Returning to the workplace: Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—July 23, 2020

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Issue

With global efforts focused on the containment of the COVID-19 outbreak and the prevention of further spread, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is engaged with central agencies and industry in planning business resumption activities for a staged and progressive return to workplaces for public servants and occupants of its Real Property Services (RPS) portfolio. PSPC has implemented measures in the national real property portfolio to aid in these efforts.

Key messages

Background

A large proportion of the public service has transitioned to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices remain open and have been maintained for essential and critical workers to support the Government of Canada efforts nationally. Guided by the public health agencies within regional jurisdictions, we anticipate a progressive return to workplaces when we flatten the curve and remain within health care capacity.

Working collaboratively with central agencies and consulting with industry partners for best practices, RPS is contributing guidance to departments to support them in establishing their plans for return to the workplace. Return to the workplace strategies may be based on the nature of the work and the services provided to Canadians and the current set-up of their workplaces. There are many factors to consider to ensure physical distancing, including guidelines which may be provided by the public health authorities and accommodated within the workplace. Effective return to workplace strategies will likely include balancing office work with remote work, improving network infrastructure and bandwith, and providing employees with access to mobility tools such as laptops, mobile phones and virtual collaboration platforms to ensure continued program delivery.

As employees return to buildings in greater numbers, operation and maintenance of building system will continue to meet regulatory requirements and to provide healthy working environments. Health agency and industry best practice guidelines will be monitored to ensure that government functions can be delivered in a safe environment. From a workspace perspective, additional measures anticipated:

Although occupancy levels are currently reduced, PSPC buildings remain operational and all mandatory maintenance and life safety system testing continue on our regular schedule ensuring that essential government functions can be delivered in a safe environment. Additional measures taken include:

Next steps

Continue engagement with central agencies to collaborate on updates to released guidance for workplace return to work strategies, as and when necessary.

Guidance includes balancing remote work and office occupancy, physical distancing within the office environment and in high traffic and common areas, responding to special cleaning requests, ensuring adequate performance of potable water and ventilation systems in line with up to date industry recommendations, and ensuring elevators and other alternative circulation pathways (stairwells) are well serviced.

While physical distancing and telework provisions are reducing general occupancy rates in our buildings at this time, PSPC is aware that preparations are well underway for the gradual return to work for federal departments and agencies.

In summary, in anticipation of gradual client department reoccupancy, PSPC is implementing measures to promote healthy and productive work environments in our buildings.

The new GCworkplace scenario

GCworkplace is about how we work, and not just about the design of the workplace. It is based on serving a mobile workforce and providing flexibility to employees.

Many departments have begun to take the steps necessary to enable remote and mobile working by issuing mobile devices, increasing network capacity and establishing flexible work policies. GCworkplace designs permit departments to decide how the space is used and to adapt easily to changing needs. Employees can choose their preferred work setting, which means they can respect social distancing and their individual preferences for distancing and are not restricted to a single work location. The open nature of GCworkplaces allows for easy and effective cleaning.

We are monitoring what industry world-wide is considering post-COVID-19 to determine if any adjustments would be necessary to the workplace design and ensuring our Government of Canada workplace fitup standards reflect current practice. For example, new requirements require that hallways and circulation spaces are sufficiently wide to enable more space for people to pass. The easily adaptable nature of the modern GCworkplace can incorporate these types of changes; however, our traditional workplaces will be more difficult to adapt.

We are closely monitoring industry best practices and the advice of the health agencies regarding shared spaces, including meeting rooms, kitchens, and common spaces to assess the need for cleaning stations at the entrances to common spaces.

GCcoworking

GCcoworking provides departments with access to inter-departmental shared space. Similar to GCworkplace, departments that are using GCcoworking spaces are well-positioned to adopt flexible return to work strategies. The GCcoworking workplaces are well positioned to support the return-to-work as an alternative work location. The 36 departments that have been onboarded, will have access to these alternate work locations, which are technology-enabled, meet security, workplace safety, and ergonomic requirements of employees. Upon re-opening of the sites, an additional 25 plus departments will be onboarded to ensure we provide additional flexibility to support government operations.

In order to respect cleaning and social distancing requirements, these spaces can be easily reconfigured and workpoints can be taken offline. The flexibility of GCworkplace applies to these spaces. We are currently reviewing the potential implementation of a space reservation system to minimize “walk-ins” to better plan utilization within these shared spaces.

Each GCcoworking site has an on-site representative, called a CoPro, whose role is to ensure the proper functioning of the site, ensure the health and safety of the site and its users, and to respond to various user queries. The CoPro observes the operations of the site and supplements regular cleaning by wiping down workpoints between users. Additional wipes will be available for any user of the site to conduct an extra wipe down of the workpoint before their use.

As user feedback is a key element of these workplaces. Users of the locations will be invited to complete a survey that includes questions related to user perception of the cleanliness, effectiveness, and the general health and safety of the site. This feedback will inform the operations of the sites going forward.

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