After Twitter and Shopify, Transport Canada? Federal department becoming work-from-home office by default

The Office is Over is a collection of Post stories looking at the how the pandemic has changed the view of the office. OTTAWA - As the federal government wrestles with how to bring employees back to the office after the COVID-19 pandemic, Transport Canada's default policy for the foreseeable future is to work from home, a decision in line with tech giants such as Twitter and Shopify. That's what Transport Canada's deputy minister announced to some 3,500 employees who tuned in to a departmentwide virtual town hall on Wednesday called TC Talks, according to multiple public servants who were on the call.

"The answer is yes, we will be continuing the ability to do telework as a default. Now, it can't work for every last person, and every last person doesn't want do it, but it will be an important default going forward," Michael Keenan responded to public servants' question on if teleworking by default would continue passed the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is going to open lots of good opportunities for how we organize our work

"Our default will be telework, and working virtually, and that's going to open up - as people have raised questions and comments - that is going to open lots of good opportunities for how we organize our work and how people can work remotely, not just in the same city but even between regions," he added during the virtual meeting, Transport Canada confirmed to the National Post. Asked on Thursday to comment his announcement, the deputy minister explained that teleworking would continue to be the default for the "foreseeable future" while the government continues to deal with the pandemic.

Transport Canada's top bureaucrat then added that his department is currently considering a return to the office for only a "small minority" of the department's over 6,000 workers. "Transport Canada is in the planning phase for the eventual return to the workplace for some employees -- for the small minority who need to return to the workplace to do their jobs effectively, or for those who want to return to the workplace," he continued. On Friday, a Transport Canada spokesperson also added that the "default" situation referred to the current norm of physical distancing.

"In the longer-term, we will want to leverage all the digital advancements we've made to seek the right balance of remote and in-office work that allows us to best serve Canadians and support the well-being of our employees," explained spokesperson Simon Rivet. On Wednesday, multiple Twitter users who identify as Transport Canada employees also took to the social network platform during and after the departmental town hall to celebrate the fact that working from home would continue to be the norm, not the exception. "(Transport Canada's deputy minister) sharing how working from home will continue to be the default approach for (Transport Canada) staff. #COVID__19 is our opportunity to leverage and benefit from the digital mindset and behaviours we've adopted," wrote M?lanie Copeland, a Transport Canada manager.

"We will be keeping the telework as the key default as we return back to the office" !!! #bravo, sir - I love it! Great for work-life-balance / work-life-integration #telework," tweeted Kofi Arthiabah, director, infrastructure operations, at Transport Canada. Both Copeland and Arthiabah's messages were retweeted by the department's Chief Digital Officer, Julie Leese.

If Transport Canada ultimately keeps a default work-from-home policy beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be the first federal department to join the ranks of tech giants such as Shopify and Twitter who have made similar announcements in recent weeks. "Until recently, work happened in the office. We've always had some people remote, but they used the internet as a bridge to the office.

This will reverse now. The future of the office is to act as an on-ramp to the same digital workplace that you can access from your (work from home) setup," Shopify's CEO Tobi Lutke announced via social media on May 21. In order for a default work-from-home policy to be successful, an organization must have the technological infrastructure to fully support it.

Not a problem, says Transport Canada's deputy minister. "Transport Canada's digital transformation has been underway for more than two years. Because of this switch to a more modern and agile way of working, I am pleased to say that the vast majority of Transport Canada employees were able to seamlessly move into telework mode, pretty much over the weekend in mid-March," Keenan said via email.

We are also 'cutting the cord'

"Our shift to digital workflows means that the majority of employees have mobile devices -- tablets or laptops.

We are also 'cutting the cord' and getting rid of traditional landline phones and equipping our employees with smartphones instead," the deputy minister continued. He added that Transport Canada significantly increased its bandwidth speed, number of remote-working licences, quality of IT hardware, and availability of collaborative-working apps, such as Microsoft Tools. Could these changes extend to the rest of the public service?

The Treasury Board Secretariat -- the department that acts as the federal employer -- wouldn't say. But a spokesperson did promise that changes to the way public servants work are certainly to be expected. "This pandemic will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on our way of life and on the way we work, and though a lot of uncertainty remains, planning is well underway," Bianca Healy responded via email, insisting that workplace and employee safety was the primary concern.

o Email: [email protected] | Twitter: ChrisGNardi

You may also like...