Flex Work, Downtown & Accountability
Photo Credit: CBC
On Monday May 16, 2022, the CAO presented an overview of a Flexible Workplace Program to Councillors in the morning, then implemented the plan later that same day. To be clear, I fully support a flex work program, but it is important to taxpayers of Winnipeg, that they are assured the program is being implemented with proper accountability measures. The Flexible Workplace program enables up to 1800 City employees the opportunity to apply to work up to 5 days a week remotely. Of the 1800 staff working remote, the CAO indicated 1,100 staff worked downtown. Additional details regarding the Flexible Workplace program are included in the Administrative Standards document. It is important to note, Flexible Workplace Program was not reached through collective agreement negotiations, yet unionized employees are able to request support from their Union or Association related to this Administrative Standard.
A survey of City employees indicated:
- 52% would choose 1-4 days remote;
- 43% would choose 5 days remote;
During the presentation, the following points were not addressed with Councillors:
- No mention how the reduction in downtown employees would impact the recovery of downtown,
- No mention of benefits to residents (though benefits to the employees, employer and city were mentioned),
- No accountability measurements / data were going to be reported on and presented to Council on the impact to services resulting from the Flexible Workplace Program.
BENEFITS TO RESIDENTS:
Following additional requests to the CAO and implementation team, Councillors were informed that a Flexible Workplace Program would provide:
- Better customer service provided by a more engaged workforce with less turnover
- Better value for money from a more productive and performant city workforce
- More responsive city services provided by a more agile and resilient public service
Personally I find the list of benefits astounding, and look forward to data supporting these claims. The list benefits also cause me concern about how the City employees who must remain in the office are performing, and how the CAO will improve the work environment for City employees who must work in the office.
DOWNTOWN RECOVERY PLAN is ABOUT PEOPLE:
Every City in North America is experiencing major challenges because of COVID. People are not returning to offices which is negatively impacting business viability, safety is being compromised because of fewer people, and the combination of few businesses and fewer people are reducing the vibrancy of the downtown.
- The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, the Exchange District BIZ, and the West End BIZ; CentreVenture Development Corporation; Tourism Winnipeg; and, City of Winnipeg have put together a Downtown Recovery Framework consisting of 5 key streams of focus,
- $10 M in City funding is supporting the Revitalizing Places stream of the Economic Response and Recover Program for Downtown
- $20 million in Tax Increment Financing is being provided to developers to build more housing in the downtown.
All of this funding and work is about investing in places and spaces to attract and sustain more people downtown.
I was challenged by the Flexible Workplace Program because:
- Having fewer City employees working downtown is against what taxpayers are funding and what so many downtown organizations are working towards – to attract and sustain more people downtown.
- There was no mention of any accountability back to Council, on how the benefits to residents was going to be tracked, monitored and reached,
- And this program is to become permanent – with no trial period.
I prepared a draft motion with the goal of seeking a balance of work from home while supporting downtown, and to seek accountability for taxpayers. The motion asked:
- to allow a maximum of two days remote vs up to five
- to pilot the program for 18 months vs permanent,
- to have reports on accountability presented to Council to ensure the benefits being claimed were indeed being met.
I brought the draft motion forward to the Councillors on the Innovation Committee (Councillors Chambers, Orlikow and Gillingham) to discuss further. Councillors unanimously agreed to send the final Flexible Workplace motion forward to the Mayor and his Executive Policy Committee for consideration.
Following much discussion the Mayor and his Executive Policy Committee decided:
- That the CAO be directed to report back to Council within 60 days on how the Flexible Workplace Program aligns with City of Winnipeg’s Human Resource goals, objectives and meets service delivery standards.
- That after the first year of the Flexible Workplace Policy, the CAO be directed to report back to Council within 60 days with measurable data identifying benefits, challenges, and opportunities related to the impact on work productivity, customer service standards and value for taxpayer money as a result of the implementation of the Flexible Workplace Program.
- That the Winnipeg Public Service be directed to work with the Downtown BIZ and other appropriate stakeholders to measure the potential impact on the downtown economy with the goal to have no negative impact on the downtown economy.
In summary, thank you to the Downtown Biz and so many others that spoke in support of finding a flexible work balance with the needs of downtown. I don’t feel the Flexible Workplace Program is designed to support downtown recovery, but am pleased to see accountability to Council and taxpayers will be tracked, monitored and reported on publicly.
- Video of my presentation to Mayor and Executive Policy Committee and questions directed to me from Councillors: Video
- My presentation to the Mayor and his Executive Policy Committee: Presentation to EPC
Thank you to media for covering this important issue:
Winnipeg Free Press: