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The Future of Work

Understanding that people will continue to be working in new ways has human resources departments hopping, which is why the future of work was the subject of a panel called “The Future of Work in the Public Sector” at Canadian Government Executive’s recent DX Summit. Many of the attendees at the event are from the federal government. Read this blog post for a summary of the highlights.

One of the biggest challenges, said Dr. Isabelle Caron with the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University, is that working from home blurs the line between the professional and the personal.

Many employees don’t have an unused room or separate area to set up as an office, so they are often doing their jobs from their living room. (I am.) If an employee runs an errand midday, some feel they must work overtime or be available late into the evening. And it’s also often forgotten that not everyone has secure, quality broadband in their home.

Some managers have missed what they once saw as control over their workers. Although many federal employees were working a couple of days a week at home before the pandemic, some managers worried about not seeing people work. People are either productive or they are not and “a manager looking over the shoulder of an employee”, said Caron, “does not necessarily make the employee more productive”. Depending on the job, some people are more productive with fewer interruptions and location does not make a big difference. Ironically, managing people from home has exposed who is a good manager and who is not.

She warns that as the pandemic lessens and managers ask people to return to the office, workers can rightfully say, “but I was doing my job just fine from home, why can’t I continue?”

Some people want to go to an office as they are in a multigenerational home. Some miss the brainstorming that happens in the office. Some young people admit they are lonely working and living alone. But most people don’t want to come into an office every day because they just don’t want to commute.

Alex Miller confirmed this is what employee surveys at Esri Canada say, and he warned that working from home is no longer a treat, which implies “we don’t really trust you”; rather, managers must be creative and adaptive, or they will lose people. There has been a generational shift with more people leaving than entering the workforce and post-pandemic, employees have different expectations. In the US, they are resigning to work as they want, and we will find that in Canada too, he predicted, even in the public sector.

“Work is what you do, not where you go,” he said, quoting Kevin Radford, former assistant deputy minister of real property services with the federal government.

Miller pointed out that remote work—and at Esri Canada almost every job can be done remotely—is having a huge impact on smaller cities and some towns. Esri Canada has tripled the number of people working out of our Halifax office. There’s a big migration to provinces where housing is cheaper. Also, if the public sector were able to spread employees out equally across the country, he thinks those people would have a much wider perspective towards policy creation.

Working from home may also revolutionize personal transportation. People may one day have mobile offices: small electric cars which have a desk, air conditioning and privacy, and if you’re needed in the office, you drive to and work in the parking garage.

“This is not science fiction. Volkswagen is working on this,” said Miller.

To hear more insights about the future from Alex Miller, listen to the Geographical Thinking Podcast’s episode on the history and future of GIS.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.