An arms-length government agency is taking a chance and exploring what it may need to do to get its staff of approximately 400 employees working from home — permanently.
The Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) on the province’s tender website earlier this month.
It asks for proponents to help the WCB build and plan a long-term remote workplace strategy.
Experts told Global News it’s just another example of industries looking to innovate and re-think the processes they’ve used for decades.
Many of the compensation board’s employees work out of three sites, two of which are in Halifax and one in Sydney.
But like many workplaces across the globe, the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed that, with most of the WCB workforce working from home.
Stuart MacLean, CEO of the WCB, said the transition to getting workers set up and online was completed in a relatively short period of time but that it was a positive experience.
“The pandemic has shown us it’s by definition been a major disrupter and it’s thrown us right into innovation mode,” said MacLean.
Although it has not been without its challenges, shifting most of the WCB workforce to working remotely has been a success.
“We’ve just done something major and we’ve come through OK,” MacLean said.
The WCB isn’t the only business that has successfully transferred to working from home.
One of the largest digital companies in the world, Google, recently announced that it will allow employees to work from home until June 2021.
Kevin Kelloway is a professor of psychology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and an expert in industrial and organizational psychology.
Companies working from home has been something that was already available for certain fields of employment, but it’s something that has “increased dramatically” during the pandemic, Kelloway said.
“[Working from home was] available to sort of senior managers, directors and people at the top of the organization,” said Kelloway.
“It was seen as a perk.”
The pandemic made what was once a perk into — at least for now — a temporary necessity.
Both Kelloway and MacLean spoke to Global News via video chat for this story. Both are working from home.
Even though some workers are beginning to move back into the office as cases in Nova Scotia decrease, MacLean said it’s the disruptive nature of the pandemic that has provided the opportunity to explore creating a more permanent flexible work environment.
He stressed that there’s no timeline for when, or if, the WCB may shift to permanently working from home.
But MacLean said the RFP is the earliest phase and is something that will allow them to think about what their opportunities and options are.
“What it does is it raises the question, what about [working from home] has been good? What about that has been a challenge?” he said.
“Does it make sense for us to just all go back to the regular building where we worked before?“
Kelloway says the pandemic has given many people and organizations the opportunity to “re-think” about whether it’s necessary to make people pile into offices Monday through Friday.
For government agencies, even those that operate an arms-length away, it can be particularly challenging to implement new or radical ideas.
“Fundamentally, they’re spending our money,” said Kelloway. “So people always are very critical about what governments do and whether they’re doing it most efficiently.”
Governments are therefore slow to change as they don’t want to set themselves up as a political target, Kelloway said.
In a statement, Nova Scotia said approximately 70 per cent of its workplace is back in the office, either on a rotating or full-time basis.
“The numbers of employees physically in the workplace will continue to increase as departments phase in their plans and we will assess and adapt regularly,” said Chrisy Matheson, a spokesperson for the province.
Matheson didn’t indicate what was in the cards for the long-term future of working from home for government employees.
Kelloway said the risk-adverse position of the government is also what makes the WCB putting the option out to tender remarkable.
It’s the first organization in the N.S. government to explore working from home on a permanent basis.
It’s a challenge and an opportunity that MacLean is eager to seize.
“As the custodians of the money and all the different things that go along with it, we have to ask ourselves is, does the model that was developed perhaps 50 years ago still make sense in the modern world,” he said.
Kelloway told Global News that the careful approach by the WCB through an RFP is a good idea, and he said the benefits of working from home are there.
“People are as productive or sometimes more productive when they work at home … employees generally tend to like working at home,” Kelloway explained.
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