Workplace reboot. The new way.

Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2018

In a pilot for mobile working at the University, Information Technology is being showcased.

A confluence of events led Information Technology to explore alternative workplace strategies. For one, in the upcoming year, the application team was scheduled to move back to the downtown campus from its leased offices. Two, CIO Martin Bernier had a fresh slate of ideas to stimulate innovation, employee retention, and productivity (while lowering operating costs). Martin Bernier questions the traditional worries individual managers may have, “Trust in people’s ability to work – period -- regardless of whether that’s in the office or elsewhere, is a fundamental building block for a successful team of any leader.“ Lastly, the young IT professionals joining the work force have different expectations, largely driven by the work-home balance. Flextime may also be a consideration where employees can work until mid-afternoon, leave for 3 hours, and return during the evening to finish the work day.

A bold idea for sure, but the time for us is ripe. As part of the greater picture of a Smart university and how we can execute toward digital transformation for uOttawa, it makes sense to go there.

Mobile workplace environment uOttawa
Productivity gains

Imagine… you have a deadline and could really use a day away from distractions. Comments Michel Lapointe, “I can probably do 50% more because there aren’t as many interruptions. I still remain connected and can continue collaborating with the team.” Others have reported it often turns out to be their busiest – and happiest – day of the week. Staff are fired up at the prospect. Alex Dipietro reflects, “It’s such as game-changer. Staff have realities with their families and personal lives that normally would be dealt with taking the day off but then, projects and operations are delayed. I’m looking forward to it.” Tools to replace the “walk over and look over the partition” needs are critical for organizations to have successful implementations. For example, Microsoft’s Office 365 to be able to chat using its Teams product helps smooth over the lack of in-person presence. And sharing files seamlessly is another big plus. Let’s not forget how easy virtual video and audio teleconferencing is in Teams.  

  • University workspaces are optimized due to people working flexible hours, on vacation, sick, at meetings
  • Can generate synergies by virtue of having different people working beside you
  • Offer opportunities for more holistic perspective on technical issues by having infrastructure and application specialists in the same space
  • Will generate new norms as people learn how to work in the new space
  • More flexible work environment
Sketch of a mobile workplace environment uOttawa
What are we really taking about?

Contrary to many expectations, it’s not only about working from home. It’s about working at the corner café, the Library, the quiet spots you can find in many University buildings. The point is, you don’t need to be tied down to a physical space all the time. Of course there are jobs that due to their nature do not offer this flexibility. Being responsible for assisting students at a counter, for example, does not lend itself to this workplace option.

Bumps along the road are to be expected. Veteran work-from-home professionals often caution that though it may be exciting initially to work on your computer in PJs, noise levels, self-discipline, and lack of social stimulation may come into play. Technology is not sophisticated enough to duplicate face-to-face interactions. Miscommunications are bound to happen. Statistics show that in general, decisions take longer with computer-mediated conversations and teleconferencing. As well, email and Internet-related discussions do not add to worker satisfaction as much as in person interactions, phone conversations, and face-to-face departmental meetings and so the richness of employee communications may be lower. If working off-campus, the security of using those external networks must be factored. But the rewards outweigh the risks and are well worth the bumpy ride.

Curious about how this will happen?

The game plan is ultimately to have two of the three sectors in Information Technology, IT Solutions (ITS) and IT Services & Infrastructure (ITSI), share the same workspace in Vanier Hall. Senior Director of ITS, Daniel Trottier, points out, “With this forward-thinking workplace strategy, we will increase opportunities for people to learn from one another.” Currently the former is located in leased space at 1 Nicholas Street and the latter is in Vanier Hall. To get there, the Vanier workplace needs to be rehauled. ITSI staff will be temporarily lodged at 1 Nicholas. Senior Director of ITSI remarks, “This will be a significant culture change for many. Having experienced this shift in previous companies, I have seen the great rewards that can come from it.” Facilities appointed a project manager to oversee the logistics and plans are expected to be developed first quarter of 2019. Exclaims Associate Vic-President, Facilities, André Lambert, “We are excited about these new workspaces that promote access to natural light, offering varied ergonomic workstations, diversified collaboration areas, meeting and concentration spaces, enabling a symbiosis between the physical space and the digital workplace, thus creating an environment focused on resources that enable people to collaborate more effectively, inspiring creativity and attracting talent.”

Plan of a mobile workplace environment uOttawa


HR policies also need to address the expectations that mobile working will raise. “Thanks to technology, telecommuting is an innovative work approach that enables productivity and employee wellness by promoting a greater flexibility in work schedules and workplaces,“ explains Associate Vice-President for Human Resources, Elvio Buono.

The philosophy around this is basically: get things done – doesn’t matter where – but get it done. And get creative on how technology supports space. Stay tuned for an update on our progress!

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