Covid-19, Digitization & Hybrid Workspaces:
Implications and Opportunities for Public Sector Organizations
Dr. Jeffrey Roy examines “the emerging contours and prospects for hybrid workforce and workspace strategies within the Canadian public sector” in his latest report (Click on the link below to view the full report).
If 2022 brings about even the beginnings of an evolution of Covid-19 from pandemic to endemic, governments will face a critical choice: to facilitate a safe revival of physical office settings as the nucleus of government operations and public servant interactions, or to embrace hybrid strategies as the centrepiece of innovative workspace redesign. The essence of hybrid goes beyond a binary choice between working in a physical office or working from home. An ideal hybrid model enables the seamless alignment of both in-person and virtual processes across innovative and flexible workspaces designed to strengthen individual and collective performance capacities. Even with the optimistic presumption of Covid-19 gradually subsiding, and even with appropriate safety measures and layers of protection in place (i.e. vaccines, masking, distancing etc.), there is a growing view, explored in this report that a full-scale return to physical office settings would be less than optimal. Yet in line with the choice presented above, it remains to be seen whether hybrid work arrangements will be mainly tolerated as transitional phases for some workers – or more fully embraced as a strategic opportunity. This report delves into the tensions and reasons behind this uncertainty and how they reflect wider evolutionary trends in public sector reform and recent and ongoing digital government efforts especially. To pursue a hybrid path as a strategic opportunity, this report presents three key design principles to guide such efforts: differentiation, engagement, and inclusion. In addition, six broad research directions are offered as some of the most likely themes and determinants that will shape hybrid’s acceptance and evolution going forward. As such, they merit further investigation by scholars and governments alike. With respect to inclusion specifically, the potential exists for hybrid workspaces to both widen diversity and deepen inclusion through more varied career progressions. In place of the traditional ‘corporate ladder’ with locational and scheduling work patterns that have reinforced historical biases and systemic barriers, hybrid models can democratize participation and professional advancement. Nevertheless, any potential is just that. To be realized, governments must first recognize hybrid’s promise and the unique occasion at hand for human ingenuity, digital innovation, and leadership and governance renewal. Insights from this report were gathered from both direct and indirect sourcing: published surveys, studies, commentaries, and media stories; interviews with senior public servants; virtual classroom interactions with mid-career government managers and next generation, aspiring managers; as well as several professional development and conference forums over the past two years. I am grateful to all participants for the stimulation, feedback, and learning. My hope is that this report can help to spark and sustain the crucial conversations needed within governments to meaningfully appreciate and exploit the hybrid opportunity as the basis for a brighter future.