help organizations optimize telework and on-site work and foster a diverse, inclusive and productive hybrid workforce. The guidance is divided into five sections.

  • Overview: an overview of flexible work arrangements and telework
  • Guidance for organizations: information on how to optimize telework
  • Guidance for managers: questions and information for managers to prepare for conversations with employees
  • Guidance for employees: questions and information for employees to prepare for conversations with managers
  • Glossary of terms: definitions of commonly used terms

This guidance is developed in the context of the existing policy framework. Based on the evidence that organizations gather and provide, we will continue to explore the gaps in legislation, policy, directives and collective agreements to support the future of work.

Together we can implement the systems, structures, tools and training that support a thriving hybrid workforce and adapt, learn and iterate as we go.

Overview

What are flexible work arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements have existed for some time and can take many forms:

  • full-time telework
  • a combination of on-site work and telework
  • on-site work with a variety of location options
  • compressed work schedules
  • work-sharing
  • various types of leave available in collective agreements
  • other arrangements

Telework is a voluntary arrangement in which employees request to work somewhere other than at the designated worksite. Telework is governed by the Directive on Telework.

Remote work / working remotely is an arrangement where employers require employees to work somewhere other than at the designated worksite because of temporary unforeseeable circumstances, such as pandemics, states of emergencies, or inclement weather.

Remote work has allowed us to continue operations and deliver services to Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move toward a post-pandemic environment, this experience will shape the future of a flexible, agile and inclusive public service.

Location of positions

Currently, the legislation, policies and directives governing the employer-employee relationship are predicated upon each position having a designated worksite.

The designated worksite is a physical location under the organization’s control. It is not a virtual location or a residential address. The employer determines the location of the designated worksite associated with each position.

Whether a position is suited to telework or a combination of on-site work and telework does not depend on the location of the designated worksite. Benefits and conditions associated with relocation, travel, workforce adjustment, hours of work, isolated posts, language of work, and other things are linked to the designated worksite and not the telework location. For example:

  • employees are responsible for all expenses associated with travelling to and from the designated worksite, subject to the National Joint Council (NJC) directives
  • employee rights to work in French and English depend on their designated worksite location, not where they telework. If employees are in a bilingual position and their designated worksite is in a bilingual region, they have language of work rights, including the right to be supervised in the language of their choice
  • statutory holidays and payroll deductions are based on the province or territory of the designated worksite, not where employees telework

Decisions on where a designated worksite is located should be based on operational requirements. Temporary or ad hoc changes to the designated worksite location associated with a position are strongly discouraged.

Developing approaches to telework

The federal public service is the largest employer in Canada, composed of organizations operating in many different sectors across the country and the globe. This diversity means that federal organizations will have different approaches to telework depending on their operational requirements, while ensuring alignment with relevant legislation, policies and directives.

Guidance for organizations

Core principles

Organizations should, at minimum, follow five principles when planning for an optimal hybrid workplace:

  • consistency in developing an organizational approach that supports how decisions are made across the organization about what work can be performed where
  • flexibility in being open to exploring and experimenting with different approaches to work arrangements, as a foundational practice, including flexibility in location of work (where operationally feasible)
  • transparency in how decisions are made and communicated
  • equity in making sure employees are treated equitably and fairly in decisions, given their specific circumstances, and with a view to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces
  • excellence in the design and delivery of public sector policy, programs and services

Organizations should also be mindful of:

Key points

Beyond these principles, there are several key points to keep in mind:

