At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, working from home was seen as something temporary, which would cease to be necessary in a matter of months.
Of course, the swift end everyone was hoping for didn’t happen, and more than a year and a half later, alternative work arrangements are now the norm rather than the exception. In March 2021, the University created the New Models of Work Project Office (NMWPO) to take an in-depth look at how those alternative arrangements can best support the University’s mission, while also encouraging employees to engage, innovate, and ultimately prosper and feel safe and comfortable returning to campus.
On October 4, the NMWPO launched a pilot project that sees 120 employees from five Units working out of an 8,500 square-foot space at 550 Sherbrooke St. W. Staff from Libraries, Human Resources, Communications & External Relations and the Office of Sustainability, as well as the New Models of Work Project team itself, will share the space for the next 18 months. No more than half of them will be in the office at the same time, with the rest working from home. Most individual workstations and computers are shared, with the exception of those needed for specialized tasks such as graphic design and shipping/receiving library materials.
New ways of working
“The pilot project in the New Models of Work Project Office will provide the opportunity to integrate new ways of working into McGill’s culture. NMWPO Director Lorraine Mercier says. “We are fortunate to bring together five teams that would not usually work in the same space, giving them an opportunity to learn together and exchange.”
Mercier says the new office space model is designed to promote several of the University’s core values – including a commitment to health and safety.
“The Project Office will focus on My Healthy Workplace principles of mental and physical health, adherence to safety protocols, clean facilities, physical distancing and barriers, and comfort,” Mercier says.
The pilot project will also promote the values of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion by, for example, assuring universal access to the space. Sustainability is a priority as well – from ensuring all office furniture is made from sustainable materials, to providing fair-trade coffee in the break rooms.
Building a sense of community
Part of the idea of bringing these groups together, Mercier says, is to build a sense of community and a strong institutional culture, as well as encourage interaction between different Units, maintain interpersonal connections, and promote shared learning around the hybrid model. It also provides an opportunity to assess what types of arrangements are most suitable, based on the nature of the work.
Over the next 18 months, the NMWPO will gather feedback from participating employees and their supervisors regarding how and where their work is best done, the impact of hybrid arrangements, the sustainability of the new workspace, the impact of the space and work schedules on staff, and their overall experience.
Mercier says that this includes ensuring workers have comfortable furniture – both at the office and at home. To that end, the NMWPO is partnering with the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy and furniture suppliers, and “the intention is to negotiate preferential furniture prices for employees, to support an ergonomic work arrangement at home.” The workspace at 550 Sherbrooke will also include Indigenous and other artwork from McGill’s Visual Arts Collection.
The pilot project builds on McGill’s Interim Flexible Work Arrangement, established earlier this year to give eligible administrative and support staff more flexibility while the University evaluates potential new hybrid remote-onsite models.
Vice-Principal Yves Beauchamp (Administration & Finance) and Provost Christopher Manfredi are joint sponsors of this initiative. “We are very proud that McGill is at the forefront of this exploration amongst universities,” says VP Beauchamp, with Provost Manfredi adding “We look forward to the results of this important pilot project.”
The NMWPO expects to deliver its final report on the pilot project at the beginning of 2023.