Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said the federal government should study how hybrid work is affecting productivity in the public service.
Mr. Giroux made the comments Tuesday to senators one day after the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada reached a tentative deal to end a strike affecting more than 120,000 federal government workers.
PSAC members negotiated a letter of agreement that outlines what it described as “fair” decision-making on working from home. This allows managers to look at individual requests for remote work instead of implementing a single policy for an entire group.
“I think the most important measure is the difference in productivity,” Mr. Giroux said. “I don’t think that the Treasury Board Secretariat or the government have studied that, and our office has not done this either, because we don’t have all the information we would need.”
As an employer, he said he also faces requests for remote work. He added that hybrid work may create some expenses, but could also save money if it leads to reduced demand for office space.
He added in a follow-up statement to The Globe and Mail that his office is not planning to look into this, given it would “require a lot of detailed, program-specific information.” He said the Treasury Board would likely be in the best position to undertake this work.
Many workplaces had to adapt quickly when COVID-19 measures scattered teams apart and forced people to work from home. While some workers found it difficult, especially at first, many preferred their new work environment, because it reduced the time and expense of commuting and allowed for more time with family.
An announcement in December mandated that federal public servants return to work in person two to three days a week. It was fully implemented by the end of March.
Union leaders were seeking certainty about the future of hybrid work. One of PSAC’s key demands during its strike, which began April 19 and ended Monday, was to include clear new rules about hybrid work as part of the collective agreement. The union did not achieve this, but the letter of agreement could still set an example for workplaces across the country.
Linda Duxbury, a Chancellor’s Professor of Management at Carleton University and an expert on work-life balance, said there are no effective ways of measuring productivity.
“Most people who work remotely work more hours during the week,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean they were more productive; it just means they worked more hours.”
“Figuring out how to measure productivity is going to be a really big challenge, so good luck to them,” she added.
The tentative deal announced Monday includes a 12-per-cent pay increase over four years, including a 0.5-per-cent wage adjustment that applies in the third year of the deal. It also included a pensionable lump-sum payment of $2,500.
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said the deal will cost the government about $1.3-billion a year.
It is not yet clear how this additional cost will affect the federal government’s fiscal position, which was last detailed in the March 28 federal budget. During the budget lockup briefing for journalists, a senior government official said an estimate of potential increases in employee compensation was included in the government’s numbers, but adjustments may be required later after deals are approved. The official did not provide details as to the government’s internal estimates. The Globe is not identifying the official because the briefing was conducted under the condition that they not be named.
Senator Ian Shugart, who was clerk of the Privy Council and Canada’s top public servant from April, 2019, until May, 2022, said the government would not have been able to predict the cost of the agreement.
“It’s a sizable outlay,” Mr. Shugart said.