  • Organizations are responsible for tracking the location of work of all employees
  • All positions should, in principle, fall under one category: full-time telework, some combination of on-site work and telework, or on-site work only
  • Deciding that a position is suited to telework is not the same as deciding whether an employee’s request to telework should be approved—these are two separate decisions
  • Approval for an employee to telework may depend on several factors, such as operational and administrative requirements, team dynamics, well-being and mental health, and the proposed telework location
  • Full-time telework does not mean that the employee will never attend their designated worksite or a GCcoworking space; rather, it means that their position could, ordinarily, be performed full-time from a telework location
  • The duty to accommodate, as outlined in the Directive on the Duty to Accommodate, applies equally to employees teleworking, and the GC Workplace Accessibility Passport is a valuable tool to navigate accommodations in a hybrid environment for persons with disabilities
  • Occupational health and safety obligations under the Canada Labour Code continue to apply regardless of location of work and in accordance with existing jurisprudence
  • Employees are responsible for utilities, high-speed internet service and insurance related to their telework location
  • International telework locations should not be the norm. Employees are expected to work from within Canada, except where duties require them to work abroad, or, in exceptional cases, for a defined period, subject to increased scrutiny and special approval (such as deputy head level)
  • Telework arrangements are subject to review and may be terminated by either the employee or the employer, with reasonable notice. Reasonable notice is determined on a case-by-case basis by the department
  • Performance needs to be managed regardless of where the manager and the employee work and normally should not be a determining factor in decisions around telework. Managers should take advantage of the tools and support that help them manage performance in a hybrid environment
  • Ad hoc telework may be possible without a formal telework agreement (such as for a very short, exceptional period). Organizations may wish to define specific criteria (such as number of days) beyond which a telework agreement is required

Common criteria

With the experience gained during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a general understanding of what work can be completed remotely, organizations are well positioned to build a post-pandemic strategy for managing people. Organizations may need to experiment and refine their approaches as they are implemented, and the transition may vary from one organization to another.

Optimizing the future of work goes well beyond the location of where the work is performed. It involves building an organizational approach with guiding principles and common criteria in how we assess operational requirements and determine what, where, when and how work can be done.

Assessing whether a position or the functions associated with a class of positions lend themselves to telework should take into consideration the extent to which they require on-site presence. Positions cannot be considered in isolation. This evaluation should be informed by the principles, common criteria, organizational approach and operational needs of the team or work unit.

Reasons that positions could require on-site work include:

  • front-line external or internal in-person service
  • duty of care for clients or public
  • access required to equipment or physical documents available only at the designated worksite
  • impact on related positions in work unit and combined operational needs
  • access required to secure networks for regular duties that cannot be accessed remotely

Steps to take

  1. Organizations should:
    1. review the principles, key points and proposed common criteria in this guidance
    2. establish, refine and confirm the organization’s approach and process for implementation
    3. develop a communications strategy and materials for employees and other stakeholders
    4. review and decide on common criteria used by the organization to determine how much on-site presence positions require
    5. assign one of the following profiles to each position:
      1. potential for full-time telework
      2. potential for a combination of on-site work and telework
      3. on-site work only
    6. identify risks and mitigation strategies:
      1. ensure that employees are aware of regular dispute resolution procedures
      2. ensure that tools, advice and training are available to support managers
    7. communicate position profiles to employees
  2. Employees (see Guidance for employees) should:
    1. confirm whether their position is eligible for telework
    2. assess their preference for telework and discuss with their manager
  3. Managers (see Guidance for managers) should:
    1. discuss telework with team
    2. discuss telework with individual employees
    3. consider and discuss individual telework requests in relation to the team’s approach
    4. develop and approve telework agreements where applicable
  4. Organizations should assess, learn and adapt by:
    1. tracking position profiles and telework agreements:
      1. positions eligible for on-site work only, full-time telework, and a combination of on-site work and telework
      2. employees working on-site full-time, teleworking full-time, and doing a combination of on-site work and telework
      3. location of work of all employees, including address, postal code, city, province (and country, where applicable)
    2. considering collecting any other relevant information on pilot projects, equity-seeking groups, experiments, case studies, employee pulse checks, among others
    3. monitoring, reviewing and analyzing data and information
    4. sharing experiences and lessons learned
    5. adapting approach as appropriate
  5. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat will:
    1. consider input from organizations
    2. adjust post-pandemic approach
    3. advance policy changes

Guidance for managers

A hybrid workforce

Canada’s federal public service is committed to creating fair, flexible, healthy and safe workplaces where a hybrid workforce can deliver results for Canadians.

