Federal government mulls co-working spaces for public service

The federal government is looking into new workspace possibilities for public service employees, potentially giving them a third option other than commuting to central offices and working from home.

According to Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the department is currently in the planning stage of “exploring innovative workplace solutions” that include co-working spaces for public servants.

Co-working spaces have seen a recent rise in popularity, giving self-employed or remote workers a location outside their homes to visit to get work done.

They’re typically open-concept spaces that include much of what an office would offer, such as printers, scanners and Wi-Fi.

When it comes to what these spaces may look like for the federal government, however, details remain scarce.

In an emailed statement, a PSPC spokesperson said the department was “unable to discuss specific locations at this point.”

The department did say it’s planning several permanent co-working spaces that will be available to employees “when weather or other circumstances make it impractical to travel to their usual workplace.”

Individual federal departments will have the responsibility of opting in, PSPC said, if they want their employees to have access to the spaces.

‘Sense of flexibility’

The spaces could potentially change the entire work culture associated with the federal public service, said Victoria Landreville, director of community engagement at Ottawa co-working space Coworkly.

“Ottawa has been primarily nine-to-five,” Landreville said.

“If they incorporate this sense of flexibility and adapting to people’s own schedule, I think that’s going to massively change the way the people in this city are going to think.”

During a 2016 public engagement survey on flexible work arrangements, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) found that 73 per cent of respondents had asked for flexible accommodations.

Over 1,200 Canadians responded to the survey, according to ESDC.

Many said flexible work led to more effective recruitment, a more diverse workforce, and a more inclusive environment for workers with disabilities or mental health issues.

Public servants weigh in

For some federal public servants, the concept is appealing.

Sylvia Bakker works for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, which is headquartered at Baseline and Merivale roads.

She said a co-working option in suburban areas might help the department attract and retain talent.

“Where we’re located, we have a hard time keeping people because people want to work downtown,” Bakker said.

“We’ve lost people who were in Orléans because it’s such a terrible commute for them.”

Another public service employee, Josée Laplante, said she commutes nearly 45 minutes each way to her downtown office.

While she’d like to use a co-working space occasionally, she also worried about the effect such spaces might have on her department’s morale.

“It depends on what it’s going to be like, because I think the team spirit is still really important in the workplace,” said Laplante.

“I see some challenges, but I think it’s a good idea. I would definitely work closer to home if I could.”

Carol Anne Meehan, city councillor for Gloucester-South Nepean, said having a co-working space available in Riverside South and other far-flung parts of the city would be a relief for those facing long commutes.

It would also mark a shift toward modernization for one of Ottawa’s biggest employers, she added.

“We have the technology today that people can really work from anywhere,” Meehan said.

“I think it’s an outdated work method where people always have to gather in the same location in the centre of a city.”

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