City of Hamilton’s return to the workplace strategy will vary among employees

"The number of reports related to fraud and waste continues to exceed expectations", says Charles Brown, Hamilton's city auditor. Will Erskine / Global News

The City of Hamilton has unveiled a return to the workplace strategy, similar to those being implemented throughout the private sector.

Some municipal employees will continue working from home over the long term, others will return to the office and a third group with move forward under a hybrid model.

A staff report presented to the general issues committee on Wednesday says the differences are largely based on levels of face-to-face interaction with the public.

Emergency operations director Jason Thorne says timelines have not been established.

Read more: Most Canadian workers want mix of remote, office options post-pandemic, survey says

“I’ll be a gradual approach; it’ll be a phased approach,” says Thorne. “We still just do need to monitor the still uncertain COVID situation that we are facing.”

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“We’ll be looking for advice from the medical officer of health, in terms of timing,” adds Thorne. “What we don’t want to do is bring staff back too early and then have to send staff back home again, and all the disruption that would cause.”

Nenzi Cocca, director of HR systems and operations, says there’s been a 30 per cent reduction in absenteeism among employees working from home throughout the pandemic, as they are better able to manage “incidental illnesses.”

Cocca adds that is just one of many benefits that have been identified during COVID-19.

Read more: Bank of Canada joins growing list of employers looking to hybrid work model

“We know that providing flexible work arrangements is an attraction and retention tool,” says Cocca. “It improves mental health, wellness, work-life balance. In the long run, working with our facilities staff, it could reduce the office footprint, over time.”

City manager Janette Smith said 20 per cent of staffers pivoted to work from home amid the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Smith revealed staff are “grappling” with a new work model amid the COVID experience in which employees could be just as productive from a home office as they would in a city facility.

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“For some, it’s a great way to find that work-life balance,” Smith told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“You’re not sitting in traffic commuting. But we also know we have a number of other sets of employees that it really is better in terms of service delivery for them to be in the office.”

Smith said there’s no set date for a return but management are looking at the future of office life through “three lenses” – health and safety, capacity limits and technology.

Read more: LRT memorandum of understanding signed at Hamilton City Hall

“A lot of our buildings have been sitting quiet and we need to get the technology all hooked up again,” Smith told Global News.

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“Also in terms of getting our facilities ready, things like ensuring the HVAC systems are operating properly.”

For residents, Smith says the city will likely keep as many services as possible online since users became accustomed to the change during the pandemic.

“We want to continue to provide that option to our residents because for some, it’s more convenient for them to do some of the services with us after hours when they’ve got more time. So we’re going to continue to do that,” said Smith.



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