'Culture of presenteeism' blamed as Ottawans travel to work in snowstorm

Thousands of people braved Tuesday's record-setting snowstorm and went to work despite the city's urgings — and that doesn't surprise Robyn Bews at all.

Thousands braved record-breaking snowfall, bringing roads, transit to a standstill

Commuters waiting to get home in the afternoon faced waits of an hour or more as OC Transpo buses faced serious delays on Ottawa's snow-filled roads. (CBC)

During Tuesday's record-breaking snowstorm in Ottawa, thousands of people braved the weather and went to work — despite the city's suggestion that employees stay home.

That fact doesn't surprise Robyn Bews.

"I think there's an incredible culture of presenteeism that permeates most organizations still, but particularly, probably, federal government," said Bews, the Calgary-based executive director of WORKshift, on CBC Ottawa's All In A Day Thursday afternoon.

"This is about valuing seeing employees in the office ... organizations that still feel like they need to see their employees physically in the office are a little bit antiquated."

Mass transit came to a near standstill Tuesday after the federal government decided at around 1 p.m., without telling OC Transpo, to let thousands of public servants go home early.

Keith Egli, chair of the city's transportation committee, told CBC Ottawa on Wednesday that if the workers left waiting at bus stops were instead working from home, the commute wouldn't have been so cumbersome.

"We've already entered into some discussions with them around what happened [Tuesday] and how it could've been handled better," said Egli.

City 'leading by example'

This week isn't the first time the city has promoted working from home, however.

For the past three years, WORKshift has been a city partner in transforming its workplace so that more people are able to work outside of the office.

The City of Ottawa is one of a handful of Canadian cities that are "leading by example" when it comes to creating a more flexible work culture — an important method for attracting young people into the public sector, said Bews.

"Our research shows that flexible work is a really key way to do that," she said. "So there's a lot of wins associated with organizations getting their heads wrapped around this."