Transcript – Episode 39: Chat with Charlène Janvier, Bruce Murdock and Luc Raymond

Welcome to The GAC Files, a podcast about the people, issues and ideas driving Global Affairs Canada.

And now introducing your host, Global Affairs Canada’s deputy minister of International Trade, John Hannaford.

John Hannaford: Okay, excellent. Ok, good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to have another conversation about our department and the issues that are important to us as a community.

I’m really happy today to have an opportunity to talk a little bit about some of the work that we have been doing in planning for an eventual partial return to the workplace, so a return to work, because obviously work has been going on at a sort of feverish pitch since the onset of COVID-19. But the department has been doing some work in anticipation of an eventual partial return. And this is a chance for us to hear from some of the people who are the most directly implicated in that.

I’m very happy to have Bruce Murdock, Luc Raymond and Charlène Janvier join me today to share their perspectives. Bruce is the Director of Corporate Security in our Emergency Management branch, Luke is Director of Domestic Accommodations in the Corporate branch, and Charlène is the acting director of Corporate Health Programs in our HR branch.

So welcome everyone. Really, it’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to see you. Actually, because we’re on WebEx now, this is a little different for me, as host of these events.

Bruce, I’ll start with you.

You know, there’s planning, as I say, going on in anticipation of a signal to at least begin a partial return to the workplace, but maybe give us a little bit of a sense as to, you know, what timing looks like and how you see this kind of unfolding from your perspective in Emergency Management.

Bruce Murdock: Well, thanks very much, Deputy. At this point, we really do not have an anticipated date for the return to the workplace. So it’s sort of odd that we’re planning something that we don’t know the date of at this point. During the last 3, almost 3 months, we’ve only had about 250 people working in our buildings across Canada and a few in our missions abroad, as you know, we’ve showed really that working digital by default, as people call it, largely works. We will not know about our return to workplace really until we get directions from our health and safety partners, from Health Canada or PHAC or OCHRO [Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer] or even PSPC, which is providing guidance I know to Luke, for example, on buildings and building management. So once we get that guidance, we’ll be in a better position to know when people come back to the workplace. So really, the guidance is going to come from them. And any work that we’re doing is based really on what they will say. Right now we’re in the planning stage.

We call it step zero because the only people we have in our buildings are people who keep our buildings functional for almost the last 3 months. And during that time, I’ve chaired the all Hazard Response and Recovery Committee [ARRC], and it’s been a cross-section of functional responsibilities across the department. Make sure we can do the planning and implement the measures that’ll have allowed people to work remotely and working from home in their living rooms and kitchens and basements and things like that. And it’s worked very, very well. I think we’ve shown that we can work at home. But when the call is to say to come back to the workplace, it’ll be done gradually and it’ll be phased. And it won’t be all at once, certainly in the sense that we do it, the driver will be health and safety and health and safety of our employees above all. We’re doing a lot of work collectively just to ensure that certain measures will be put in place so when people come back to work, not only do they feel safe, but they are safe. It will be transformative. It’ll be significant. We’ve had some people, for example, come into 125 Sussex the last couple months after not being there, and they’ve been shocked to the measures they’ve seen that’ve been put in place since their departure in mid-March.

So the key what we’re doing is ensuring the principles we have domestically are applied internationally in our missions abroad.

And the first health and safety is the first principle we’re really basing everything on and trust that we’re all doing this together and we’ll be flexible. We all acknowledge we’ve never been through this before. Nobody has, so we’ll be innovative.

We have to be flexible. These are things that we’re learning and sometimes learning on the fly. And we’re making changes on the fly too just make sure things work. So I guess to say really to conclude here, at this point is, is the collaboration part, just like you said, and your Deputy colleagues have said, we’re all this together and we just want to be in the position that when the call is made that employees can come back to the workplace. We’ve done everything we can to make sure there’s safety and security.

John Hannaford: Right. And also to avoid any surprises. That’s why we’re going through this exercise right now is to be a kind of methodical as we approach this set of issues.