Organizations must decide whether the location of work can be made flexible, to what extent, and how (collaboration spaces, telework).

International telework should not be the norm. Risks associated with working outside of Canada carry serious implications, such as visa and tax requirements, health care access and health benefits, public health and emergency response, personal and information security, and diplomatic relations. Requests to work outside of Canada should be granted only in exceptional circumstances and be reviewed by the chief security officer and security functional specialists and the organization’s head of human resources and human resources specialists. These requests should also require departmental approvals beyond the normal process for teleworking in Canada.

It is good practice to clearly communicate requirements, principles and considerations for telework in writing to employees so that they:

  • understand the process
  • can make informed choices
  • are set up for success when a telework agreement is approved

It is important to remind the employee that the success of a telework agreement is a shared responsibility between them and you.

When considering whether to approve telework, it is important to:

  • follow the organizational principles and processes
  • respect mandatory requirements for telework locations
  • consider barriers to diversity and inclusion, including unconscious bias

Once approved, the telework agreement is signed by the manager (and/or the delegated authority, if applicable) and the employee and is retained according to the organizational process or system.

As set out in the Directive on Telework, approved telework agreements must be reviewed at least annually and may be terminated by either party with reasonable notice.

Preparation

When considering how to prepare for managing people in a hybrid environment, you should:

  • review your organization’s plans and procedures for telework
  • refresh your understanding of the official languages rights and responsibilities
  • familiarize yourself with your organization’s mental health action plan or strategy
  • consider your organization’s Accessibility Plan
  • identify and share tools, training and support to employees as they adjust to working in a hybrid environment
  • engage your team in a discussion

In addition, consider the following:

Operational and administrative requirements

  • How can telework be leveraged to meet operational requirements and achieve results?
  • Do you have the training, tools and support to effectively manage employees in a hybrid work environment? How will telework be coordinated and tracked?
  • Is the employee aware that they are responsible for the cost of utilities, high-speed internet and insurance related to their telework location?
  • Have you applied the organization’s principles, policies and criteria fairly and equitably?

Team dynamics

  • How can you as a manager help inspire team spirit and create cohesion among team members when managing hybrid work environments that may span time zones?
  • How can you create and maintain an inclusive, diverse and accessible hybrid work environment?
  • How will you promote official languages and ensure that they are respected?
  • How will you adapt your management style to support your employees?
  • How can you bring out the best in your employees to help them achieve their work objectives?
  • Have you considered your own unconscious biases and the possibility of unintentional barriers?

Well-being and mental health

  • Would any of the psychosocial factors in the Canadian Standards Association’s Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace be jeopardized or enhanced with telework?
  • What actions or measures can be taken to minimize mental fatigue due to technological exhaustion?
  • What actions or measures can be taken to support the mental health of teleworking employees or your hybrid team? How will these be implemented and communicated to employees?
  • Are employees planning time off and using leave provisions available to them as appropriate?

Having conversations with employees

First, confirm that the flexibility of the employee’s position has been assessed according to relevant criteria (for example, full-time telework, or a combination of on-site work and telework).

Second, consider and discuss the following with the employee as appropriate:

  • How might telework impact their mental health and well-being?
  • What accommodation measures, if any, might be necessary?
  • What measures will be needed to ensure integration with fellow employees?
  • How quickly would they be able to report on-site if needed (training, security)?
  • If the telework location is outside commuting distance:
    • Do they understand that they will be responsible for paying the costs of reporting on-site?
    • Have they investigated and understood the tax implications (for example, living in one province and working in another with different taxation laws) or other impacts of being in a different location (such as provincial health coverage)?
  • Have they received training, guidance and tools regarding security of equipment and information that would support telework?
  • Do they have access to consistent, reliable, high-speed internet?
    • If not, does the nature of their duties enable them to telework with intermittent or no internet?

