Feds’ Workplace 2.0 plan ‘a disaster,’ top bureaucrat says
Morguard’s Bernie Myers is ‘thrilled’ at the prospect of the feds stepping up leasing.
The federal government’s office space modernization program is a “disaster,” according to its top real estate executive, who also suggested he was cool towards continuing to own, rather than lease, some properties.
Kevin Radford, an assistant deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada, made his remarks on Oct. 19 during a wide-ranging presentation at the Ottawa Real Estate Forum.
In 2011, the department – then known as Public Works and Government Services Canada – began implementing a program called “Workplace 2.0,” rethinking how and where public servants work.
Mr. Radford said too much emphasis was placed on reducing the real estate footprint of civil servants without sufficient attention to integrating workplace technology into the revamped offices. “Workplace 2.0 is a disaster,” he said. According to the government, the average federal employee used 18.4 square metres in 2012-13, which is the most recent fiscal year for which records are published. That’s down from 21.6 square metres per employee in 2006, according to an auditor general report.
The goal of Workplace 2.0 is to create “Workplaces of the Future” that encourage more collaboration between employees, offer greater flexibility and allow bureaucrats to make better use of technology such as videoconferencing.
It directly affects the private sector, specifically those firms that supply the federal government with office furniture, architectural services and leased space.
Old cubicles were to be replaced with shared and collaborative spaces, as well as work stations with lower panels aimed at encouraging interaction, increasing natural light and improving air circulation.
However, Mr. Radford said steps were missed during the rollout, such as ensuring bureaucrats could wirelessly access the Internet in shared work areas.
“How can we be going to various buildings and changing the furniture around and not ensuring that modern technology (such as) basic, secure access to Wi-Fi is available?” he asked.
During his speech, Mr. Radford also outlined a vision for dramatically rethinking where in the National Capital Region civil servants work.
In recent years, the federal government has been reducing its presence in Ottawa’s central business district and looking for opportunities to relocate to other areas close to mass transit, such as the Ottawa Train Yards.
However, Mr. Radford said he’d like to go further and allow bureaucrats to work closer to home.
His vision includes federal office hubs scattered throughout the National Capital Region. Employees could choose where they wanted to work and use an electronic registration system to reserve a workstation.
Mr. Radford also questioned the wisdom of the federal government owning its own office buildings, especially given the challenges in accurately predicting future demand.
Any shift towards leasing more space would create significantly more business for private-sector landlords.
“I was thrilled to hear (Mr. Radford) say that they they really shouldn’t own buildings, that they should be leasing buildings,” said Bernie Myers, vice-president for eastern Canada at Morguard, during a later panel discussion. Morguard is one of the federal government’s largest local landlords.