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Egan: New Federal Office – Lighter, firmer, quieter, where farts don't smell, lunch won't be admired

Recently, a group of Global Relations Canada employees – accustomed to navigating the complex geopolitical world – were sent workplace guidance.

"Do you nail your nails to your desk?" One section started, super straight. "Do you often run gasoline no matter how other people may experience it?"

It didn't end there. "Do you regularly pick foods that are noisy to eat? There are many culprits, such as crumbling baby carrots, kneading soup, or cereals (a spoon on a bowl!) Or something like that."

Each issue had a serious, dead-eyed response: “Nail cutting in an open concept office is not tolerated. Use the bathroom … Bloating is a normal bodily function, but cultural norms determine that it is a function we reserve for the sink. "

And why should public officials be instructed on how to tickle, spray and push themselves to work? A new workplace design replacing traditional desks / offices for technical flexibility has placed hundreds of public servants in an open, group proximity, creating rules about noise, odors, hygiene and how the phone works.

Different activity-based jobs (ABWs) moved staff from their farms to open spaces and opened concept areas where they were not assigned tables but moved from station to station depending on the task.

They are based on the idea that "work is not the place you go but the thing you do" and usually consists of quiet zones (for example, writing), transition areas for more collaboration and small and large meetings.

There are, of course, disadvantages. For example, those in the technical fields need large monitors and display space to expand large designs. He has ergonomic desk-to-table and chair-to-chair problems every day. Photos of a grandfather or a cat cannot be put anywhere. There is no privacy for personal or sensitive phone calls.

"Speak as quietly as possible," he writes in the section on ways to make phone calls. Use your "library voice" is requested.

In terms of privacy, "resist the temptation to answer questions or comment on the conversations you are listening to." As for the scent, "put on your shoes!"

The transition was not silky smooth. The Public Service Professional of Canada, representing 60,000 scientists and other professionals, surveyed its members about the new workplace configuration in 2018. The results were grim: 79 percent reported that they were "harder to focus and concentrate on"; 62 percent said their productivity and efficiency were worse; 62 percent said they had poorer access to sufficient work space.

The institute went so far as to say that the new approach "undermines professionalism" in the public service.

Debi Daviau, President of the Professional Institute of Public Service Canada. Recorded at the Delta Hotel in Ottawa on March 22, 2016.

Julie Oliver /

Ottawa Citizen

"We're pretty upset," President Debi Daviau said. "We have reviewed a lot of research into this type of office layout and the findings clearly show that open offices have a negative impact on productivity."

She said the institute is concerned that members may feel impaired because they no longer have their own desk, which has instead been replaced by some sort of wheeled table they last used at the university. Mental and physical health issues in the confined space and the wider issue of housing for some workers are also at the heart of the thinking, she added.

PIPSC even heard of a worker who couldn't find a desk in a crowded ABW and ended up parked in the kitchen.

Public Services and Procurement Canada, responsible for housing around 260,000 mostly office workers nationwide, is showing its motives with a new approach. He wants a more tech-savvy office, but also wants to reduce his total footprint in construction by as much as 30 percent.

Citing data suggesting that more than 40 percent of typical office space is typically vacant, it aims to nearly halve the square footage occupied by one full-time employee (approximately 11 square feet). This can be done by getting rid of cumbersome booths, working from home, leaving personal items in closets, and designing a space around tasks, not bodies.

The government is currently piloting offices based in 19 locations, including 11 in the Ottawa area.

The Canadian Public Services Association is closely monitoring the polls, including the results of employee surveys that will be released later this year.

"The new spaces are newer, cleaner and brighter, with modern furniture, so it's a clear call to workers," said Andrea Peart, national safety and health officer at PSAC, "but there are some serious issues that we have problems with. "

New swing space at L'Esplanade Laurier.

rgal /

Roberta Gal

These include noise pollution and distraction, ergonomic concerns and morale and cohesion due to the dispersal of once unique staff into corners of the building or outside the office at all.

She also says unions have not been advised on new job drafts. "There are a lot of issues out there and they need to be addressed." She has visited about half-sixteen activity-based places in the capital and says they are not identical or shaped like giant cafeterias with workers cramped.

But they also share this: noise, nails, farts, cramps – banned in a brave new 2019 job.

To contact Kelly Egan, call 613-726-5896 or email


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