Ford, Sutcliffe Miss Work-At-Home Point: MULVIHILL

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Where are Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe coming from?

Ford and Sutcliffe weighed in lending support to the decision that public servants will be made to return to the office three days a week effective in September. This despite many downtown government offices in the process of converting to housing, construction and roadwork abound and public transit is a nightmare.

Ford and Sutcliffe believe they have everyone’s (shops, restaurants, pubs, etc.) best interests at heart. They could not be more wrong. Downtown government employees are a thing of the past.

“Three days is a good start,” Ford said. “When you’re coming (downtown), go out for lunch, maybe go into a store, pick something up, go to the mall — that’s what we need. That’s what stirs the economy.”

Is he really serious? Well, premier, Ottawa isn’t Toronto. Strolling into an over-priced restaurant for a leisurely lunch or buying that very expensive outfit in that cute little boutique window won’t happen. Those who do venture into the office are more than likely to bring their lunch along with a thermos of coffee.

Of course, no mention was made of traffic congestion, climate change, personal mental health, financial stability, family harmony and health, child care and support, eight-hour days becoming 12-hour days.

What Ford and Sutcliffe did manage to do is ensure their days in office are numbered.

Donna Mulvihill is a community activist and former hospital coordinator.


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7 Responses

  1. Val swinton says:

    Whole heartedly agree Donna. The benefits to families of having parents more available to their school age children, not having to keep them at pre-school and after school programs are too valuable to give up. I hope families fight hard to maintain working from home

  2. Kosmo says:

    @Val swinton, you make a very good case for ending work from home. Having pre-schoolers running around the house would make it hard to get anything done and after school programs start anytime after 2pm also making it hard to get anything done with kids coming home while working…

  3. C from Kanata says:

    When I retired last year, there were not enough work desks for the people to come in 2 x a week. Under Workplace 2.0, the Feds reduced the number of buildings and towers and sandwiched people from cubicals to desks they had to book in advance. People no longer had a desk to work at and managers and directors no longer had privacy for their sensitive work. In order to take a sensitive call, they had to try and find a quiet room, which were normally booked in advance. Those with disabilities who needed special equipment often couldn’t work in the office as their ergonomic chairs/set-ups could not be guaranteed. So there were less places to work by design. I saw that people often had to work from home because they couldn’t book a work space. For people that had to come in for meetings, they either left to work from home because they couldn’t get a spot or they worked in the lunch room – I even saw some sitting on the floor to work. So the issue really isn’t working from home, it is “Is there room for more people to work in the office?”, and if the answer is yes, only then can you have them come in to work. These announcements that people have to go to work for X days a week are absurd if there are not spaces at work for them to perform their tasks.

  4. John Langstone says:

    As I see this, we have multiple levels of government again probably bending to a business lobby at the expense of the lifestyle balance of government workers.

  5. Ron Benn says:

    Donna’s column and the comments (above) make it clear that this is a nuanced issue.

    One size does not fit all. Never has, never will. Some people are capable of working in an unstructured setting (home). Other people are not, facing too many distractions to remain productive for an extended time period. Some job functions can be performed from ‘anywhere’. Other job functions require access to data servers that, for cyber security reasons, must be accessed from within a controlled environment. Having said that there are sufficient studies referenced in the media that indicate that, at an aggregate level, productivity (# of units processed in a specified time period) is down by about 10% for those who work at home. Kosmo’s comments echo this concern. Is there any correlation between the significant increase in the number of federal public servants since 2020 and the above reported lower productivity levels? Don’t know. Do care.

    C in Kanata’s comment in particular about the physical changes made at the office level resonated with me. When done properly (see below) it can be an effective. When done without sufficient forethought, it can be an unmitigated disaster.

    Last month I had a tour of the reconfigured office space of the private sector company that I was CFO of prior to retiring. It has undergone a significant reconfiguration. Staff are asked to be in the office 3 days a week. The company now uses an approach of “hoteling” work stations. Booking, via an app, your work space for the day, and by the day. There are generic functional areas (document processing, accounting etc.) which staff tend to gravitate to. More meeting rooms for discussions. Staff have a cubicle to hold their personal desk items. It translates into fewer square feet, which reduces operating costs. According to the new CEO, productivity is slightly lower than pre-pandemic, but not materially so.

    The world changed in 2020. The work world also changed. And it will continue to change. We should not focus on a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Instead, the focus needs to be on effectiveness. Ease of administration should never trump operating effectiveness.

  6. Ron Benn says:

    John, I view the attempts by the various levels of government to synchronize hybrid work schedules through a different lens.

    Labour relations are a delicate challenge. City and provincial employees point to the federal government’s less demanding standards of attendance as part of their own work/life balance demands. Asking the federal government to join the junior levels in a 3 day hybrid work week eliminates that element of negotiations.

    Public transit is a vital service. A key part of the infrastructure of any municipality of a certain size. A size that Ottawa clearly meets. OC Transpo is bleeding cash. Profusely. OC Transpo’s ridership numbers are too far below critical mass for any of the three levels of government not to be concerned. The city has spent an inordinate amount of time and effort begging both the provincial and federal governments for funding. However, there is, as the saying goes, only one taxpayer. Getting people back to the office means more potential revenue for OC Transpo. Which means less demand for cash from the various levels of government.

    The city also has a financial interest in the success of businesses in downtown Ottawa. The city levies a business tax on them. Every business that closes due to a lack of customers means one less business paying business taxes. Reduced tax revenues, coupled with more of the operating budget being directed at covering OC Transpo’s operating losses is a losing proposition.

    This city continues to face a financial crisis. Too much money is going out. Not enough money is coming in. It is unfortunate that the mayor lacks the courage to speak clearly on matters of vital importance to the people of Ottawa.

  7. The Voter says:

    Very well said, Ron.

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