Toronto / August 2021
As we approach mid-summer, the attention of non-profit sector leadership is turning to plans for return to work come September. There is great uncertainty still, as new variants of the COVID-19 virus appear, first vaccination uptake seems to be stalled, and there is talk from various sources about a possible fourth wave that may lead to renewed lockdowns.
OCASI members too are preoccupied with models of work with many leaning towards some sort of hybrid model for staffing and for service delivery. The Council has spent the past few weeks working with consultant Tony Yu to create a roadmap for our own evolved model of work. We too have opted for a hybrid model, utilizing a hoteling model with exceptions. We plan to share our roadmap with member organizations for adoption as soon as its completed, but I wanted to share a few of the issues/questions that have come up for me as we think our way through the implementation plan.
I recognize that the Council isn’t a service delivery agency so our considerations are very different and the specifics may not be relevant for some of you reading this piece. But I believe it is important for leaders to share their thinking, questions, concerns and to acknowledge when they’re leading in the dark hoping that there really is an opening with light at the end of this planning tunnel.
The hybrid model whereby some staff will work from home on certain days while others come to the office is fairly straightforward. In our case however we have staff working out of province, or hours away from our mid-town Toronto office location. There is no feasible way for them to come in without incurring extraordinary costs for transportation, housing, etc. So it’s a no-brainer that these folks will be allowed to permanently work from home.
Other staff who live within a prescribed geographic area, in our case within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are expected to participate in the hybrid model of a staged return to work. Question: How do we address issues of fairness and equity? Shouldn’t staff who just happened to live within our arbitrary (but reasonable in terms of travel time, etc) geographic boundaries have the option to permanently work from home? What about employees with small children who can’t be vaccinated or aging parents whose health is compromised? What about employees whose only mode of transportation is public transit and they’ve identified a fear of traveling in often crowded buses and/or trains? Should they be allowed to opt out of the ‘in the office’ portion of this policy?
The above is the number one issue that I’ve been wrestling with over these past weeks. How do we ensure fairness in the system, while balancing the requirements of the organization?
There are funding implications here as well. Many funders contribute to administrative overhead through a formula that includes ‘bums in seats’, meaning based on the percentage of paid employees working on the funded program. If program staff are not in the office full time, will funders reduce the administrative portion, in this case rent from the overall program budgets? What are the implications for agencies? This is an issue we need clarified by funders with the hope that there will be some consistency in the approach to administrative support.
I’m looking for stories, experiences and advice about how to tackle the above. Colleagues, how are you dealing with this?
On another pandemic note, you have read in this space how racialized, im/migrant and refugee women have been deeply impacted economically by the pandemic. Young people have also been disproportionately impacted. Thankfully, federal and some provincial supports were put in place in the early stages of the pandemic, blunting some of the negative outcomes of job loss.
But as the economy begins to reopen, governments are planning to cut or end these supports for many who still need them. The level of support through programs like CERB, recognized what a true living wage should be for the first time and was instrumental in the federal government implementing a $15 per hour minimum wage in federally regulated sectors. Provincial governments should heed this and follow suit.
The cuts to these enhance supports at a time when tens of thousands of women remain under/unemployed, when women dominated service businesses are yet to catch their breath (hairdressing salons, etc were particularly hard hit) and see their way out of mounting business debts is shortsighted at best.
Our colleague John Stapleton, who has spent decades thinking, advising, writing and making policy on all aspects of poverty and how best to alleviate it, captures this fall out best in his latest blog (a bit tongue-in-cheek) republished here with permission: Read: A new Covid-19 variant: the ‘pandemic benefit confiscation variant’