Calgary

Calgary's city manager wants office staff back at the workplace

While most city workers who drive vehicles or work outdoors have continued working as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been a different story for inside office staff.

Union says workers believe they're more productive working at home

More than 5,400 city workers began working remotely in March 2020 when the pandemic hit. About 2,000 office staff continue to work from home full time. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Several thousand City of Calgary office workers will soon be heading back to their workplace on a more regular basis.

While most municipal workers who drive vehicles or work outdoors have continued working as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been a different story for inside office staff.

More than 5,400 city workers began working remotely in March 2020 when the pandemic hit as the city tried to limit the spread of the virus.

Since then, many have gradually been spending some time in the office.

As of spring 2022, many office workers have been at the office three days a week and working two days a week at home.

However, 2,000 staff continue to work from home full time.

City manager David Duckworth said it's time for that to change.

He is directing supervisors to return to the office four days a week, starting in early March.

Staff who signed full-time work from home agreements during the pandemic have been told those arrangements will not be extended.

A man speaks in front of a backdrop.
'For our culture and our organization, we value — strongly — in-person, face-to-face contact," says city manager David Duckworth. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Starting in early April, they will join their colleagues three days a week in the office and working the other two days at home.

"We felt we needed to get a majority of our staff back to work," said Duckworth. "For our culture and our organization, we value — strongly — in-person, face-to-face contact."

He acknowledged that employees with special medical needs will not be forced to return to the office and will continue to work from home.

Duckworth also said that flexible work arrangements will remain in place at the city, so there won't be a future directive calling for a mandatory, five-day-a-week return to the office for all staff.

The president of the union local representing the city's inside workers told CBC News that some of his members have been expressing disappointment with the city manager's decision.

D'Arcy Lanovaz with local 38 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees said many city office workers have been pleased with the hybrid work from home arrangements.

"People have had a work-from-home arrangement in place for several years now that they certainly see as working. They're able to get the work done," said Lanovaz.

"Their view is they're actually highly productive if not more productive than when they're at the employer's workplace."

Lanovaz said he's heard some of his members are scrambling to line up child care.

Others are saying the directive flies in the face of the city's environmental policies, aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

"Many are questioning, why are you making me commute in more often if we want to be an environmental city and a leader in that front? Why are we forcing more commuting? Why are we clogging up the roadways?"

Lanovaz acknowledged the city manager's directive does not violate the union's collective agreement, so he has no plans to file a grievance against the decision.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Dippel

Politics Reporter

Scott Dippel has worked for CBC News in a number of roles in several provinces. He's been a legislative reporter, a news reader, an assignment editor and a national reporter. When not at Calgary's city hall, it's still all politics, all the time.

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