Bruce Murdock: One hundred percent, we are mapping things out and we’re doing you know, we’re doing a lot of work in the sense of consultations as much as we can across the department to get people’s views, employees and managers. And are Labor colleague allies, our departmental champions, our branch coordinators as much as we can to get people’s views on how this could work and how this can work well. We want people’s input. This is certainly not a top, top down exercise in that sense. A lot of people are feeding in and certainly we’re looking at best practices well, from other government departments, from other levels of government, how the private sector is doing it. There’s a lot of work in that sense that we’re doing to ensure we’re doing our utmost. And I know we’ll get into a little bit later, perhaps, but all the measures we’re putting in place. But I’m confident that we’re doing the utmost that we can make sure people are safe and secure when we get back to work.

John Hannaford: Excellent, thanks a lot, Bruce.

Luc, you’re responsible for workplace planning. What are the foreseeable plans for our work environment? And what details can we expect?

Luc Raymond: Thank you. Hello! There are so many new factors influencing the equation right now that even though the private sector, the public sector, are working very hard to try to define what our new workplace realities are, no clear picture is emerging yet. But the common denominator in all of this is that, really, the first thing everyone has to think about—employees and everyone in the workplace—is health and safety, whether it’s those who work in the building, cleaning, like all our employees. Everyone’s affected by this. 

It’s obvious that distancing will have a significant impact on our density, our occupancy: open workstations circulation pinch points common and service areas, access to the building and elevator. We’re looking at installing a lot more touchless features where we can to prevent transmission. Finishes that will also be easier to clean. Virus transmission will also influence prevention of virus transmission, excuse me, will also be present in our workspace handwashing station, PPE stations, new workplace cleaning protocol for employees using space enhance building cleaning. Right now, we’re piloting a couple of new technology UVs for elevator, clearing up the mail parcel, even commissionaires’ clothing as they come in and out of the building. And also localize air filtering systems are being piloted. Buildings will have increased fresh air and increased ventilation. And I think the best tools to fight the virus will be the workplace ethic that our colleagues in HR are developing. We need to rigorously follow that. Another impact is the flexible and mobile workforce, significant increase in teleworking, usage of laptops and new peripheral, paperless environment. I think we made a giant step in that direction. We need to better accommodate our teleworkers at home also, especially those that may remain there for a long period. And our existing workplace, we need to create some teleworker hubs. We also need to implement more virtual tools for desktop and meeting rooms to help facilitate that communications, there’s also lots of indirect impact that we’ll have to manage. I mean, just managing the parking will be different. People will not be coming all at the same time. We might have schedules, shared parking, cafeteria and food court. And I’ve noticed in my area, and I’m sure it’s like that everywhere in my neighborhood, lots more people walking, cycling, exercising outdoors. So I think that will be the same trend in the workplace. So gym and exercise area. Through the 125 retrofit project, we’re considering two new exterior exercise areas and a new revamped gym, shower and change facilities because maybe people will be more confident running or biking to work. So new indoor bicycle parking facilities, showers and change room by Christmas at 125 Sussex. I think all those peripheral aspects will also play a role that we need to assess ahead of time and include in our equation. Not only focus on the small workstation that’s going to change, but a holistic approach to the workspace.

John Hannaford: Great. Thanks very much, Luc.

There’s clearly a mental health aspect to this type of change. Charlène, what strategies are available to people to deal with the type of anxiety associated with this kind of change?

Charlène Janvier: Yes, absolutely, that’s a very good question. I’m glad, Mr. Hannaford, that you’ve asked this question, because it’s not surprising that we’re reluctant to go back to the office. We have to remember that there are people who can feel very stressed and anxious about physically returning to the office.