Answering these questions may lead you to conclude that other types of flexibility (for example work-sharing, compressed work weeks) could be more appropriate. Consult your human resources advisor to explore and understand opportunities and requirements while ensuring compliance with existing terms and conditions of employment, including collective agreements.

Confirming telework arrangements

Once you and the employee have agreed to a telework arrangement, ensure that:

  • an agreement is completed and signed by both you and the employee (and the delegated authority, if applicable)
  • an up-to-date inventory of all organizational assets provided by the employer is maintained

Telework equipment, supplies and furniture remain the property of the employer. If the telework arrangement or employment is terminated, any Crown-owned assets provided to the employee must be either returned to the employer or managed as set out in the Directive on the Management of Materiel.

Once the telework arrangement is implemented:

  • regularly check in with teleworking employees and the team about how things are working
  • document observations from these interactions and other relevant data
  • look for ways to address issues and improve telework arrangements
  • formally review all telework arrangements at least once a year
  • regularly take stock of the telework agreements you are managing

Regularly taking stock of the telework arrangements you are managing can yield important lessons for you, colleagues and teammates. Key questions to reflect on include:

  • Are we meeting business goals and client expectations?
  • Are we effectively supporting employee mental health and well-being in the workplace?
  • Are employees comfortable working alone, supported in working autonomously and good at taking initiative?
  • Have you as a manager been regularly checking in with employees?
  • Are regular and effective performance and talent management discussions taking place?
  • What benefits have arisen because of the flexible work arrangements?
  • What ideas to improve flexible work arrangements have worked well?
  • What teamwork challenges have arisen because of flexible work arrangements? What changes need to be made?
  • Does something in the telework agreement need to be addressed or modified?
  • How well are our expectations about communications, accessibility and trust being met?

Guidance for employees

The feasibility of telework depends on a position being identified as suited to either full-time telework or a combination of on-site work and telework, among other factors. A telework agreement must be signed by you and your manager whether you are working at home or another location that is not a Government of Canada worksite.

Things to consider

The first step is to validate whether your organization has identified to what degree your position may be suitable for telework. There may be various factors that help determine this, including organizational criteria and operational requirements. If you are uncertain, ask your manager. If your position has been identified as suited to full-time telework or a combination of on-site work and telework, in principle, it may be possible for you to have a telework arrangement.

An ideal candidate for telework:

  • works well when physically alone
  • is a good communicator
  • demonstrates a high-level of self-sufficiency
  • takes initiative
  • is self-disciplined

There are some questions to help you assess whether telework is right for you:

  • How does my team or work unit interact with each other?
  • Where and how is our work done?
  • How would my teleworking impact them and our dynamics together?
  • Are there parts of my work that would be more difficult to do if I were not on-site or did not use the same workstation every day?
  • What would I need to put in place to ensure my success if I work away from the office?
  • Do I have an appropriate place to telework from in terms of occupational health and safety, ability to maintain security of information or have confidential discussions?
  • Do I have access to consistent, high-speed internet at the location where I want to telework?
  • Am I able to take steps while teleworking to support my well-being and mental health?
  • Am I aware of the strategies and resources available to me to support my mental health?

Know your obligations

Teleworking comes with obligations, as outlined in the Directive on Telework. These obligations may influence your decision to telework. When establishing a telework arrangement, it is important to be aware that you are responsible for:

  • maintaining the telework location (such as homeowner or tenant insurance and utilities)
  • understanding that the telework agreement applies solely to the agreed-upon telework location
  • securing and protecting property, documents and information belonging to the employer
  • following safe work practices and ensuring prompt notification to appropriate organization personnel of any job-related accidents that occur at the telework location
  • ensuring that any in-person meetings with clients are not held at the telework location
  • understanding travel, income tax, pension, insurance, benefits or other implications arising from your request to work from a location other than your designated worksite

