Many Municipalities and organizations within the broader Public Sector across Canada were heavily reliant on in-person work prior to the pandemic. Today, a hybrid workforce is the model many organizations and employees across the Public Sector are shifting to, but the real question remains for Mayors, Municipalities and HR leaders on how to successfully implement this.
A Pandemic Test-Run: How One Canadian Town Tried A Shortened Work Week and Hybrid Workforce
During the pandemic, the rural Town of Zorra (just east of London, Ontario), launched an 8-month pilot program of a 4-day work week in a hybrid environment. The first part of the trial for the Township’s 14 municipal office staff ran from September to December 2020, with the second four-month trial period beginning in July 2021. In an article, the Town of Zorra’s Chief Administrative Officer, Don MacLeod, commented that there had been no complaints from staff or the public, indicating no disruption of services. The trial divided teams into two groups, one working Monday through Thursday and the other working Tuesday through Friday, with each “workday” lasting 8.75 hours. Their salary and total working hours per week remained the same as before.
The results thus far have yielded an interesting impact to employees. Employees were able to spread personal activities across three weekend days instead of two, freeing up more time to be present, take care of errands and care for family members. Logistically, employees had to restructure their work day schedule to accommodate in-person meetings on overlapping work days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and leave individual work to the other hours. While at first the restructured work week took some getting used to, overall it allowed employees to have better work-life balance and feel recharged. The trial of the four-day work week in the Town of Zorra has yet to conclude, but initial benefits can already be seen including:
- Improving efficiency
- Reducing overhead
- Retaining current employees
- Attracting new talent
For The Town of Zorra, this experiment tested both the workweek itself with the added challenge of a hybrid workforce of essentially three collaboration days in-person. Many Canadians have suggested that a hybrid workforce of 3-4 days in office would provide sufficient balance for them and be ideal. The new challenges presented by a hybrid workforce will be how employees reconnect and reduce the barriers of in-person versus digital collaboration and socialization.
Rebuilding Collaboration, Community and Trust Through Culture
With the adoption of digital collaboration platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and more, teams were able to remain connected during the pandemic. However, many would argue that in-person collaboration is always more effective than these alternatives. As employees return to the office in a hybrid work environment, HR leaders will need to ensure that the barriers between virtual and in-person employees remain low. Leaders within the Public Sector will need to navigate this by developing new guidelines to maximize collaboration for in-person and remote teams such as:
- Requiring presentations or meetings to happen in-person
- Holding regular in-office Town/City Hall meetings once a month to bring together all employees
- For virtual meetings, requiring cameras to be on at all times
- Reward in-office days with perks, credits or rewards
- Enable and implement the same IT systems for virtual and in-office employees
- Plan water-cooler days where departments that overlap or work on projects together can collaborate casually in-person
- Encourage meetings and attendance to be conducted all via the same channel, either virtually or in-person
- Keep the number of meetings low
- Accommodate new physical workspaces that align with remote work environments
- Reimagining Organizational Culture
One of the things that arose from the pandemic was the sensitivity, awareness and elevation of mental health within society and the workplace. As Canada’s organizations begin to invest in a hybrid workforce, training, seminars, webinars and activities surrounding mental health can help individuals process the past 18 months from a work and personal perspective. These sessions will be critical to safely and successfully transitioning into a hybrid workforce.
Along with the mental shift of returning to an in-person office environment, communication methods will need to be refreshed and reassessed for any new employees that were on boarded during the pandemic. A revisit to any new employees’ initial onboarding can help leaders discover new aspects of their colleagues and help inform more effective in-person communication styles for delivering feedback, teaching and building trust.
There is no doubt that remote employees will feel a loss of freedom when returning to a hybrid work environment after enjoying the flexibility and comfort of working from home. At home, leaders and teams proved they could remain as productive as if they were in the office, however, new habits, behaviors, and routines arose to dictate working hours, team socialization, breaks, and more. As a result, Municipalities and other Public Sector organizations will need to re-engineer both their physical spaces and organizational culture to blend the “in-home” culture of flexibility with the “in-office” culture of collaboration.
About The Author
Kartik Kumar is a Partner at Legacy Executive Search Partners and has over 15 years experience in successfully executing 250 projects within the Public and Private Sector, including Municipal Government and Public Libraries. Kartik has a Bachelor’s in Business Management from Ryerson University and an accredited certification in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University.
Prior to joining Legacy Executive Search Partners, Kartik has held several Managing Director roles within large national and international executive search firms. He has successfully developed an executive search practice across Ontario and Canada within Municipal Government and the Broader Public Sector.
Contact Kartik to learn more ([email protected]) about Senior Leadership Recruitment within the Public Sector across Canada.