Last week, the Yukon government quietly moved to launch a remote work policy.
It will allow changes to how employees can apply to work from home, no matter where they live in the territory.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Gord Curran, president of the Association of Yukon Communities (AYC).
He recalled that opportunities to de-centralize the Yukon government workforce have been part of AYC discussions, at different times, for a good part of the last decade. Curran and others observed that the remote-work experiment during COVID showed how government work could still occur in spite of the withdrawal of employees from government offices.
It follows that if people can work from home in Whitehorse, why couldn’t they work from home in a small Yukon town?
Now the government has laid out a policy that articulates how this could function from both possible settings. An application-based process has been established. Approval will rest on the suitability of the work position, and the nature of the work to be performed.
The second criteria will depend on an employee’s personal suitability; and the third is the suitability of the remote workplace. Zoom calls from laundry rooms will be phased out, as people are expected to set up offices and provide their own office furniture (other than computers and phone).
“It offers us a lot more flexibility as employers,” said Aimee O’Connor, a spokesperson for the Public Service Commission.
Although COVID-19 may have accelerated the policy development process, an existing “telework” policy in the government’s general administration manual (GAM) had been identified by deputy ministers in 2019 as outdated and in need of review. In 2020, just over a year ago, the opposition NDP amped things up with a motion to support the decentralization of the Yukon government workforce.
Changes, additions or deletions to GAM policies do not go to cabinet, and are approved by the deputy minister’s review committee (DMRC) which makes modifying policies less complicated than regulations or legislation. O’Connor said she expects more adjustments to the policy as it is implemented and tested.
First, though, is a transition phase that requires all COVID-19-related work-from-home arrangements to end by Dec. 31, and departments have until that date to transition to the new policy.
Employees will not be able to work remotely from locations outside of the Yukon territory. Nor can people work in a position based in a rural community from Whitehorse. Curran says, “I think those two things provide a lot of balance and really captured the concerns by many of our rural community members.”
He sees many upsides. Children who grew up in Yukon communities can stay in their communities and still find rewarding employment. Spouses of employees working frontlines in a community can still be considered for Yukon government jobs, if the positions fit the policy.
There are some constraints but he says “hopefully, that’ll evolve over time. The fact that employees are allowed to have that option, I think it’s just a great step.
“Some of the things they may have to work on at a later date.”
O’Connor estimated about six per cent of employees are working at home under the old provisions. During the worst of COVID days up to 50 per cent of employees were working from home, reflecting the number of employees who work in frontline positions in the government.
The new policy is voluntary, and clearly states that it is not an employee entitlement.
The policy is also clear that it is not a policy to meet the demands of dependent care. Neither is it envisioned as a work-around to address vaccination requirements.
On the later point, O’Connor indicated that officials are still working to finalize their approach to COVID-19 vaccine requirements and that logistical details will come out in the coming weeks.
— With files from Haley Ritchie
Contact Lawrie Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org