I have to say that these questions that employees have are such as « Is the employee safe to return to work? Does my department have the right proper tools and equipment and protocols to keep me safe? Or even could a return to work, affect my loved ones? » Now, these are all legitimate questions that one could ask themselves in the midst of a physical return to work. And I have to say that these are the questions that are guiding our response to the physical return to work plan. And our approach right now comes down to three main points: relying on the expert as a first start. We are insuring that our workplace complies with the federal and provincial requirements and guidelines including those of PHAC and TBS. For now, we believe that the remote work, the telework arrangement and your reliance on collaborative tools are great to continue, with regards to Microsoft Teams and GC collaboration. The second part is that we’re also asking everybody to be patient and to be really well understanding as the new workspace are going to be configured to respect social distancing and where hand sanitizer will become more available. Employees will be asked to respect these protocols so that we all remain safe in the workplace. And the third but not least comes down to the communication piece. Communicate, communicate, communicate. We believe in HR that employees should definitely receive updated information. Be involved with the etiquette so that they feel supported. This also requires the recognition that the psychological impact of returning to work to a new normal is as important as addressing the logistical issues. So it’s OK to feel anxious. It’s OK to feel stressed and to also remind employees that there are great resources out there to help support them as well, such as our great employee assistance programs [EAP] that are available at any time. And there are many tools out there and guiding tools and resources on the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s website to support employees through this transition back to the office.

So that would be my initial thought on that subject for sure.

John Hannaford: Thanks a lot, Charlène. What adjustments are available for people who are at higher risk in these situations? Are any arrangements available for this type of employee?

Charlène Janvier: Yes, absolutely. I would say that, first of all, before we proactively implement all kinds of specific protections for a particular high-risk employee, we must first determine the inability or limitations... significant limitations or restrictions could perhaps have a direct impact on an employee’s health in the workplace. Once we determine the impact [on] or threat [to] or incapacity of an employee, it’s up to the employer to determine what accommodation is reasonable. So this leads to the question: what kind of adjustment could be considered reasonable accommodation? There are many examples, including providing additional or improved personal protective equipment. We could also develop measures to increase the distance between the offices of employees and their colleagues, reposition a workstation away from other people’s workstations, and also make changes to work schedules so that a higher-risk employee could work outside peak hours and also, very importantly, maintain current work arrangements. So all guidelines and policies on return-to-work accommodation, on the capacity-management component, remain the same. And also reiterate two points: to also safeguard extremely important protected employee information pertaining to medical information and also to ensure that we maintain links with our health and safety committees and also our consultations with our bargaining agents and unions. Because they are our allies. And we must also work with them to support employees’ return.

John Hannaford: Bruce, maybe come back to you. What are the arrangements that we’re considering for the missions and particularly issues around testing, which may be variable in some of the situations in which our missions, find themselves? Just want to get a sense as to what the plans are looking like with respect to those sorts of situations.

Bruce Murdock: Thank you, Deputy, I know that our health and safety colleagues will want to weigh on this as well.

But any provision of health matters, I know they’ll want to take leadership on that and we’ll provide the utmost whatever is required. The guidance is provided from our Health Canada colleagues. I know Charlène and her colleagues are in touch with Health Canada and PHAC and OCHRO on those discussions. And I know they’re well positioned to speak to that. Should there be a requirement to provide any such things like that or testing or temperature taking, I know they will follow that direction. And certainly from our perspective, we’ll do our utmost, obviously, to provide that to our missions abroad to ensure that those measures can be put in place. We have to see what that call is, of course, and what those decisions are. And I guess as soon as our health partners indicate that I know our health and safety colleagues want to act on that. And we certainly will do our utmost to support that and support all our colleagues at missions abroad and in that regard.

John Hannaford: Good, alright, well, look, I think, you know, I think we’ve sort of covered a fair bit of ground. There’s obviously been an awful lot of planning that’s started. And we’ve got more work to be done, clearly. But, you know, I think the key messages are that this will be a methodical, health-based series of steps. And frankly, you know, we’re going to be in a period where some people will be working from home, some people will be working from the office probably for quite a period of time now. And that’s just going to be part of our new reality. And we’ve seen that that works. I mean, I think one of our collective experiences over the last period of time has been seeing the department be highly functional in a situation where we’re working from our bedrooms and basements and that’s you know, that, that’s OK as long as we can continue to produce. And that’s obviously the sort of that’s a critical piece. And we do it in a way that’s mindful of the pressures that people are under.

Any sort of, you know I’m just interested in the three of you as individuals, how are you feeling about the possible return to the office? Does it make you nervous? Are you kind of feeling that this is something that you’re anxious to have happen? Or what’s your personal reaction to this? Maybe start with you Charlène.