Key steps in the process

  • Review the resources:
    • learn about the flexible work arrangements offered by your organization
  • Consider your role and responsibilities:
    • make sure that telework is suitable for your role, work objectives and style of work
    • examine how you work with your team members and clients
    • confirm that you accept the obligations associated with telework
    • think about your day-to-day responsibilities and which of them can be performed through telework and which are better suited to working on-site
  • Remember that a telework arrangement depends on:
    • your position being suitable for full-time telework or a combination of on-site work and telework
    • you and your manager both agreeing that a telework arrangement is appropriate in your circumstances, considering your needs and other factors, including operations, team dynamics, health and safety, administration, costs, technology, equipment and support

Steps to prepare

  • Discuss flexibility options for your location of work with your manager. Be prepared to discuss your needs
  • Remember to remain open and thoughtful as you and your manager explore options
  • Have a backup plan:
    • Work with your manager to develop a telework arrangement that works for both of you. If initial options are not suitable, ask what other options may be available. This can be an ongoing conversation
  • Implement a telework agreement:
    • Sign and save a copy of your telework agreement
    • Check in regularly to see how the arrangement is working
  • Post-implementation:
    • Maintain open communication with your manager to discuss and review the telework arrangement annually, at a minimum

Taking care of your well-being and mental health

It is always important for us to be conscious about our mental health and well-being and that of our colleagues. We should be aware that teleworking may impact us all differently. It is worthwhile to think carefully about these impacts and how they can be addressed. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Have compassion: New approaches to working can sometimes evoke strong emotions. Be patient and accepting with others and yourself. Change can be uncomfortable, and you’re not alone in that discomfort
  • Focus on what brings you gratitude: These changes can lead to new challenges but also powerful transformations. Consider any positive changes and choose to appreciate them often throughout your day
  • Learn and respect boundaries: Everyone has different comfort levels. To make a transition with ease, get to know your own limitations and communicate them respectfully and clearly to your teammates and colleagues
  • Know that your feelings are valid: When we manage our emotions, listen to our bodies and make time for ourselves, our mental and physical health improves, resulting in enhanced resiliency in times of change
  • Share your experiences and stay social: Make use of tools available to you to have regular social interactions. Taking the time to share your experiences with your colleagues and listening to theirs increases support and makes way for a compassionate workplace
  • Continue to follow local health guidelines: Sticking to some of the habits we followed in the past year such as practicing proper hand hygiene, wearing a mask indoors and physical distancing where possible can help ease concerns and apprehension associated with workplace changes

Glossary of Terms

barrier
Under the Accessible Canada Act, includes anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation.
designated worksite
A physical location under the organization’s control. It is not a virtual location or residential address. The employer determines the location of the designated worksite associated with each position.
flexible work arrangements
Includes measures that allow for flexibility in scheduling hours worked and in the location of work, including telework and compressed work weeks.
hybrid work environment
An approach to work that involves employees working from a combination of more than one location of work.
remote work / working remotely
A term used to describe work being accomplished in a location that is not a designated worksite. This is an employer-driven process when the health and safety of its employees are of concern. These situations generally occur during temporary unforeseeable circumstances, such as pandemics, states of emergencies or inclement weather. An employee’s designated worksite does not automatically change if an employee is working remotely.
telework
Work performed by an employee from an alternate location other than a Government of Canada designated worksite, based on a voluntary request from an employee, subject to operational requirements and management approval.
telework agreement
An agreement created and signed by the employee and the employer according to the Directive on Telework that allows the employee to telework on a regular basis. The agreement must be reviewed at minimum annually and may be cancelled at any time with reasonable notice by either party.
telework arrangement(s)
General term referring to the contents of a telework agreement, including the frequency, location and conditions of telework.
telework location
A suitable workplace the employee chooses (with their manager’s agreement) to perform the work required by their position, usually a private residence. This workplace must meet the health and safety requirements of the Canada Labour Code, Part II, and its Regulations.
workplace
Means any place where an employee is engaged in work for the employee’s employer. Note that the designated worksite (see above) is a physical location under the organization’s control and would also be considered a workplace as defined by the Canada Labour Code, Part II.
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