Ottawa

Federal public service lays out back-to-office plan

Most federal public servants will be working remotely for the foreseeable future — some even permanently — as individual departments take up the task of bringing back their most critical staff first, according to new return-to-work guidelines from the Treasury Board of Canada.

Most public servants will work remotely for foreseeable future, some permanently

President of the Treasury Board Jean-Yves Duclos listens during a press conference on COVID-19 at West Block on Parliament Hill, March 25, 2020. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Most federal public servants will be working remotely for the foreseeable future — some even permanently — as individual departments take up the task of bringing back their most critical staff first, according to new return-to-work guidelines from the Treasury Board of Canada.

The federal government sent most of its roughly 250,000 workers home in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Certain employees remained in the office only in exceptional circumstances.

At a news conference Monday, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said the return will be gradual, will vary by department and will put health and safety first.

There are no government-wide standards and no dates are included in the guidelines, though Duclos did say he thinks the first public servants can return shortly.

Instead, deputy heads of government departments will be in charge of determining critical priorities, who can perform the work, whether it has to be done in an office, how those offices can be kept safe, and when those critical employees could potentially return.

Department managers are in charge of communicating with employees about when they could potentially return.

Duclos said one lesson learned from the pandemic is that it's possible and perhaps practical for some public servants to work from home permanently.

"We've started reflecting on the number of offices and office spaces that we want over the next few years, as the private sector is doing," he said.

The federal government has doubled its number of secure connections to its servers to 280,000, and since mid-March has increased its teleconference capacity to 100,000 workers at any given time, he said.

WATCH: Work flexibility to continue after pandemic

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos says the coronavirus pandemic has proved that it is possible for many federal employees to work remotely. 0:54

The guidelines lean on public health agencies for advice on equipment and COVID-19 testing, on Public Service and Procurement Canada for workplace cleaning and office equipment, and on Shared Services Canada for the government's vast IT network.

The guidelines call on each department to come up with a plan to handle a potential second wave of COVID-19.

Some staff could be asked to come into the office only part of the time, and continue working remotely the rest. The guidelines call on managers to consider the availability of services such as child care and public transit in their communities.

A quiet Tunney's Pasture federal government complex in Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic on June 22, 2020. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The guidelines recognize the stress caused by the pandemic, and the potential effects of returning to work on employees' mental health. Managers are reminded to ensure employees are aware of resources available to them.

Duclos praised public servants for their work on the COVID-19 response, including facilitating emergency benefits and helping Canadians return from foreign countries during the crisis.

Most public servants will work remotely for the foreseeable future, some permanently. The President of the Treasure Board of Canada Jean-Yves Duclos describes what going back into the workplace will look like for public servants. 9:54

According to the latest government data, 409 federal public servants had tested positive for COVID-19 as of June 17.

Nearly half of those were in Quebec, not including Gatineau, and 74 were in the National Capital Region.

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