Charlène Janvier: Yes. So that’s thank you for this question, Deputy. I am of the view that I’m pretty engaged. I do miss going back to work and being with my colleagues and having the social interaction. I do miss that. There’s a difference between communicating and engaging with electronics. But there’s something to be said about having coffee with your colleague and having lunch and all that. So I do miss that component. But I have to say, going back to this holistic approach of returning to work, I do believe that we are a resilient workforce. And I do believe that this transition will make us more successful in the immediate future and definitely thrive in the long-term.

So that’s what I would have to say. Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity, Deputy.

John Hannaford: Thanks, Charlène. Bruce, how are you feeling? What’s your anticipation?

Bruce Murdock: Well, Deputy, I was never one to like to work in home, I always like to be in the office with my colleagues and you know, that’s personally how I am. I really enjoy going to work every day. And I never thought working at home would do it for me. But what I think I’ve learned over this time last almost three months is it does work. I can work at home. Having said that, two of my five units are at work every day. So I do see them actually once every two weeks I’ve been going into the office. And what has surprised me is the changes that actually we’ve implemented over that time. I’ve had a chance and direct them to get it done. And they have been done and it’s been transformative, I guess, in the sense of every time I’ve gone in the building. Having said that, the Security and Emergency Measures Bureau has been in the building lots with the Emergency Watch and Response Centre for the last almost three months. And what is shown to me is the measures that we collectively, the whole group of us, put together to make that work does make it work. So people work there safely and in significant numbers in that regard within the EWRC we put a lot of things, you know, everything that Luke and Charlène talked about the fiscal distancing and all the health and safety measures and plexiglass and all this type of stuff to ensure it can be done safely. So I guess my sense is I don’t have trepidation because I’ve seen it and I’ve seen it work in the last three months. And I think it’s the broader based application that we’ll be doing department wide in Canada and also the missions around the world and hopefully give comfort to people that it has worked last three months for a certain amount of people and we can make it work. So, you know, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got three kids at home that are bored, you know. But we’ll see how this works. I think, I think collectively we can make it work.

John Hannaford: Thanks, Bruce. Thank you. Any other thoughts on the topic?

Luc Raymond: Yes. This was something that took us by surprise. Then we couldn’t get ready, if you will, to leave with all the tools we need to work efficiently. In that regard, it was a little bit harder to leave. For several members of my team—the team I’m currently managing is working on the 125 Sussex renovation project and several other renovation projects. Despite everything with the COVID, we lost only one day with 125 Sussex. There wasn’t any change there. The work continued, the consultations, the design continued. And on top of that, we had to juggle with the ARRC and also with all the things we did for the reinstatement, which was, like, online 24/7 for several weeks. In spite of all these things, teleworking worked very well. The team stayed united. We hold meetings thanks to all the tools made available to us, which are very effective. Where things will perhaps be a little more difficult to navigate is when we have to consult with groups of employees. We’re in the process of developing tools to also do that remotely. But I have to say that I’ve adapted very well to teleworking, only a few months away from retirement. I think it’ll see me through to the end of my career. And I also think it’s going to bring in a lot of nice things in general—despite the huge workload. To achieve a work-life balance that is a little bit better balanced by saving travelling time by being at home. Being able to do little things. Like just spending half an hour with my wife, who teleworks—we’ve never been able to do that before. Some things have changed for the better. Some things are a little bit harder to do remotely, that’s for sure, the interaction, the direct response time between calling someone or talking to them in the workspace next door, for sure. But I think we’re very resilient, as has been said. We’re very creative, and when we’re able to easily work our way through all of this, as we’ve shown up to now by having the right tools, and also by being well supported by our management, which should be very important for those who are going to be at home for an extended period of time.

John Hannaford: Well, look. Thanks very much, all three of you, for all the work you’re doing in the first place, I think this is obviously of critical importance to the literal health and the metaphorical health of our organization. And so thank you so much for all you’re doing. And thank you for joining me today. It’s been a real pleasure to get chance to chat and to see you all virtually.

And I’ll look forward to seeing you all in person at some point and we can chat at that point. So all the best.

Thanks so much.

Charlène Janvier: Thank you.

Bruce Murdock: Thank you.

Luc Raymond: Thank you, and good evening.

John Hannaford: Good evening!

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