The dawn of a new work era

For Nielene Chand, the sudden shift to remote work at the onset of the pandemic was challenging. Like much of government, her agency was scrambling to roll out platforms and computer equipment to allow for remote work. Nielene, who is president of her local at Canada Revenue Agency, also worried about staying in touch with members who needed her help.

A year later, things have changed. “We’ve adapted to new tools and we’re working as efficiently at home as when we were in the office,” she explained. “Everyone is motivated by a deep sense of service to the public.”

The shift to virtual meetings also made it easier for Nielene to respond quickly to members requiring assistance while allowing her to participate in regional union activities more easily.

Remote work has perks and pitfalls 

For many workers, remote work can reduce the stress of commuting, eliminate the need for relocating, and create more flexibility to meet family needs. The ability to work from home has also opened up opportunities that were often dismissed before the pandemic.

“The pandemic has proven that we can change the status quo in what a typical workday can look like and has set a precedent for work-from-home accommodation requests that have been denied in the past,” said Krysty Thomas, who works at Agriculture Canada in Lethbridge. 

Despite the advantages of remote work, it is not without its drawbacks.

Working remotely can lead to social isolation, as well as making it harder to “turn off” at the end of the workday, factors that can increase stress.

Remote work is also not always readily accessible. Some technology used for remote work might not be compatible with screen readers or voice recognition software for people with disabilities.

As well, in online meetings, adequate interpretation is not always provided, which often makes it difficult for Francophones to fully participate.

Workers want flexibility

Many PSAC members say they would like to see a hybrid model in the post-pandemic era, where workers come into the office as needed. A recent poll of public and private sector workers in the National Capital Region found that nine out of 10 of those currently working from home would prefer to keep doing so — permanently or at least some of the time — once the pandemic ends. A hybrid model would give those with family or other caregiving obligations much-needed flexibility. 

PSAC will advocate for the continued use of remote work that is accessible, safe, and flexible and with strong mental health supports. Our union is listening to members’ feedback, and we will bring demands to the next round of negotiations to address members’ concerns.

Contributors: Alroy Fonseca and Allison Pilon

May 21, 2021